The annual observance of International Mother Language Day (IMLD) on February 21 focuses this year on multilingualism and linguistic diversity, with mention of their importance for sustainable development and peace. The theme has been seen in several forms, including:
- Acting together for Linguistic diversity and Multilingualism (per poster above)
- Linguistic diversity and multilingualism count for sustainable development (as seen on the program for the IMLD event at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris)
- Linguistic diversity and multilingualism: keystones of sustainability and peace (as seen on the UNESCO website)
In her message on the occasion of IMLD, UNESCO director Audrey Azoulay characterized the importance of languages in this way:
A language is far more than a means of communication; it is the very condition of our humanity. Our values, our beliefs and our identity are embedded within it. It is through language that we transmit our experiences, our traditions and our knowledge. The diversity of languages reflects the incontestable wealth of our imaginations and ways of life.
2018 Linguapax Prize to BASAbali
The annual Linguapax Prize, which recognizes contributions to “preservation of linguistic diversity, revitalization and reactivation of linguistic communities, and the promotion of multilingualism,” is traditionally announced on IMLD. This year’s prize was awarded to BASAbali, an organization founded in 2011 to support and develop the Balinese language of Indonesia, and to develop language revitalization methods.
BASAbali’s founder, Alissa Stern, is quoted on the Linguapax site as describing the group as follows:
BASAbali is founded in the belief that all languages, but most importantly a language of a great culture such as Balinese, deserve recognition and use in the modern world — and not be relegated to a language of rural farmers or a language of home, not worthy of activities associated with learning, public affairs and local educational and political practices. The aim, in short, is to develop facilities that will enable Balinese and other local languages to occupy a position of prestige alongside modern national and international languages and to carry forward their rich cultural traditions.
The 18th annual International Mother Language Day (IMLD), observed today (21 February 2017), has as its theme, “Towards Sustainable Futures through Multilingual Education,” which seems to carry on the focus on language in education from last year (presumably still with an eye on Sustainable Development Goal #4).
The definition of multilingual education given on UNESCO’s IMLD page is worth copying here…
Multilingual education facilitates access to education while promoting equity for populations speaking minority and/or indigenous languages, especially girls and women:
- It emphasizes the quality of teaching and learning with a focus on understanding and creativity;
- It reinforces the cognitive aspect of learning by ensuring the direct application of learning outcomes to the learner’s life through the mother tongue;
- It enhances dialogue and interaction between learner and teacher by allowing genuine communication from the beginning;
- It facilitates participation and action in society and gives access to new knowledge and cultural expressions, thus ensuring a harmonious interaction between the global and the local.
This year’s Linguapax Prize, announced today (as it is annually, on IMLD), was awarded to Dr. Matthias Brenzinger, a German linguist specializing in African languages (notably non-Bantu click languages) and endangered languages, who is currently at the University of Cape Town and heads the Centre for African Linguistic Diversity (CALDi), which he founded. Dr. Brenzinger has also worked in Japan.
Each year on the occasion of International Mother Language Day, the Barcelona-based Linguapax International announces winners of the Linguapax Award. This year, for the first time, two civil-society organizations were recipients:
- Yambirrpa School Council/Djarrma Action Group of Arnherm Land in Northern Territory, Australia. This grouping represents “14 Aboriginal language groups of the Yolngu people of Yirrkala and Laynhapuy” and continues a 40-year effort to promote Yolngu language and culture, which includes bilingual approaches.
- International and Heritage Languages Association (IHLA) of Alberta, Canada. “IHLA advocates for the acknowledgement, accreditation and legitimacy of heritage languages learner’s skills in high schools, for the recognition of heritage language teachers’ backgrounds, for raising awareness among young people, general public and politicians and decision makers of the values of multilingualism.”
The Linguapax Award is “granted to linguists/researchers, activists and civil society organizations that have distinguished themselves for their commitment in favor of linguistic diversity and multilingual education.” Since the first prize in 2002 and prior to this year, Linguapax has annually recognized one or two individuals, an organization, or an individual and an organization.
Maori language activist, educator and author Katerina Te Heikoko Mataira of New Zealand (or Aotearoa as it is known in Maori) is the recipient of the 2009 Linguapax Prize (source, Hispanidad press agency). She has been active for 30 years on Maori language issues. In 2001 she was recognized in New Zealand with the Te Waka Toi Exemplary Award. The press release on the latter mentioned further that
Among her many achievements Katerina has been affectionately described as the mother of Kura Kaupapa Maori, having co-authored Te Aho Matua – the philosophy and charter for kaupapa Mäori schools.
In 1996, Katerina’s lifetime contribution to te reo Mäori was recognised by Waikato University when she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate. A year later, she was named in the Queen’s Honours List as a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit. (Scoop.co.nz, 2001/10/23)
Huia Publishers has a short bio on Katrina Te Heikoko Mataira in which she is described as a prolific writer. Bookfinder.com has a list of several of her publications in Maori and English.
Linguapax awards the Prize annually on International Mother Language Day. This is the eighth year that the prize as been awarded.
The recipient of the Linguapax Prize for 2008 is Dr. Neville Alexander of South Africa. The prize is awarded annually (since 2000) in recognition of contributions to linguistic diversity and multilingual education.
Although the Linguapax site does not at this writing have updated information, the website of the UNESCO Centre of Catalonia (which is connected with Linguapax) has this press release dated 22.02.2008:
The South African linguist Neville Alexander will receive the Linguapax Award today in Barcelona, on the occasion of the Mother Language Day. The ceremony is framed in the Intercultural Week organised by the Ramon Llull University. Alexander, who coordinates the Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa has devoted more than twenty years of his professional life to defend and preserve multilingualism in the post-apartheid South Africa and has become one of the major advocates of linguistic diversity.
There is various material online about Dr. Alexander including:
I don’t want to be negative about the Linguapax Institute‘s efforts, but publicity about this really has been lacking. An email request to Linguapax for more information received no reply. I hope to have more information about Linguapax and its important work in a future posting.