"Mother language" is the loan translation of a term used in several Romance languages, such as "lengua maternal" in Spanish, "lingua madre" in Italian and "langue maternelle" in French. In linguistics, the term refers to an ancestor or protolanguage of a language family.
A more comprehensible English translation of the term would be "mother tongue" or "native language."
Feb. 21 was proclaimed as the International Mother Language Day by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in November 1999, to promote the preservation of the world’s parent languages, the unity in diversity and international understanding through multilingualism and multiculturalism.
The idea of this day was proposed by Rafiqul Islam, a Bengali national living in Vancouver. On Jan. 9, 1998, he wrote a letter to former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan asking him to save the different languages of the world from extinction.
The day was first celebrated by the U.N. in 2000, but its date corresponds to a day in 1952 when students from the University of Dhaka, Jagannath University and Dhaka Medical College advocated for the recognition of Bangla as one of the two national languages of East Pakistan during the Language Movement.
The students were then shot dead by police in Dhaka, the capital of present-day Bangladesh.
Cover credit: Unesco.mn