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EDITORIAL: The language which a person has grown up speaking from early childhood is his or her mother tongue. Over the time as that person grows up and interfaces with diverse linguistic and cultural derivations, he or she does develop communicative universality. However, it is this person’s mother tongue that lends cognitive reality shorn of emotions to his or her worldview. Short on that input of mother tongue he or she would fall short of fuller realization of his true self.

According to Dr Ghulam Ali of Allama Iqbal Open University, “the language and construction of reality go together and any language which is unfamiliar to a child cannot be helpful in learning”. So, even when information technology, global linguistic connectivity and various official plans to develop what is called a national language promise to promote quality of life, the yearning is always there for preservation and promotion of mother tongues.

That yearning comes to the fore every year on February 21 and is observed the world over by people in line with their particular perceptions and their invariable calls to save the mother tongues that confront existential threats.

The day is momentous for us in Pakistan also for two special reasons. One, on February 21, 1952 about a dozen of Dacca University students were killed and many injured as they were protesting the government’s decision to declare Urdu as national language, while their mother tongue, Bangla, was spoken by the majority of people of the then Pakistan.

The UNESCO decided to honour their sacrifice for a language by instituting a day, hoping it would raise awareness about linguistic diversity which in turn would strengthen the cause for cultural diversity.

Two, of the 76 languages in Pakistan many are already on the deathbed and for survival of the rest efforts are afoot, but not at the government level. Rightly then on the International Mother Language Day there were quite a few functions at private and semi-government forums where support for survival of mother languages was expressed. But if what is now in the making in terms of ‘unifying’ the people remains strident the time is not far when of the 76 only a couple would be alive and that too confined to their hometowns.

A common demand made at these functions was that as reforms in education sector take place a kind of official commitment be made to provide children with optimal learning opportunities in the languages they best understand, which are no other but their mother languages.

Every year the International Mother Language Day is observed with a special theme, which is expected to bring under sharper focus the threats to the survival of mother languages and opportunities these offer in the emerging global milieu. The theme for the present was “Using technology for multilingual learning: Challenges and Opportunities”.

The day is expected to promote multilingual education based on potential role that technology has to support and develop quality teaching and learning for all. So, even when survival of mother languages in Pakistan is a relevant issue, here is also an international call to make use of information technology, both by unifying divergent socio-political mindsets and lending the country an opportunity to improve its people’s literacy rate, skill sets and quality of life.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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