According to the United Nations, 40 percent of the global population does not have access to education in a language they speak or understand. We fall under that 40 percent most obviously. Every year, since 2002, February 21 is observed as International Mother Language Day to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and to promote multilingualism. It is also observed to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by peoples of the world. It is believed that multilingualism contributes to the development of inclusive societies that allow multiple cultures, worldviews and knowledge systems to coexist. The theme of this year’s International Mother Language Day is “Multilingual education – a necessity to transform education.” This year’s theme also places an emphasis on Indigenous people’s education and languages.


The United Nations observes that languages, with their complex implications for identity, communication, social integration, education and development, are of strategic importance for people and the planet. Yet, due to globalization processes, they are increasingly under threat, or disappearing altogether. When languages fade, so does the world’s rich tapestry of cultural diversity. It is said that every two weeks a language disappears taking with it an entire cultural and intellectual heritage. The UN estimates that at least 43% of the estimated 6000 languages spoken in the world are endangered. Multilingual and multicultural societies exist through their languages, which transmit and preserve traditional knowledge and cultures in a sustainable way. It is for these reasons that the International Mother Language Day is observed every year to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.


As we mark International Mother Language Day, it is pertinent to note here that the BJP government last year proposed the imposition of Hindi as the national language of India, triggering a nationwide debate. As Indigenous language speakers, we are faced with a dual challenge – preserving our mother language on one hand and resisting linguistic colonialism on the other. It is observed that while both fronts of the challenge are to be addressed with equal measure of importance, we have been ignoring the latter. Efforts are being made to preserve and promote our mother language in various forms at various levels. However, we have not been able to recognize the threat posed by dominant languages. It was only after Hindi as the national language agenda was brought to public domain that we realized the challenge we are faced with. India does not have a ‘national language’ although Article 343(1) of the Constitution provides for official languages. With an ultra-nationalist government run by the BJP, it is only natural that the centre would want a ‘national language’. The ‘centre’ simply means a group of people in power who rule, actively controlling the rest of the population. Language, thus, is used as a tool to achieve a larger agenda. This gives birth to language imperialism – a sign of power.


Language and culture are products of each other and they are inseparable. Thus, when a dominant language is imposed upon a minority group, aspects of the dominant culture are usually transferred along with the language, the minority group internalizes these cultural aspects and in the process lose their distinctiveness and end up being assimilated with the dominant culture. It would bode well for Indigenous language speakers to realize that resisting linguistic imperialism is also an equal part of preserving one’s mother language.

5 thoughts on “Linguistic imperialism”
  1. Great blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from somewhere? A design like yours with a few simple adjustements would really make my blog jump out. Please let me know where you got your design. Cheers

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