Cabinet tomorrow should decide that the government and nation formally observe the fifth International Mother Language Day on February 21 with a hundred if not a thousand programmes officially and unofficially
by Lim Kit Siang
(Penang, Tuesday): For more than two years, DAP had been the lone voice calling on both the Federal and Penang State governments and the civil society in Malaysia to celebrate the annual International Mother Language Day on February 21 in a big way as the country is the home of several mother tongues of its citizens.
It is unfortunate that Malaysia had not officially observed the International Mother Language Day (IMLD) in the past four years since its proclamation by UNESCO General Conference in November 1999, with the first world-wide celebration held on February 21, 2000.
The DAP was the first political party to celebrate the IMLD last year – in fact, it was the first time that the IMLD was celebrated in Malaysia, by the DAP with a programme each in Penang and Kuala Lumpur and by Dong Jiao Zong with an IMLD Festival in Kajang.
Malaysians should speak up and demand that the Federal and State Governments officially recognize and observe the fifth IMLD next month. As the home to diverse mother-tongues, Malaysia is the most ideal country to lead the world in celebrating the IMLD with verve, vigour and imagination. Furthermore, Malaysia was one of the 28 countries which supported the Bangladesh proposal at the 30th General Conference of the UNESCO resulting in the unanimous adoption of a resolution declaring 21st February every year as IMLD.
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 – the English language - at the risk of marginalizing the other major languages of the world and even causing the lesser-used languages, including regional languages, to disappear.
In fact, there is the view that a language that is 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 study of the universal
statistics on the use of different languages on the Internet will show
that even the Malay language will have to safeguard its position from the
threat of seeping global monolingualism - highlighting the importance of the
IMLD even to the Malay language in the global context.
An acid test of whether there is full acceptance of the rightful place and role of mother-tongue education in the national education system of a plural Malaysia is whether the Cabinet is prepared to formally recognize the fifth IMLD on February 21 and to generate a hundred if not a thousand programmes celebrating the occasion by the government and the civil society, whether officially or unofficially.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman