The International Mother Language Day has been observed every year on 21st February since the year 2000 under the patronage of the UN to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. The theme for the year 2011 is “The information and communication technologies for the safeguarding and promotion of languages and linguistic diversity.”
Speaking and taking pride in one’s mother tongue is of utmost importance. It is sad observance when preference is given to speaking international languages like English, French or German and feeling low to express oneself in one’s own native language. Like many other countries that were once ruled by the British, some people consider it prestigious to speak or write the English language at the expense of local languages. Even some many intellectuals and men of letter are prejudiced to the teaching of local languages, particularly the formative periods in our basic schools. And that is the reason that even after six decades of independence, the lcal languages schools are looked down upon by a small but powerful community brought up in English medium schools.
I visited Iran sometime ago and found use of Persian more than any international language. Even bank cheques were in Persian and the entire computer network of banks and business outfits was based on Persian language. Translating a foreign language in one’s mother tongue makes it richer and adds new words to its vocabulary.
On the contrary we have the habit of inserting English words as it is into our mother tongue Urdu or whatever regional language we speak. This is depriving our languages from flourishing, expanding and progressive. For example in Persian a university is Danishgah, but it is sad to observe Wafaqi Urdu University as we have failed to find a suitable word for university in Urdu. Likewise the German Autobahnen has been translated as utoban in Persian. We still call Supreme Court as Supreme Court in Urdu and Election Commission as Election Commission. This is an easy way out for our linguistic experts, but for the development of Urdu, we need to take pains to make to more exhaustive and meaningful.
Likewise listening to news in any regional language gives an impression as these are being spoken in Urdu or English. Sadar-e-Mammlekat is spoken as it is in Punjabi and so is Wazeer-e-Azam. Even these days there is an increasing trend to incorporate Indian Urdu into Pakistani Urdu. Suddenly we find “darmian (in between) to be replaced by “beech”, Ibtada (beginning) replaced by “shroowat,” and many more such insertions. And our drama writers, considered to be the pillar of Urdu and its progress have succumbed to this onslaught and have replaced our own Urdu with alien words.
Unless one takes pride in one’s indigenous language (s), on is unable to understand one’s culture, traditions and folk heritage. It is through the language that the folktales, similes, proverbs and other literary forms of the society are conveyed to teach societal morals and values and eventually socialize the individual. More reliance and preference to foreign languages is taking a heavy toll on the development and maturing of the mother tongues spoken in different parts of the world. Rather in some cases a large number of languages are on the verge of extinction and people are gradually shifting to new trends and started to forget their own traditional languages.
Mother tongue is also important in the upbringing and development of the children. As a child matures, his/her language develops and, through language, the child gains an attachment to one’s culture and traditions. Unless one is brought up listening to the folklores of one’s own area in its original dialect, one cannot grasp the richness of one’s language. Linguistic experts are of the opinion that the most suitable language for teaching basic concepts to children is the mother tongue.Dr Tariq Rehman, a learned scholar writes, “The 21st of February reminds us that, despite this inequality of power between our mother tongues and the languages of power (referring to English as it is the language of government officials, technocrats, military, elite and the rich), we must not give up hope. We must be conscious of the significance of our mother tongues, which give us identity; which are repositories of culture and which, in the final analysis, make us what we are. If we start speaking other languages and forget our own, we would not be ‘we’, we would be clones of an alien people; we would be aliens to ourselves.”
There are people who read own culture from books in English rather than reading the actual text in which these were originally written. This trend is dangerous as this blocks the true understanding of one’s heritage. There is thus a need to make an endeavour to promote the dissemination of one’s mother tongue, as this would encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education, besides developing awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions. Such efforts can induce solidarity based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue the world over.
The theme this year too stresses on the use of information technology and media to promote indigenous languages and safeguard these from pollution and sidelining lest these become extinct at the cost of foreign languages. I do hope that instead of holding seminars once a year on this day, concerted efforts are put in by all concerned to promote own indigenous languages and enrich these for the sake of their future and expansion, rather than extinction.