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Importance of International Mother Tongue Day and the Diasporic Crisis of Identity

Nelson Mandela once said that 'if you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.' This is most understood when one is faced with the diasporic experience

The observation of February 21 is International Mother Tongue Day is gradually becoming more important in the diasporic context of present day globe trotting. The growing incidence of the Diaspora has given place to dislocation , disintegration , dispossession and disbelongingness. Mother tongue seems to be the oasis in the desert of geographical and cultural dislocation. The experience of expatriation not only gradually disconnects the individual from his roots, simultaneously it polarizes  his existence which straddles between nationality and exile.Cultural affinity with a country makes one alien where one makes repeated attempts to transmute and transform his identity. Diaspora is an emotional and psychological state of a) strutting between two geographical  and cultural states b) struggling  between regression and progression, dislocation and then relocation. It relates to History and culture and this experience of inhabiting two history specific and culture specific spaces yields  to subtle tension of dislocation and alienation. In the agony and ecstasy of being an expatriate the importance of mother tongue is understood better. Without the mother tongue the expatriates feel the crisis of multiple identity  and a hybrid vision.If we remember that around 230 languages have become extinct since 1950, that languages represent culture and hold the secrets of the history of a people, then we have much to do to make sure the trend reverses.International Mother Language Day was proclaimed by the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization(UNESCO) in November 1999 .On 16 May 2009 the United Nations General Assembly in its resolution A/RES/61/266 called upon Member States "to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by peoples of the world". By the same resolution, the General Assembly proclaimed 2008 as the International Year of Languages ,to promote unity in diversity and international understanding, through multilingualism and multiculturalism. .International Mother Language Day has been observed every year since February 2000 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

Physical alienation from one’s own mother land creates in one the yearning for his ‘imaginary homeland’ which is found again and again in the writings of Taslima Nasreen and Salman Rushdie. In spite of their long stay outside their own motherland , they could not break away clean from their own culture and carried the cultural baggage with the important segment of mother tongue in it with them. In the case of Taslima Nasreen the prospects of returen has never been ruled out. A parasitic feeling overtakes the expatriates and the grandness of mother tongue is intensely felt by them. In absence of the mother tongue one is caught between identity crisis and cross cultural communication and as a consequence  develops a double vision , a hybrid glance to combat such a marginalized existence. Our identity is at once plural and partial and sometimes all of us feel that we straddle two or more cultures at the same time. Indians in spite of their mother tongue grow up with two or more languages in their childhood.  So the question of mother tongue is not much realized by them as long they live within their own community and country .Only his long sojourn away from home brings into him a perpetual physical and emotional dislocation which signifies his diasporic consciousness. Today there is much global trotting and there is a great advancement of information technology. People move out from their own region to other lands for better  job prospects and excellent quality of life. For this they forego their home, society and nationality. Some find their own tradition and culture suffocating and look forward to a more liberal society  where there are less or absolutely no social and sexual mores. But this new environment also brings them the cultural shock and they are left bewildered and uprooted at the indenture of their new  abode where they are to speak a new tongue. Even  here too, the Indians do not feel an alienation. For example an Indian knows English better than their mother tongue in many cases. They talk English abroad with the same fluency with their foreign friends. They have a greater taste of success  in using English. Here the concept of mother tongue is simply a nostalgia and just a pleasant reminiscence of the past which is ideal and never real. There are some poetic soul who imaginatively retain their native connection and live in the country of their choice without losing  touch with their own culture. They are conscious of their diasporic existence and suffer from dislocation , dispossession , alienation , hybridity and above all dissatisfaction on not speaking or singing in mother tongue and on not belonging to the new country. In this respect , we may refer to the people who have come from former East Pakistan to India as refugees. These people never forget their dialects and  find joy in speaking in the dialects except when they are with outsiders. It is for sophistication that they do not speak in their mother tongue . Here the dialect is more important as a mother tongue than the main language itself. Bengali has an infinite  variety and the very concept of mother tongue becomes confusing. The rootlessness of the Bengali refugees remains even when they talk in standard Bengali and as they do not find comfortable to speak in the dialect. Unbelongingness is sometimes made a virtue and a celebration of their diasporic existence  when they speak as sophisticated persons in order to survive  in the centre margin construct which is constituted on the binary notions of master, slave imperial , coloured  or any other parameter. The assimilation  and alienation are the two extremes and a person not being able to speak the mother tongue feel both. Speakers of languages can do a lot to protect their tongue by refusing to use foreign words to replace their own.