What does Mother Language mean to you? Testimonies shared to celebrate International Day Skip to main content

What does Mother Language mean to you? Testimonies shared to celebrate International Day

21
February
2018
Beirut, Lebanon

The United Nations celebrates International Mother Language Day worldwide on 21 February. At the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), Arabic, English and French are the official working languages, but staff members based in Beirut come from far and wide, bringing to the workplace a rich blend of languages and identities.
 
In the Conference Services Section of ESCWA, which is home to the language experts, writers, translators and interpreters juggle their respective native languages in addition to one or two others. They shared the view that every language becomes richer thanks to the influence of other ones.
 
Mother Language Day is also considered a time to think about how native languages not only shape culture and values, but also allow people from different countries who speak that same language to connect in meaningful ways and to spread knowledge.
 
Below is a collection of testimonies about what the international day means to people, recorded in their respective mother tongue. 
 
Sense of belonging and identity
 
To Joachim from Spain, mother language is la principal herramienta para comunicarme, un señal de identidad (It is the main tool to communicate and a sign of identity).
 
Lise, from South Africa said dit is my taal waarin ek myself uitdruk en dit gee my ‘n unieke identiteit. Dit is nie net ‘n taal wat ek praat nie, dit is deel van my – my erfenis (It is my language, the one in which I express myself and which gives me a unique identity. It is not just a language I speak, it is a part of me – my heritage).
 
Valentin from France highlighted that dans le monde globalisé d’aujourd’hui, ça permet de rester attaché à là d’où l’on vient (In today’s globalised world, it allows us to stay in touch with our roots).
 
Karim from Egypt noted that: إنها وعاء الهوية، هي هويتي. هي الجذور التي تعطي الإحساس بالانتماء  (It is about identity; it is the roots that provide a sense of belonging).
 
Muhannad from Iraq underscored: اللغة العربية هي لغة الشعر والأدب هي جميلة ومعقدة ولكنها لغة مظلومة لقلة استخدامنا لها. وهي جزء من هويتي  (Arabic is the language of poetry and literature; it is beautiful and complicated).
 
Anton from Sweden said: Mitt modersmål, svenska, är det språk min själ talar (My mother tongue, Swedish, is the language that my soul speaks).
 
Juraj from Slovakia shared: Je to jazyk, v ktorom som začal myslieť a poznávať Svet (It was the first language in which I started to think and to know the world).
 
Johanna who is from Germany and Poland said in Polish: To ala mnie język dźwięków skąplikowanych, a takie współudziału z moją siostrą (It is the language of complex sounds and complicity with my sister).
Karima from Morocco noted: اللغة بالنسبة لي تعني الانتماء إلى المغرب؛ وتعني المزح والضحك والأسرة والعائلة. هي تاريخي كله وجذوري  (Language for her means belonging to her homeland; it also implies humour and wit but above all family. It beholds her entire history and her roots).
 
Fidele from Rwanda said: Runyibutsa igihugu cyanjye no gukurira yo hamwe n’incuti n’umuryango (It reminds me of my country and growing up there with friends and family).
 
Lee from South Korea said: 저에게 한글이란 저의 정체성이라고 생각합니다. 언어로 한국에서 행복한 어린시절을 보냈고, 문화적으로 깊은 공감을 있기 때문입니다 (My mother language, Korean, is my identity. I had spent a happy childhood with this language and I can have a deeper understanding of the culture and people when I communicate in Korean).
 
Self-expression
 
Shadia from Lebanon said: هيي الشي الوحيد اللي بيخلّيني فكّر وعبّر عن مشاعري بطريقة مزبوطة (Language is the only thing that allows her to think and accurately express her feelings).
 
Belkacem from Algeria said: هي اللغة الي نفكر فيها مليح واكون مرتاح فيها كي نكون نهدر (I think and speak better in my mother tongue).
 
With great simplicity, Niranjan from India expressed how his mother language makes him feel like himself (मेरी मातृभाषा मुझे अपने आप को महसूस करती है।).
 
For Alexia from Greece, Η μητρική μου γλώσσα, τα ελληνικά, είναι πηγή εμπνεύσης και έκφρασης για μένα. Τα ελληνικά είναι ο  πυρήνας της δημιουργικότητας, σκέψης και των συναισθημάτων μου (My mother language, Greek, is a source of inspiration and expression for me. Greek is my base of creativity, thoughts and emotions).
 
Martti from Finland expressed: Äidinkielen merkitys on minulle moninainen. Yhtäältä, se on lapsuuteni kieli, jolla minun on helpoin ilmaista itseäni. Toisaalta äidinkieli mielestäni muokkaa myös tapaa jolla ymmärrän ja käsittelen maailmaa, ja siitä syystä eri kielien oppiminen on mielestäni niin kiehtovaa (For me, my mother tongue is the language I grew up with and the one in which I am most comfortable expressing myself. But I also think your mother tongue influences the way you organise and think about the world around you, which is also why I find learning different languages so interesting).
 
Beautiful language
 
Many spoke about the love they have for their language.
 
Johannes from Germany said: Deutsch hat ein reiches Vokabular und viele Dialekte und Akzente und ich bin immer wieder erstaunt, wie verschieden Leute sprechen koennen obwohl es am Ende immer noch Deutsch ist. Manchmal, wenn ich Deutsch hoere, besonders den Aktzent meiner Heimatstadt, bekomme ich Heimweh (German is very rich in vocabulary, dialects, and accents and it always amazes me how differently people can speak and it is still German. Sometimes hearing German, especially the accent from my home town, makes me homesick).
 
Others spoke of the rich vocabulary due to the interaction with several cultures throughout history.
 
Akmal from Uzbekistan said: Она тилим Ватанимни кадимий тарих ва маданиятини, ота-боболаримиздан колган адабиёт ва тараккиёт меросини билдиради (My mother tongue represents the old history and culture of my Motherland, and the literature and development heritage of my ancestors).
Akram from Tunis noted: عَسلامَه. اللهجة التونسية تمثل بالنسبة لي هويتي العربية المتوسطية الشمال أفريقية على خاطر تعكس تاريخ تونس الغني بالثقافات والحضارات وأنا فخور بيها برشه  (Tunisian for me is my Arab-Mediterranean-North African identity, reflecting the rich history of Tunis, and I am very proud of it).
 
According to the United Nations, at least 43% of the estimated 6000 languages spoken in the world are endangered. Only a few hundred languages have genuinely been given a place in education systems and the public domain, and less than a hundred are used in the digital world.
 
UNESCO also uses the day to focus on linguistic diversity and multilingualism as an integral part of sustainable development, and in particular to realize targets 4.6 and 4.7 of Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) on education.