International Mother Language Day
Language is so much more than just “how we communicate”. Language evokes our emotions – forming our poems, stories, songs and many more powerful forms of self-expression. It shapes who we are, and it connects us to other people. Language is for more than being simply understood, it is allows us to be able to understand one another at a much deeper level.
Saturday is International Mother Language Day (IMLD), and it is a day to celebrate one’s identity. IMLD gives us an opportunity to recognize and appreciate celebrate the beauty that comes with the 6,000+ languages on earth. The comparison is often made that endangered languages are like endangered animals: we could only have five or ten, but wouldn’t the world be a whole lot less pretty and interesting without them? Our different languages shouldn’t be seen as causing confusion, or misunderstandings, they are each and every one an essential part of the fabric that makes up humanity. With each loss of a language, we lose another point-of-view to being human. We lose how that language’s speakers saw the world, and so we lose another lens with which to look upon the world.
According to the last census figures, 45% of Torontonians don’t speak English in the home. Many Canadians across the country have a Heritage language. My gramma on my mum’s side grew up speaking Dutch, my grampa grew up with an Italian-immigrant father, and my dad’s first language was Italian; his parents emigrated from Italy just before he was born. We should celebrate where we come from, and remember that our identity is shaped not just by being Thai, Cree, or French, but also by the languages that come with that heritage.
My first language is English, and it is easy to take for granted that everywhere I go, English resources surround me. However, for many, English might be the language of work, school, or exteriorities, but their Mother Language is the one used in the home, with the family, and for self-reflection.
There is a concept in linguistics called the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which states that certain things can’t even be conceived of in a different language. For example, if your language doesn’t have a term for schadenfreude, then you will have a hard time grasping the idea. The idea being roughly, “taking the guilty pleasure from the pain of others” (think people falling over on America’s Funniest Home Videos). However, this hypothesis is found to be untrue. There is no English term for sobremesa, which is a Spanish word describing the lovely and winding conversations had at the dinner table after eating; however, I think most of us can identify with the sentiment. Although the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis may be mostly untrue, there are certain things that are different depending on your first language. I have read Leonard Cohen translated into French, and I would argue that there is something indescribable missing when the work is translated—some important part of the beauty is translated out of the text.
This Saturday you should consider promoting, teaching, and using any languages you know how to speak. But don’t stop there! Continue on after Saturday. Don’t let it stop with one day. We should all be proud of our languages, and we should be excited to share our heritage with those around us.
So whatever your heritage is, whatever languages you speak, and wherever you come from, use International Mother Tongue Day to think about the steps have led to you being where you are today. The world is so much better with variety and diversity, and language is another way we can prove that point.
So go out and prove that point!
And, if you are in Toronto please join us at Maria A Shchuka library from 10-4 for family-friendly activities that celebrate many languages.
Take care eh,