United in Tongues: Celebrating International Mother Language Day and Embracing Linguistic Diversity

06/03/2023 09:37 AM
Opinions on topical issues from thought leaders, columnists and editors.
Oleh :
Dr. Sazuliana Sanif

International Mother Language Day is a day to celebrate linguistic diversity and the importance of preserving mother languages. This day is celebrated every year on February 21, and it highlights the significance of mother languages in shaping our identity, culture, and heritage. As someone who grew up in a multilingual society like Malaysia, I understand the importance of mother languages in connecting with our roots and preserving cultural heritage.

As a Malay, I grew up speaking Malay as my mother tongue, which is also the national language of Malaysia. The Malay language is more than just a tool for communication; it embodies the Malay people's history, values, and traditions. It is the language we use to express our emotions, tell stories, and convey our thoughts. Speaking Malay also enables me to connect with my family and community, as we share a common language that unites us.

In addition to Malay, I also speak Javanese. The language is spoken by a significant minority of the population, particularly in the states of Johor and Selangor. It is the mother tongue of the Javanese ethnic group, who migrated to Malaysia from Java, Indonesia. For Javanese speakers, the language is a source of pride and a means of preserving their cultural identity and heritage.

One exciting example of the importance of Malay and Javanese languages in Malaysia is the annual celebration of Hari Raya Aidilfitri, which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. During this celebration, Malay and Javanese are widely spoken as people gather with their families and friends to enjoy traditional Malay and Javanese dishes and exchange greetings in their respective languages. Overall, the influence of Javanese culture in Malaysia is a testament to the importance of preserving mother languages and cultural traditions.

Another event where the Malay language is concerned is National Language Month, which is held every year in Malaysia throughout the month of October. During this month-long celebration, various activities and events are organised at schools, varsities, and at district and national levels such as a poetry recitation festival, short story writing competition, story-telling, poetry writing and news reading competition, and many more intended to promote the use of Malay language and to educate the public about the importance of preserving and promoting the language.

The celebration of International Mother Language Day serves as a reminder of the importance of linguistic diversity and the need to protect and promote mother languages. According to UNESCO, half of the world's languages are in danger of disappearing, and with them, valuable cultural heritage and knowledge. By celebrating our mother tongues, we celebrate our identity, culture, and heritage. It is essential to recognise the importance of mother languages, not only in Malaysia but around the world, as they serve as a means of preserving our history, traditions, and cultural identity.

In conclusion, as a Malay who speaks both Malay and Javanese as my mother tongue, I understand the significance of native languages in shaping our identity and connecting with our roots. Malay and Javanese are not just languages as they also represent a rich cultural heritage and traditions that are unique to their respective communities. Therefore, it is crucial to celebrate and promote linguistic diversity and to protect and preserve mother languages for future generations. As individuals, we can also do our part by embracing linguistic diversity and supporting efforts to promote the use and preservation of mother languages.


Dr. Sazuliana Sanif is a senior lecturer and the Deputy Dean of Academic and Students at the Centre for Language Studies

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