International Mother Language Day

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Every year on February 21st, International Mother Language Day draws awareness for linguistic and cultural diversity. It is a day to promote multilingualism.

Mother language commonly referred to as ‘mother tongue’,  is the first language that someone speaks.  The International Mother Language Day 2023 edition will explore the theme ‘multilingual education – a necessity to transform education.’  

In November 1999, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) proclaimed International Mother Language Day.

Many people throughout the world celebrate their mother language on this day. Many awards, including the Linguapax Prize and the Ekushey Heritage Award, are given to those who have excelled in language preservation and the promotion of multilingualism.

UNESCO headquarters in Paris, France, also holds a special event each year. They encourage students to write something in their mother language, or they organize cultural events that celebrate a diverse range of languages.

Sign language is among the 6,000 languages in the world. It is the importance that awareness of sign language is raised and the linguistic identity of the deaf and others who use sign language protected.

There are more than 70 million deaf people across the world, as per the World Federation of the Deaf. These people collectively use more than 300 different sign languages.

Sign language is a full-fledged natural language and therefore,  should not be left out in the celebration of the mother tongue. 

This day celebrates languages as powerful tools for social inclusion and global development. It seeks to promote the long-term development goals of equity for all.

Kenyan Sign Language (English: KSL, Swahili: LAK) is the sign language used by the deaf community in Kenya. It is used by over half of Kenya’s estimated 600,000 deaf population.

For some deaf, sign language is the main, and maybe only, language, since spoken language is too inaccessible for them. It is therefore an essential part of the whole lifelong learning package for them. 

Sign language is used by people other than the deaf, it is not a language for the non-hearing alone.

Sign language is a rightful mother tongue and means of communicating fluently with the deaf, and with hearing people who live and work with them.

BY NKATHA WAINAINA

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