International Mother Language Day is our moment

Nargis Sultana

21st Februarythe International Mother Language Day is iconic Bangladesh. Bengali is the language of a vast population living in Bangladesh as well as West Bengal, Assam and Tripura of India. But 21st February has been recognized as the landmark of a country called Bangladesh.

Back in 1999 on November 17 in Paris, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on the proposal of the Bangladesh government unanimously took the decision to observe 21st February as International Mother Language Day every year throughout the world. It should be noted that 188 member countries of the UN were present at the meeting which gave Bangladesh a glowing dimension to her glorious history. Now Bengali as a mother tongue has become a symbol of respect, reverence and fidelity --- be it in Bangladesh or elsewhere all over the world. The incidents that happened on 21st February 1952, in which some gallant youths laid down their lives on the streets of Dhaka as a protest to uphold the dignity of their mother language, will be commemorated at home and abroad in the same way as another historical event of the world: on 1st May 1886 a number of workers sacrificed their lives in Chicago city to demand an eight hourly work day. Thus the history of Bangladesh has become part and parcel of the world's history. Therefore we see today the Shaheed Minar is also visited by many foreign nationals alongside our people on 21st February to commemorate 1952.

Language is the medium of literature and culture and of course a social construction of a large group of people who convey the same roots of origin and speak the same language as their identity across the globe. This chain of identity can never be broken but can be relaxed, though. This fact becomes clear when we see people tend to return to their native land to live out the last phase of their lives after spending a long period of time abroad. The Pakistani intelligentsia failed to understand this fact and did a blunder by disregarding the mother tongue of a greater population and proclaiming that Urdu would be the only language of Pakistan, thereby not considering what would happen to the feelings of the East Pakistani people and why they would learn Urdu as citizens of the country. Such whims of the then ruling party led to a bloody protest against the eccentric decision and to the embryo of a new sovereign country that was begotten on 16 December 1971.

Through the mother tongue a nation's lifestyle, social and cultural customs, hopes and aspirations, thoughts and ideas are reflected. The eventful Language Movement of 21st February has decisively proved that these aspects of a nation are by all means different from those of other nations and that no nation agrees to accept anything imposed on it by force. From this point of view, our 21st February is a symbol of universalism and testifies to a fact that relates to all languages and peoples of the world.

Bengali is spoken by a large number of people in Assam, Tripura and especially West Bengal as their first language. Bengali literature and poetry has been enriched by many reputed litterateurs and poets born in West Bengal. However, the common people of West Bengal are not rigid about expressing themselves through a pure Bengali language environment. They rather tend to merge in mainstream Indian culture. But the form and use of Bangla in Bangladesh is much more convenient being the state language. Here the Bengali language and our culture go hand in hand.

In our country Bangla still needs to be given proper attention. We observe the day of 21st February with a lot of enthusiasm, including a month-long book fair, decorating the mausoleum, recalling the martyrs, discussing the significance of the day, telecasting programs on different TV channels, publishing write ups and so on. But unfortunately after the month of February all the enthusiasm fades away sooner than expected. What we are worried about here too is that Bangla is also losing its decency and purity by the aggression of English and so called westernization. It is worth mentioning that a group of youths who are working as radio jockeys and in the electronic media like to speak Bangla in distorted accents and pronunciation. We insist on learning English with special attention to natural pronunciation and as per demand of the times. We also insist on learning to speak Bengali in its standard form. We don't want it spoken in a blended form like an alien, hampering its long achieved dignity. What is more important in connection with this matter is to have some kind of barriers and paradigms of guidelines in the electronic media and radio with a view to keeping up the standard variety of Bangla as it truly is.

In addition to the above, English medium schools in our country don't seem to pay proper attention to Bengali when teaching it to their students. As a result, most of the students in these schools remain weak in Bengali. They neither like to speak their mother language for English nor can they write in Bengali properly. This is a serious malpractice and humiliation as far as our language is concerned. Nevertheless this situation can easily be overcome by changing the attitude of the school authorities. They can arrange Bengali extemporaneous speech competitions, writing competitions and poetry recitation side by side with English to mark different occasions and inspire the students to practise mother tongue by giving out awards to them.

The United Nations has honoured Ekushey as International Mother Language Day. Now it is our sole responsibility to highlight the achievements of our language in the international environment. We rarely see in our media what endeavours our foreign ministry has undertaken to present the history of our Liberation War and language movement before other nations. Bangladesh's embassies can do a lot of things by setting up libraries where translation of important books of Bengali literature, documentaries, films, posters, brochures, etc, will be kept and displayed on different occasions for Bengali people living abroad and foreigners. Moreover, they also should establish Bangladeshi cultural centers, like American, Indian and British cultural centers, in foreign capitals. Such centers will reflect the history of our language movement and freedom struggle properly and respectfully.

Last but not the least, a law can be enacted through parliament on the basis of which Bangla Academy will form a monitoring team to safeguard the standard of Bangla in both speaking and writing. It is notable that in France, without the consent of the academy of France, no new words can be introduced to the public. The media, books and newspapers need its permission to use any new words. Our poets, writers, journalists, teachers, intellectuals and media people have, therefore, to be more conscious about using the Bengali language.

Nargis Sultana is former principal, BAF Shaheen English School, Tejgaon Dhaka.