International Mother Language Day 2017

International Mother Language Day (IMLD) is a worldwide annual observance held on 21 February to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

The date represents the day in 1952 when students demonstrating for recognition of their language, Bangla, as one of the two national languages of the then Pakistan, were shot and killed by police in Dhaka, the capital of what is now Bangladesh.

By asking participants to try and read a children’s story – in a language they didn’t understand – Nal’ibali has created a poignant Public Service Announcement (PSA) highlighting the challenges faced by many young children as they engage with print and other literacy materials in unfamiliar languages on a daily basis.

“Regular interaction with interesting and challenging books and stories in home languages allows children to build a deep understanding of their mother tongue. This ensures a firm foundation for learning not only an additional language, but for all other school learning too,” explains Carole Bloch, Director of PRAESA (The Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa) which is running the Nal’ibali campaign.

“All children, and not only English speakers, deserve significant exposure to the finest of locally written and international literature in their first languages. Until we achieve this, we continue to disadvantage learning opportunities for the majority of children in South Africa,” Bloch continues.

Languages are the most powerful instruments of preserving and developing our tangible and intangible heritage. All moves to promote the dissemination of mother tongues will serve not only to encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education but also to develop fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions throughout the world and to inspire solidarity based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue.

South Africa has 11 official languages: Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sesotho sa Leboa, Sesotho, Setswana, Siswati, Tshivenda and Xitsonga.

And, for those wanting to access children’s stories and other literacy materials in a range of SA languages, they need not look further than the Nal’ibali reading-for-enjoyment supplement. Issued each week during term time, the supplement is the only fully bilingual resource of it’s kind offering children’s stories, literacy activities as well as reading tips and support in four different language combinations.

These resources are also freely available from the Nal’ibali :

India’s National Languages

India has 2 official languages at the national level – English and Hindi (spoken by 40% of India). Given that Indian states are free to choose their own languages there are 22 other official languages at the state level.

National level – Sanskrit (mother language of most Indian languages), Hindi, Urdu (language of many Muslims)

indian languagesRegional level

  • South India – Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam
  • West India – Marathi, Gujarati, Konkani, Sindhi
  • East India – Oriya, Bengali, Maithili, Assamese, Bodo, Manipuri, Santhali
  • North India – Dogri (in Jammu & Kashmir), Kashmiri, Nepali, Punjabi

The official language classification is significant because:

  • They are the main mode of government communication in the states
  • By law, Indian government has to make sure the development of these languages and improve their richness
  • Students appearing for exams for administrative roles in Indian government (a big deal in India) can use any of these official languages for writing their answer.
  • The official language classification is also a tool for politicians for consolidation of their vote bases and improving their status of their own languages.

Of the official languages, the smallest ones in terms of speakers are Sanskrit, Konkani, Bodo and Manipuri with less than 2 million speakers each. Although there are 22 official languages, in our currency notes we write in only 15 biggest of these:


The biggest languages that dont have an official status are Bhili (spoken near Ahmedabad) and Gondi (in Andra Pradesh & Chattisgarh).

International Mother Language Day was proclaimed by the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in November 1999 (30C/62).

About Indianspice Staff Reporter

Report and write stories for It is our ambitious goal to cover issues/events/news concerning South Africa and the diaspora.