International Mother Language Day


21 February marks International Mother Language Day, a day which recognizes the importance of linguistic and cultural diversity and promotes the protection of languages. Celebrated since 2000, the theme this year is ‘Mother tongue and books’

Language plays a vital role in relation to identity, communication, social integration, education and development. It is estimated that, without measures to protect and promote minority and endangered languages, half of the 6000 plus languages spoken today will disappear by the end of this century, with 96 percent of these languages spoken by a mere 4 percent of the world’s population. 29 percent of the world’s languages are in danger, with a further 10 percent vulnerable, according to UNESCO. This year’s theme refers to the importance of language in accessing quality education and encourages UNESCO member states to promote instruction and education in the mother tongue.

International Mother Language Day originated to recognize the language movement day in Bangladesh, which has been commemorated in Bangladesh since 1952 to remember students’ struggle for the right to use their mother language. The day was declared by the General Conference of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on November 1999.

PEN International has been at the forefront of the campaign to ensure the protection and promotion of linguistic diversity. The Girona Manifesto, a tool to aid the dissemination and implementation of the Universal Declaration on Linguistic Rights (UDLR), was developed by PEN International’s Translation and Linguistic Rights Committee in May 2011, fifteen years after leading a coalition of civil-society and international organisations (including UNESCO) developed the UDLR at the 1996 World Conference on Linguistic Rights in Barcelona.


For more information see the UNESCO International Mother Language Day page here.

See the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in danger here.

To read more about the Girona Manifesto click here.