International Mother Language Day 2021

15 February: PEN International and PEN Chiapas Multicultural will mark International Mother Language Day in a series of activities from 15 – 23 February 2021.

Held every year on 21 February, International Mother Language Day is observed to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

To celebrate the day, PEN International will feature five video-poems recited by poets in their mother language: Juana Peña (Chol), Seyare Kokche (Crimean Tatar), Wasai Biran Issa (Dazaga), Moeyed Teyib (Kurdish) and Santiago B. Villafania (Pangasinan). The video-poems will be promoted on PEN International’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts from 15 – 19 February, and made available on PEN International’s YouTube channel.

In addition, PEN Chiapas Multicultural will hold a Press Conference on 18 February to present its Diverse Festival. The Diverse Festival will celebrate the importance of cultural and linguistic diversity through poetry, music and other artistic expression, with a focus on the different languages and traditions of Chiapas. It will be streamed on Facebook on 22 and 23 February. More information on the festival can be found here.

PEN Chiapas Multicultural was founded in the spirit of equality among languages, meaning that all cultural expressions must be respected. Every linguistic expression must have the recognition of its own people, and each man and woman must be free to fully live their own culture. International Mother Language Day reminds us that harmony is based on respect for our collective identities and languages. We have inherited a literary tradition. We acknowledge and respect it, it fills our need of culture and it renews our people”, said Enrique Pérez López, President of PEN Chiapas Multicultural.

Established in November 2020, PEN Chiapas Multicultural is PEN International’s very first indigenous PEN Centre. It represents writers from some of Mexico’s largest indigenous populations, with at least 11 Mayan languages such as Tsetsal, Tsotsil, Tojolabal, Ch’ol, as well as Zoque.

Commenting on the importance of this international day Urtzi Urrutikoetxea, Chair of PEN International’s Translation and Linguistic Rights Committee (TLRC), said: “This is a very important day for millions of people speaking languages different to the official or state languages. While these people might live in different continents and have very different cultures and traditions, they all share an experience of denial and neglect by governments and institutions that impose their languages. Therefore, for PEN International, this is not merely a day to stress the importance of diversity and the preservation of our linguistic heritage, but an act to give voice and empower writers, translators and cultural actors all around the world who proudly express themselves in their mother language. We believe that indigenous or minorized languages are equally useful for a poem, for instance, to talk about the environment, or for a radio news to discuss economics or share the latest updated information about Covid-19, as any official or state language.”

In 2011, PEN International proclaimed its Girona Manifesto for Linguistic Rights, stating among other points that «Respect for all languages and cultures is fundamental to the process of constructing and maintaining dialogue and peace in the world» and that «Every linguistic community has the right for its language to be used as an official language in its territory.». You can read the full Girona manifesto here.

According to the United Nations, every two weeks a language disappears. At least 43% of the estimated 6000 languages spoken in the world are endangered. When a language disappears, it takes with it an entire cultural and intellectual heritage, as well as the opportunities that come with it. This undermines the world's cultural diversity. International Mother Language Day was proclaimed by the UNESCO in November 1999. The UN General Assembly welcomed the proclamation in its resolution of 2002.

PEN International activities to celebrate the International Mother Language Day, are part of a series of events planned throughout 2021 to mark PEN International’s Centenary. Founded in 1921 by English writer Catherine Amy Dawson Scott, PEN International has spent 100 years celebrating literatures and protecting freedom of expression. You can stand up for persecuted writers by making a donation today.

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