Monday, 21 February 2011

Happy International Mother Language Day

Today this song is in my head,  hymn to the martyrs of the Language Movement, who died this day in East Pakistan in 1952. The Language Movement was formed to protest against Jinnah's declaration that Urdu alone would be the national language of Pakistan, despite the majority speaking Bengali. It was the start of resistance against the Pakistani state that would result in the formation of independent Bangladesh in 1971. I love this song, it is solemn and beautiful and declares that we will never forget the blood spilled by our brothers that day.

It's also appropriate that today I'll be reading poetry commemorating Soweto with my students, the uprising provoked by language policy in apartheid South Africa. Language is a site of political ownership and control as well as cultural and personal expression. It's a joy to speak the language you choose to, but it isn't always a given right that can be taken for granted.

For the right to speak your mother tongue, and for those who have been or are being denied that right, I wish you all happy Mother Language Day.

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