International Mother Language Day was established by the UN in 2000 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.
In Canada there are over 200 languages spoken, many spoken coast to coast to coast.
The multitude of Aboriginal languages, as well as our two official languages of English and French, holds a special place in our heritage as our original mother tongues.
Sadly, of the 60 registered Aboriginal languages, only four are considered to be safe from extinction. British Columbia is home to more than half of Canada’s native languages, however, only 1 in 20 aboriginals in the province are fluent in their language, and almost all of them are elders.
Many of these languages date back thousands of years but today, we have allowed them to teeter on the verge of extinction. If we allow even one of our Aboriginal languages to become extinct, we would have done a great disservice to the heritage of the world.
According to the United Nations:
“Languages are the most powerful instruments of preserving and developing our tangible and intangible heritage. All moves to promote the dissemination of mother tongues will serve not only to encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education but also to develop fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions throughout the world and to inspire solidarity based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue.”
The importance of language diversity gives Canada a distinct advantage in the world. Whether we are working on diplomatic missions, trade relations or humanitarian aid, our knowledge of the languages of the world allows us to achieve success in these endeavors.
Growing up in Uganda, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to learn several languages, both African and Indian. While I did not realize it at the time, learning those languages opened up doors of opportunity for me which I never would have dreamed of.
This past summer, I traveled to Kolkata, India with International Justice Mission Canada and spoke to young girls who had been victims of child trafficking. If it was not for the languages I learnt as a child, I would not have been able to converse with these young girls and bring their tragic stories out into the open.
In this increasingly competitive world, we must ensure that our children have all the tools they need to be successful in the future by promoting diverse language training.
We must also ensure that we are protecting our heritage by giving aboriginal languages the same status as our official languages of English and French. Allowing the original languages of this land to become extinct would be an irreversible tragedy.