International Mother Language Day was first celebrated in 2000 and takes place every year on February 21. It is a day to “promote the importance of cultural and linguistic diversity, and multilingualism for peaceful and sustainable societies.”
In honor of International Mother Language Day, we consider the importance of language in how we care for others, make meaningful connections and form community. Studies show that language learning begins long before a baby enters the world. The sounds coming from their mother and close family members, whether spoken or sung, is soothing and comforting in utero and following birth.
Language connects us to one another. As we learned from a video recorded by the IEJ Project last year, generations are connected through spoken words. In the video, the discussion, facilitated by Dr. Alan Corbiere, featured an intergenerational conversation between lifetime speaker Nookimis Marion McGregor, second-language learners Lissa and Hillary McGregor, and IEJ Project principal investigator Dr. Deborah McGregor.
Our languages are central to our ceremonies, our relationships to our lands, the animals, to each other, our understandings, of our worlds, including the natural world, our stories and our laws.
-National Chief Perry Bellegarde
Language, and especially ancestral language, also shapes how we view and interact with our world. In Canada, the Assembly of First Nations is advocating for legislation to support First Nations in efforts to “recover, reclaim, maintain and normalize First Nation languages”. In Canada, over 70 Indigenous languages, grouped into 12 distinct language families, are spoken. The language family with the most speakers in 2017 was Algonquin followed by Cree, Ojibway, and Oji-Cree. Others had very few speakers remaining, including Haida, Tlingit, and Kutenai (2017 Census).
Linguistic diversity is being threatened, globally and in Canada. In an effort to raise awareness of the many languages that are disappearing, UNESCO has declared the decade from 2022-2032 as the decade of Indigenous Languages.
The CIKL, as a centre for research focusing on Indigenous Languages, look forward to promoting the work being done globally and especially in Canada with regard to the preservation and sharing of Indigenous languages.
We have some incredible faculty at York University working on Indigenous languages, we hope you will continue following us to learn from them as we continue learning about Indigenous knowledge.