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Reflecting on International Mother Language Day: Insights and Impacts

22 Feb 2024 - On the 21st of February, the world came together to celebrate International Mother Language Day, an occasion dedicated to promoting linguistic diversity and preserving cultural heritage. This day, recognized globally, serves as a poignant reminder of the importance of mother tongues in maintaining cultural identity, enhancing educational equity, and fostering social justice. As we look back on the celebrations and initiatives that marked this significant day, Paeradigms contintinues stands at the forefront of advocating for linguistic inclusivity, underlining the path towards this goal as both vital and challenging.

The legacy of colonial language policies revisited

The reflections on this year's International Mother Language Day brought to the forefront the enduring legacy of colonial language policies. Studies, such as those by Jain (2016), have shown the tangible impacts of these policies on literacy and educational outcomes. For example, in India, districts that provided education in languages different from the local tongue witnessed significantly lower literacy and college graduation rates. The body of research underscores the profound impact of colonial language policies on education, identity, and social inequality. It advocates for a more inclusive approach that values linguistic diversity as a key component of educational equity and social justice. This enhanced understanding emphasizes the importance of integrating indigenous languages into educational systems to create more equitable and effective learning environments. The day's discussions and seminars reignited conversations about the need for educational reforms that embrace linguistic diversity, underscoring the critical role of indigenous languages in fostering inclusive learning environments.

Addressing the delegitimization of Indigenous languages

The celebration also highlighted ongoing efforts to counteract the delegitimization of indigenous languages. Researchers like Bhattacharya (2017) have emphasized the colonial origins of languages like English in educational systems and the necessity of acknowledging and integrating linguistic diversity. This year's observances showcased initiatives aimed at reviving and legitimizing indigenous languages, with programs and policies designed to incorporate these languages into educational curricula, thereby challenging the colonial and post-colonial narratives that have historically marginalized them.

Globalization and the economics of language in focus

The impact of globalization on linguistic diversity was another key theme of International Mother Language Day. Jean-Pierre (2019)'s work on the challenges faced by post-colonial societies within a neoliberal paradigm was particularly relevant. The discussions underscored the importance of viewing indigenous languages as valuable resources for education and development, advocating for a shift in perspective that recognizes the economic and social value of linguistic diversity in an increasingly globalized world.

Educational inequalities and the path forward

The gentrification of bilingual education in countries like the United States, as explored by Dorner et al. (2021), served as a case study for broader issues of linguistic and educational inequality. This year's events highlighted the need for policies that not only provide access to education but also ensure that it is inclusive, equitable, and culturally relevant. By reflecting on contemporary challenges, International Mother Language Day emphasized the importance of concerted efforts to promote linguistic sovereignty and the rights of indigenous languages.

Embracing a linguistically inclusive future

As we reflect on the insights and discussions that International Mother Language Day sparked, it is evident that the journey towards linguistic inclusivity and cultural preservation is ongoing. The day served as a call to action for policymakers, educators, and communities to continue advocating for the integration of indigenous languages into educational systems. Paeradigms continues to be a vocal advocate for the integration of indigenous languages into educational systems. By doing so, we can work towards a future where every language is valued, and every individual has the opportunity to learn in their mother tongue, thereby enriching educational experiences and promoting a more just and inclusive society. This year's International Mother Language Day not only celebrated the rich tapestry of languages that make up our world but also highlighted the critical work that remains in promoting linguistic diversity and educational equity. As we move forward, the lessons learned and the initiatives launched on this day will undoubtedly play a crucial role in shaping a more inclusive and linguistically diverse future.

Nina Volles


The legacy of colonial language policies
  • Jain (2016) provides evidence from India showing that districts with education in a language different from the local language experienced significantly lower literacy and college graduation rates, a trend that reversed after reorganization based on linguistic lines. Jain, T. (2016). Common Tongue: The Impact of Language on Educational Outcomes. The Journal of Economic History, 77, 473 - 510.

  • Laitin, Ramachandran, and Walter (2019) highlight how an experimental program in Cameroon, teaching in a local language, significantly improved student performance in both English and math, challenging the colonial legacy of favoring foreign languages. Laitin, D., Ramachandran, R., & Walter, S. (2019). The Legacy of Colonial Language Policies and Their Impact on Student Learning: Evidence from an Experimental Program in Cameroon. Economic Development and Cultural Change, 68, 239 - 272.

Delegitimization of Indigenous languages
  • Bhattacharya (2017) critically examines the colonial origins of English in India and its enduring impact on language policy and education, advocating for a recognition of linguistic diversity. Bhattacharya, U. (2017). Colonization and English ideologies in India: a language policy perspective. Language Policy, 16, 1-21.

  • Coyne (2015) demonstrates the correlation between the use of colonial languages as mediums of instruction and increased income inequality in Africa, underscoring the social implications of language policies. Coyne, G. (2015). Language Education Policies and Inequality in Africa: Cross-National Empirical Evidence. Comparative Education Review, 59, 619 - 637.

Globalization and the economics of language
  • Marky (2019) discusses the challenges post-colonial societies face within a neoliberal paradigm, emphasizing the importance of local languages in education for social development. Marky, J.-P. (2019). Language, education, and development: post-colonial societies and neoliberalism. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 40, 507 - 522.

Language, inequality, and educational challenges
  • Dorner et al. (2021) examine the gentrification of bilingual education in the US, highlighting how privileged students often displace transnational language learners, echoing coloniality in contemporary education policies Dorner, L., Cervantes-Soon, C., Heiman, D., & Palmer, D. (2021). “Now it’s all upper-class parents who are checking out schools”: gentrification as coloniality in the enactment of two-way bilingual education policies. Language Policy, 20, 1 - 27.

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