(Tuesday Reflection) : Happy International Mother Language Day, Everyone!

IMG_20151231_114927Next Sunday actually we will celebrate The International Mother Language Day, the day which is intended to commemorate and encourage all people who still have mother language (out of international or nationally official languages). After Bengali students demonstrated in Dhaka for defending Bangla as one of Pakistani’s official languages on 21 February 1952 and claimed many lives, this moment has already been celebrated in many parts of the world, even since 1999, the international mother language day has been officially recognized by the UN under the UNESCO for preserving and promoting local languages around the world. In Bangladesh itself, the martyrs are commemorated in Shohid Minar as mother tongue defenders.

What I think about celebrating this day is making video about mother language, but surely in my own mother tongue. But I still do not know how to insert subtitle in my future video and maybe it seems ridiculous for me and will it be famous? who cares about that. I just create the video and share it maybe with everyone (or even not at all, as I am trying to reduce my intensity in social media except here…lovely wordpress). I still have my mother tongue. I am raised up as Javanese in language and culture, even though I have been everywhere (I mean outside my cultural sphere) and living in more cosmopolitan atmosphere as well. I still speak Javanese with my colleagues and close friends (as far as they speak Javanese whatever their dialects), texting in Javanese with some friends, talking in Javanese with my parents and family, and more. I only speak bahasa Indonesia as national language in formal situation, with non-Javanese speaking friends and in any situation where speaking Javanese is impossible.

Maybe I am still proud that my language is still one of the largest Austronesian languages in number of speakers. The first one is surely Bahasa Indonesia/Melayu, second is Javanese and the third is Tagalog/Filipino. If I’m not mistaken, spoken around 80 millions around the world (Indonesia, some parts of Malaysia, Javanese of Suriname, French Guiana, New Caledonia and some segments of Javanese in The Netherlands). But along the time, the number of speakers are actually dwindling, though still far for being endangered. It gets worse with other minor languages where more than 14 Indonesian languages are now extinct and tragically mostly in Eastern Indonesia.

I didn’t blame to intercultural marriage, but intercultural marriage is one of many factors language lost. If the father is from ethnic A and the mother is from B, they actually speak two different languages, when they get married, they have to compromise their own mother tongues…either choosing one of spousal languages or speaking one universally acceptable language such as national language or international one. That’s problematic and eventually the mother tongue will be lost and the children do not know their paternal language, as they have got new mother tongue.

Political pressure also threat mother tongues around the world. The most widely spoken language will surpass the minority one and in many countries (from the past to present), the pressure, either extreme or smooth still happen. Sometimes the local languages are banned to be taught at schools or even in daily lives as it is considered as national threat. I don’t want to give example as maybe everyone knows about it.

Cultural benefit, one language can be compromised by another one as it is higher and seems culturally spoken. Dialects will be phased out by standard, minor language will be replaced by major one. The local or maternal language is no longer important for the speakers and switch to more advantageous language….then, the language is lost forever.

I don’t know exactly, how many languages have been lost forever from the world. Hundreds? Thousands? or more? Many languages lost, and some created an artificial ones for unifying the world. Recently I am learning Esperanto which is designed to connect different cultures and linguistic banners around the world, it’s good for me, as the language doesn’t threat my mother tongue as well as other Esperantists. Though may some Esperantists’ children have Esperanto as their first language, but most of them are still naturally bilingual.

I am afraid one day (If I have my own family) I cannot pass my mother tongue to my descendant. I am afraid will accustom them to the national language only, without knowing their ancestry or original culture. Language is part of one’s identity and one group will be lost forever once they lose their mother tongue. Some parts of the world have interests to revive the mother tongues. I hope in the international mother language day 2016, I can reflect myself, my identity, and my mother tongue identity better than before. Know more, write more, study more and maybe speak more in the flexible situations.

Happy International Mother Language Day everyone!

Tangerang, 16 February 2016


Bambang Priantono


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Bill Chapman says:

    I am glad to see that you are learning Esperanto. You are right to say that the planned international language Esperanto has native speakers too. See:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UzDS2WyemBI It was never planned that way, but it happened, and I have met about a dozen native speakers over the years. If it is possible for the speakers of a language launched into life in 1887 to transmit it to future generations, then surely the same should be true for more ancient community languages.

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