DAP to launch a nation-wide campaign to ensure that there will be hundreds if not a thousand programmes next year to celebrate the fifth International Mother Language Day on February 21, 2004 and not just celebration by two organizations - DAP and Dong Jiao Zong - this year

- DAP International Mother Language Day 2003 Forum
by Lim Kit Siang

(Kuala Lumpur,  Friday): In his message for the fourth International Mother Language Day (IMLD) 2003 which falls on today, the UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura asked why the focus on the mother language and he gave this answer:

"Because languages constitute an irreducible expression of human creativity in all its diversity. Tools of communication, perception and reflection, they also shape the way we view the world and provide a link between past, present and future. They bear within them the traces of their encounters, the diverse sources from which they have borrowed, each according to its own particular history.

"Mother languages are unique in that they mark human beings from their birth, imparting to them a distinctive vision of things that will never really fade, however many languages they subsequently acquire. Learning the language of others is thus a matter of becoming acquainted with other perceptions of the world, other approaches."

UNESCO is currently working on a draft Declaration on Linguistic Rights and Linguistic Diversity upholding the principle of linguistic diversity and respect for personal rights, declaring in Article 1:

  • 1.1. Language, as an expression of the identity of very person, is an inalienable right.

  • 1.2. Public authorities shall base their linguistic policy on respect for linguistic rights, promotion of the conditions that favour the exercising of these rights and the preservation of linguistic diversity, both within the State and in the international arena.

  • 1.3. Everyone has the right to recognition of and respect for his or her language, to identify himself or herself as a member of his or her linguistic community, to use his or her language in relating to and associating with other people, in private and in public, in order to maintain and develop his or her own culture.

Until recently in Malaysia, when we talk about protecting "mother-tongues", it invariably refers to Chinese, Tamil, Iban, Kadazan, Bidayuh, Orang Asli but excludes Malay as it is the official language of the country.

But Malay is also a mother-tongue that requires respect and protection especially with the globalization of communication and the tendency to use a single language at the risk of marginalizing the other major languages of the world - or even causing the lesser-used languages, including regional languages, to disappear.

In fact, there is the view that a language not on the Internet is a language that "no longer exists" in the modern world, which is why there is a global movement to protect mother tongues on the Internet through the promotion and use of multilingualism and universal access to cyberspace.

A recent survey of Internet language use on the number of people online in each language provides the following table of statistics, given in millions:


Internet Language Use


# Users (M)

% of Internet


235 m

38.3 %


69 m

11.2 %


61.4 m

10 %


42 m

6.8 %


32.7 m

5.5 %


25.2 m

4.1 %


24 m

3.9 %


22 m

3.5 %


19 m

3.1 %


18.1 m

3 %


12.4 m

2 %


6.7 m

1.1 %


6 m

1 %


5.7 m

1 %


4.8 m

0.8 %


4 m

0.7 %


3.4 m

0.6 %


2.5 m

0.4 %


2.3 m

0.4 %


2.2 m

0.4 %


2.1 m

0.3 %


2 m

0.3 %


2 m

0.3 %


2 m

0.3 %


2 m

0.3 %


1.5 m

0.2 %


1.2 m

0.2 %


.9 m

0.1 %


750 k

0.1 %


700 k

0.1 %


A study of these global Internet statistics will show that even the Malay language will have safeguard its position from the threat of seeping global monolingualism - highlighting the importance of the IMLD.

The new threat to multilingualism with the globalization of communications in the Internet era is similar to the threat to biodiversity. It is not just because most languages are like the disappearing "species", but because there is an intrinsic and causal link between biological diversity and cultural diversity.

Multilingualism is the most accurate reflection of multiculturalism. The destruction of the first will inevitably lead to the loss of the second.

DAP will launch a nation-wide campaign to ensure that there will be hundreds if not a thousand programmes next year to celebrate the fifth International Mother Language Day on February 21, 2004 and not just celebration by two organizations - DAP and Dong Jiao Zong - this year.

I am most disappointed that despite my urgent emails to the Prime Minister, the Cabinet Ministers, Penang Chief Minister, Tan Sri Dr. Koh Tsu Koon, the Penang State Exco Members, and all other Chief Ministers and Mentris Besar in the country, the Cabinet and all the State governments have not acted on my proposal to officially recognize and observe the IMLD although Malaysia was one of the 28 countries which supported the Bangladesh proposal at the 30th General Conference of the UNESCO in 1999 to proclaim 21st February every year as the IMLD.

DAP will move a resolution in the next meeting of Parliament and the Penang State Assembly to officially recognize and observe the IMLD every Feb. 21, and all Members of Parliament and Penang State Assembly members, whether ruling or opposition, should stand united on a common platform to adopt such a resolution as Malaysia, with our unique multi-lingual and multi-cultural characteristics, is the ideal place to lead the world to celebrate the IMLD with verve, vigour and imagination.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman