Home Page > International Mother Language Day – 21 February 2014


International Mother Language Day – 21 February 2014

“When we celebrate language we also celebrate the human life that has been given to us through it. It is not enough to breathe, eat and grow. As human beings we are capable, through language, to think, to love, to communicate, and to influence, transform and enrich our environment”.

Josep-Maria Terricabras, Chair of the PEN International Translation and Linguistic

PEN is committed to the respect of all languages, and the protection and promotion of minority languages. Through our Translation and Linguistic Rights Committee (TLRC), we are actively involved in campaigning to promote diversity and protect linguistic rights.

In 2011 the TLRC released the Girona Manifesto on Linguistic Rights, a ten point document designed to be translated and disseminated widely as a tool to defend linguistic diversity around the world. For more information click here.

PEN International is currently expanding the scope of its work with regards to Linguistic Rights, and is the recipient of a major grant from UNESCO for a major new research and capacity building programme, working with PEN Centres in Kenya, Serbia, Haiti and Nigeria to strengthen the minority language creative publishing industries in these countries.

Protecting Linguistic Diversity cuts across many areas of PEN’s work. This year to mark International Mother Language Day on 21 February 2014, we are highlighting the important work of our PEN Centres in this area and some of the ways the PEN Community celebrates and protects linguistic diversity, in particular through:

PEN Centre Events and Activities to Mark IMLD 2014
PEN Centre Programmes
International Policy and Advocacy
Assembly of Delegates Resolutions
Campaigning for minority language Writers at Risk

1. PEN Centre Events and Activities Marking IMLD 2014

PEN Centres from around the world have been hosting events to mark and celebrate International Mother Language Day 2014. This includes a wide range of public events hosted by Centres including PEN South Africa, PEN Sierra Leone and Albanian PEN. On 21 February 2014 Uyghur PEN and French PEN will be presenting a conference examining Uyghur Language Rights taking place in Paris.

Other PEN Centres – including PEN Langue d’Oc Centre and German PEN have been involved in releasing minority language publications to mark the day; and Centres have been translating and disseminating the Girona Manifesto in their local languages for the first time, including PEN Nigeria, PEN Bangladesh, Russian PEN and Hungarian PEN.

For a full list of translated version of the Girona Manifesto click here.

Finally Centres have been carrying our advocacy activities around International Mother Language Day, including PEN Puerto Rico which have held meetings with government officials to lobby for policy protections for Spanish-language education.

2. PEN Centre Programmes

Through campaigns, projects and events, PEN International works with Centres around the world to highlight the importance of reading and writing as tools for the protection and promotion of freedom of expression, as well as for global peace-building, cultural dialogue and development. For more information click here.

Many of these ongoing Centre Programmes address issues of linguistic rights and mother language education. These include:

Tibetan Writers Abroad PEN Centre

Tibetan Writers Abraod PEN Centre







Tibetan Writers Abroad PEN has set up PEN Classes in several major Tibetan schools in India, which serve to promote knowledge of Tibetan language and literature to Tibetan children living in exile. The Tibetan Writers Abroad PEN Centre is planning to build on its previous work and expand it further by organising six additional school workshops in 2014 within the framework of PEN International’s Civil Society programme.

South African PEN

South African PEN

South African PEN has partnered with the Nal’ibali reading and literacy campaign in a project to translate African writers’ children stories into the 11 official languages in South Africa. By providing children with stories in their mother tongues the project is planning to aid the children’s later educational, social and emotional development and support both African literature and linguistic diversity in South Africa. In 2014, South African PEN will also be involved in providing translations for a children’s book on science into Zulu and Xhosa demonstrating the importance of translating science literature to all South African languages.

PEN Puerto Rico

PEN Puerto Rico

PEN Puerto Rico organised, in cooperation with local schools and universities, five creative writing workshops in 2013 with the aim to support social inclusion and community access to reading and writing in Puerto Rico. The workshops provided an opportunity for the participants to discuss poetry, short stories and novels and included all age groups of society from elementary school pupils to university students and the larger public. The workshops also served the purpose of promoting the use of Spanish language in creative writing and reading workshops, and complemented the Centre’s  Spanish-language education advocacy efforts.

3. International Policy and Advocacy

PEN International’s long standing commitment to promoting and preserving linguistic diversity is enshrined in the 2011 Girona Manifesto on Linguistic Rights, a ten point document designed to be translated and disseminated widely as a tool to defend linguistic diversity around the world. PEN International also played a leading role in the creation of the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights, which was adopted by UNESCO in 1996.

For more information on PEN International’s Policy and Advocacy work in this area click here.

4. Assembly of Delegates Resolutions

Assembly of Delegates Resolution

Over the past number of years, an increasing number of resolutions pertaining to Linguistic and Translation Rights have been passed by the PEN International Congress. At the 79th World Congress in Reykjavik, Iceland, in September 2013, resolutions were passed by the Assembly of Delegates to:

  • Allow Tibetans to preserve, exercise freely and study their own language without interference.
  • Call upon Turkey, Iran and Syria to protect and promote the Kurdish language in areas historically populated by Kurds.
  • Urge the Portuguese authorities to allow the restitution of European Portuguese as a language for official business and education, and to take into account the opinions of experts.
  • Urge the French authorities to proceed without delay to ratify The Council of Europe’s Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (1992).
  • Call upon the Swiss authorities to reconsider the Arpitan or Franco- Provençal language spoken on its territory as a distinct language and not as a dialect.
  • Reminds the Government of Navarre it has the duty to protect the Basque, and has to respect and fulfil the right of the Basque speakers in Navarre in all fields, including media and education.

For the full texts of all of these resolutions click here.

These resolutions have been directed towards governments and regional bodies. PEN International and the TLRC work to continue to advocate for the issues highlighted by the Assembly of Delegates.

5. Campaigning for Writers at Risk

PEN International campaigns to ensure all writers are allowed to freely express themselves in their own language, and actively speaks on behalf of those who have been imprisoned or persecuted for doing so.  Around the world, writers from minority language communities still face oppression for their writing and for the use of their own language. The Writers in Prison Committee  actively monitors and campaigns on cases of individual writers at risk, which have included examples many individuals targeted for their work to protect linguistic rights. These include

  • Nurmuhemmet Yasin  (China)

On January 9, 2013, the Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International reiterated its appeal for information about the welfare of detained Uyghur  writer Nurmuhemmet Yasin, who was  arrested in November 2004 and sentenced to ten years in prison for ‘inciting Uyghur seperatism’ in his short story Wild Pigeon (Yawa Kepter) which was broadcast on Radio Free Asia’s Uyghur service. There has been no news since and PEN is continuing to demand his immediate and unconditional release.

An English translation of Wild Pigeon can be accessed in two parts in these two links:



Centres are asked to send renewed appeals to the Chinese authorities based on the recommended actions in the RAN action here

Please also send solidarity messages to Nurmuhemmet Yasin:

NYPlace of detention:

Xinjiang No.1 Prison

Siping Road 5, Urumqi City 830013

Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region

P. R. China


  • Said Matinpour (Iran)

Said Matinpour, a journalist for the Azeri-language weekly Yarpagh,  was sentenced in 2008 to eight years in prison, suspended, by a Tehran revolutionary court behind closed doors on charges of ‘maintaining relations with foreigners’ and ‘publicity against the Islamic Republic’. The charges are related to his activism for Azerbaijani language rights.

  • Hilal Mamedov (Azerbaijan)

Hilal Mamedov, who is the editor-in-chief of independent newspaper Talyshi Sado (Voice of the Talysh) and a human rights activist, has been detained since 21 June. Writing in Talysh, a branch of Persian, Mamedov has been accused of using his office to spy for Iran. Mamedov’s predecessor, Novruzali Mamedov, died in prison in 2009 after he was found guilty of spying for Iran and sentenced to 10 years in prison.


Over the next year PEN International will continue to publish and promote translated literature and host events in various languages. Please find below and on our website some texts, for your enjoyment on International Mother Language Day!:

For an interview with Syrian writer and activist Samar Yazbek click here.

For an interview with Blaže Minevski click here.