20/03/2024 11:23 AM
Opinions on topical issues from thought leaders, columnists and editors.
By :
Associate Professor Dr. Siti Noor Fazelah Mohd Noor

In today's increasingly interconnected world of globalisation and digital communication, it is of the utmost importance to keep one’s native language alive and well. This article was written by us in honour of International Mother Language Day, which is celebrated every year.

When it comes to ethnic communities, the mother tongue serves as more than just a means of communication; it is also a means of preserving a way of life, a repository of traditional knowledge, and a conduit for cultural identity. Protecting and promoting linguistic diversity is of the utmost importance in order to guarantee the continued existence of ethnic groups all over the world, since societies are constantly evolving and becoming more diverse.

Foundation of a community’s cultural identity

The mother tongue is the foundation of a community’s cultural identity, as it reflects the community’s distinct history, traditions and values. The language of a people is more than just a means of communication; it is also a living testament to the heritage and collective memory of that people.

The loss of a community’s mother tongue increases the likelihood that the community will lose a significant portion of its cultural identity. Language serves as the medium through which tales, folklore and the knowledge of ancestors are transmitted from one generation to the next, thereby fostering a sense of continuity and belonging.

Preserving the mother language is also crucial for maintaining a sustainable way of life within ethnic communities. Language is deeply intertwined with traditional practices, rituals and indigenous knowledge that have been honed over centuries. It serves as a guide to sustainable living, offering insights into ecological practices, agriculture and natural resource management that are often unique to a particular community.

By upholding the mother language, these communities ensure the transmission of invaluable knowledge that contributes to ecological harmony and sustainable development.

Fostering intergenerational bonds

Furthermore, the preservation of the mother language is a key factor in fostering intergenerational bonds. In many ethnic communities, elders play a pivotal role in passing down cultural practices and values to the younger generation.

The mother tongue is the medium through which this transfer of knowledge occurs. When the younger generation is proficient in their native language, they can engage more meaningfully with their elders, facilitating the exchange of wisdom and fostering a sense of continuity between generations.

In addition to being a linchpin of cultural preservation and sustainability, mother languages contribute significantly to the enhancement of an individual’s communication abilities. The ability to speak multiple languages is a valuable skill in an interconnected world. Those who are proficient in their mother language and fluent in other languages possess a unique advantage in communication.

Multilingualism not only enables individuals to navigate diverse social and professional environments but also fosters a deeper understanding of different cultures and perspectives.

Enhancing cognitive capacities

The cognitive capacities of people who speak more than one language tend to be of a higher quality, according to research. This includes enhanced creativity, adaptability and problem-solving abilities. Brain activity increases when one learns and uses more than one language, which in turn improves one’s ability to think critically and complete complicated tasks.

Furthermore, being able to speak more than one language greatly enhances one’s educational, occupational and cultural opportunities.

In the context of ethnic communities, the ability to speak multiple languages can be a bridge to cross-cultural communication and understanding. In a globalised society, interaction between different ethnic groups is inevitable, and linguistic diversity can serve as a catalyst for meaningful dialogue.

Communities that embrace linguistic diversity are better equipped to engage with the broader world, fostering cross-cultural collaborations, trade, and diplomatic relations.

If educational institutions, policymakers and community leaders want to make sure that ethnic groups stay together, they need to recognise the natural link between keeping mother tongues alive and keeping ethnic populations alive.

There should be active support for programmes that aim to encourage the teaching of mother tongues, cultural exchanges, and the recording of indigenous knowledge.

Aside from that, efforts should be made to include multilingual education in regular school programmes, since it has cognitive and cultural benefits.

Sustainability of ethnic communities

In conclusion, upholding the mother language is paramount for the sustainability of ethnic communities. Beyond its role in preserving cultural identity and traditional knowledge, the mother language enhances an individual’s communication abilities, fostering cognitive development and facilitating cross-cultural understanding.

As the world continues to evolve, embracing linguistic diversity is not just a choice but a necessity for building a more interconnected and harmonious global community.


Associate Professor Dr Siti Noor Fazelah Mohd Noor is Principal Researcher at the Centre for Communication Science Research, Centre for Language Studies, Universiti Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia (UTHM).

(The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of BERNAMA)