ELL: International Mother Language Day - 21 February

Steven Bird sb at UNAGI.CIS.UPENN.EDU
Thu Feb 21 15:44:53 UTC 2002


Paris, February 21 {No.2000-14} - International Mother Language Day,
proclaimed by UNESCO's General Conference in November 1999, was celebrated
for the first time today with a ceremony at Organization Headquarters.

The event was opened by UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura who
stressed that "by deciding to celebrate mother tongues, UNESCO's Member
States wished to recall that languages are not only an essential part of
humanity's cultural heritage, but the irreducible expression of human
creativity and of its great diversity."

Highlighting the fact that close to 6000 languages are estimated to be
spoken in today's world, Mr Matsuura said: "They testify to humanity's
astounding ability to create tools of communication, to its perception and
reflection. They are the mirror of the souls of the societies in which they
are born and they reflect the history of their contacts. In this sense, it
could be said that all languages are cross-bred."

He added: "Favouring the promotion of linguistic diversity and the
development of multilingual education from an early age helps preserve
cultural diversity and the conditions for international understanding,
tolerance and mutual respect."

Vigdis Finnbogadottir, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Languages and former
President of Iceland, took part in the first celebration of International
Mother Language Day. She highlighted the value of languages both as means
of communication and as expressions of culture and identity. Ms
Finnbogadottir qualified languages as "humanity's most precious and fragile

In a message read at the ceremony, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi
Annan expressed support for International Mother Language Day which, he
said, raises awareness among all peoples regarding the value of
languages. Reaffirming the capital importance of preserving language
diversity, he called for increased efforts to conserve languages as a
shared heritage of humanity.

For more information: http://webworld.unesco.org/imld/
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