RC’s statement at International Mother Language Day

Lyonpo Loknath Sharma, Minister of Economic Affairs, Speaker of the National Assembly, Wangchuk Namgyel, Ambassador of Bangladesh, Dashos and esteemed dignitaries.

Contemplate! For what a grave mistake it will be to stand proud as nation on the hard work of our forefathers, the successes of our past and on the admiration and respect of the outside world today. And fail to see that it will all disappear tomorrow, if we lose sight of the fundamental reasons for our success.”- His Majesty the King.

Kuzu Zangpola

Opening

  • Would it be inherently bad or misguided if there were not 7,000 spoken languages but just one for everyone on the planet, just to keep things simple? This question is asked more often than people think. And it has appeal. However, the prevailing idea among linguists both in Bhutan and abroad, I personally very much agree with them. We must keep as many languages alive as possible, and that the death of each one is another step on a treadmill toward the Mc Donaldization of our World as you might suspect I am not big on MC Donalds Food.

Vanishing languages in a globalized world

Some people perceive:

  • The death of any language is a symptom of people coming together.
  • Globalization means isolated peoples migrating and sharing space. Some people believe that the alternative is indigenous groups left to live in isolation – complete with the maltreatment of women, lack of access to modern medicine and technology typical of such societies. This is a convenient concept, but badly misjudged. It also sounds patronizing and chauvinistic.
  • And, if we went down that road of hyper- globalization, why preserve national treasures, art, and buildings? Why have museums that provide a society with a link to its history and traditions?
  • I believe language especially our own language reminds us of who we are, and links us to our ancestors.

Bhutanese context

  • There was once a unique language spoken in the confines of the Black Mountain region. In January 2013, the only person who spoke the Olepkha was an 80-year old woman. With the death of this woman, the Olepkha (language), as we know it, would have disappeared once and for all.
  • With this the cultural identity of the Oleps also remains vulnerable as language always has been an important means of transmitting culture.
  • Each language spoken in Bhutan has a rich oral culture with stories, songs and histories passed on from one generation to another. Thus, any extinction of a language is the loss of probably the largest part of that culture.
  • Many are of the view that it is not necessary to have a state policy for disappearing and endangered languages. Yes, languages fall under culture and yes, culture is one of the main pillars of GNH.
  • But, a disappearing language does not leave behind a dictionary, or a text or even history for that matter.
  • According to UNESCO’s Interactive Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, nine spoken languages in Bhutan are in the definitely endangered list while 10 are in the vulnerable category.
  • Languages disappear when the chain of passing the mother tongue of a particular community to the next generation is broken. This happens when communities whose languages are considered minor discard their languages and cultures in the hope of overcoming discrimination, to secure livelihood and enhance social mobility for themselves and their children.
  • There is a lot of work to do to address the issue of endangered languages. Endangered languages are naturally subject to demographic and socio-economic pressures and these factors put small marginal languages under threat everywhere in the world, not just in Bhutan.

On International Mother Language Day

 On 21 February 1952 four young students were killed in Dhaka, because of a controversy between the Bengali and Urdu language.

  • As a birth of this unfortunate incident, International Mother Language Day is celebrated in all over the world, out of bad can come good.
  • It’s a day to celebrate linguistic and cultural diversity. The world has more than 7,000 languages and multi-linguism is celebrated through this day. International Mother Language Day reminds us how words connect us, empower us and help us communicate our feelings to others.
  • UNESCO has been celebrating International Mother Language Day for nearly 20 years and aims to promote mother tongue-based multilingual education. Every year, there are different themes to celebrate International Mother Language Day.

Closing

  • The UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres. “International Mother Language Day celebrates linguistic and cultural diversity alongside multilingualism as a force for peace and sustainable development. Let us all join forces to promote linguistic diversity and multilingualism as a key element in our efforts to build a better world and a life of dignity for all.”
  • And for this reason I am grateful that the Embassy of Bangladesh, His Excellency and the Ambassador of Bangladesh and VAST have organized today’s event.

Loden Foundation

The Loden Foundation are taking action and need our support. Loden Foundation has documented oral traditions in the local languages of Bhutan- over 3200 hours.

They include folk stories, songs, poems, ballads, recitations, jokes, tongue twisters, riddles, food recipes, healing practices, religious stories, pilgrimage guides.

They are also listing the languages and dialectics of Bhutan,

For example

Try this simple riddle in Dzongkha.

Marey marey sewda rey mi (They touch when I say don’t touch)

Rey rey sewda marey mi (They don’t touch when I say touch)

Ga chi mo? (What is it?)

The answer: the lips.

Resources are online at bhutanlibrary.org

Tashi Delek and Kadrinche

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