Monday, 6 December, 2021

Preserving linguistic diversity

On 17 November in 1999, UNESCO declared 21st February as the International Mother Language Day. By celebrating the Day each year countries across the world promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

UNESCO declared the day because more and more languages have been disappearing and linguistic diversity was under threat. Globally 40 per cent of the population does not have access to education in language they speak or understand. Nevertheless, progress is being made in mother tongue-based multilingual education with growing understanding of its importance, particularly in early schooling, and more commitment to its development in public life.

In Bangladesh there are around 75 ethnic communities who have their own language, tradition and culture. According to research report of Multilingual Education Forum (MLE) till date 62 ethnic communities people are using of their own language in different districts and upazilas. Notable among them are Garo, Chakma, Tripura, Marma, Rakhain, Chak, Santal, Mahato, Mahali, Malo, Manipuri, Munda, Oroan, Pahan, Paharia, Rajbongshi, Tanchanghya and other communities. But there is no effective initiative on part of the government to preserve and to ensure effective practices of ethnic minorities’ languages.  So, usage of their langue is shrinking day by day.

However, it is commendable that the government in the light of Education Policy-2010 has taken the first step to formulate textbooks in five ethnic languages (Garo, Chakma, Marma, Kokborok and Sadri) for pre-primary level in 2015.  But till to that the textbooks are not being used in school due to lack of trained teachers on how to conduct class in ethnic language. On the other hand there is also lack of ethnic community teachers, especially at town level. This is how such a noble initiative of the government remained unimplemented.

However, in Bangladesh 15 non-government organisations are conducting mother tongue based multilingual education programme in their own centers. Those are BRAC, Action aid, Save The Children, SIL Bangladesh, Zabarang Kollyan Samity and some other small organisations.

Languages are the most powerful instruments for preserving and developing community’s tangible and intangible heritage. All moves to promote the dissemination of mother tongues will serve not only to encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education but also to develop fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions throughout the world and to inspire solidarity based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue. Mainly multilingual and multicultural societies exist through their languages which transmit and preserve traditional knowledge and cultures in a sustainable way. Therefore to preserve ethnic language and culture first we need to save their languages by increasing their usage.

In this situation government should take effective initiative to conduct mother tongue based education system for progress of education of ethnic community children and to preserve their language, heritage and culture. 


The writer is a Human Rights Activist