#GLAD Global Language Advocacy Day

What’s your mother tongue? Are you allowed to speak and use it freely? What’s your criterias when you define your mother tongue? Is your country’s official language your mother tongue? What counts as mother tongue at all? Does it have anything to do with your mother or the system you were born into would decide about it for you?

The answers to these questions vary and they are not so straightforward, depending on your country of origin. In Africa, the colonial past greatly influences language use. English, French, Portuguese, Spanish and Afrikaans are all present and not by choice. The debate about a new African lingua franca, to replace colonial languages, is continuously present on the continent, but there is a good chance that the official introduction of one or other would cause further issues. In Africa indigenous languages are still present but in some other one-time colonies the devastation was such that people now can only speak their colonizers’ language for their is nothing else they could relate to. They carry on the surnames too, once given to their ancestors by the oppressors. The remnants of local languages or those developed as a result of the slave trade are still there in many of these countries, but it’s far from how it would be without the European intervention.

In big part of Asia, Russia and China are two powers that re-organized the traditional language map in the past century. The language use of minorities forced to live under Chinese leadership, is increasingly restricted. Tibetans, Mongolians and Uyghurs face retaliation for simply wanting to use their mother tongues. Not only in education and at work, but at home within their own families.

In Europe, language rights are enshrined in various policies and charters. Linguistic diversity seems to be the base of our societies but there are tensions between various ethnicities and this affects the situation of languages too.

We have to keep in mind that languages die out quickly. Human interactions, business relationships, migration and large scale globalization all affect our language use and may result in the extinction of one or other. Besides, languages with more speakers are favoured compared to the languages of minority groups, and no charter can provide full protection. What’s the point of trying to promote and protect certain languages then? As long as there is one remaining representative of a language, anyone who feels whole only by using their native tongue, we must allow them to use it freely without restrictions. The value of diversity is unquestionable and it applies to language use too. Every language is a treasure-house, it provides an insight into ways of thinking, traditions, customs and history. Without understanding our past, we cannot fully live in the present or think about a worthwhile future.


Global Coalition for Language Rights