Malaysia should be proud of our  linguistic diversity and   celebrate the International Mother Language Day on Feb. 21 every year in a big way starting with display of Chinese and Tamil notices at the KLIA

DAP Bukit Mertajam “Restore Freehold Status for Chinese education” forum  
by Lim Kit Siang

(Bukit Mertajam, Friday): Malaysia should be proud of our linguistic diversity which is a great national resource that should be leveraged to our advantage in the era of globalization to play an important social and economic role on the world stage. 

For this reason, Malaysia whether government or the civil society  should celebrate the International Mother Language Day on February 21 every year in a big way, starting next year, as the country is the home of several mother tongues of its citizens.  

It is unfortunate that the International Mother Language Day had been ignored by the Malaysian government in the past three  years since its proclamation by UNESCO’s General Conference in November 1999, with the first celebration held on February 21, 2000, although Malaysia was one of the 28 countries which seconded the proposal submitted by Bangladesh.  

UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura said at the first International Mother Language Day Celebration on February 21, 2000 that “by  deciding to celebrate mother tongues, UNESCO’s Member states wished to recall that languages are not only an essential part of humanity’s cultural heritage, but the irreducible expression of human creativity and of its great diversity”.  

Highlighting the fact that close to 6,000 languages are estimated to be spoken in today’s world, Matsuura said: “They testify to humanity’s astounding ability to create tools of communication, to its perception and reflection.  They are the mirror of the souls of the societies in which they are born and they reflect the history of their contacts. In this sense, it could be said that all languages are cross-bred.  

“Favouring the promotion of linguistic diversity and the development of multilingual education from an early age helps preserve cultural diversity and the conditions for international understanding, tolerance and mutual respect.” 

The Education Minister, Tan Sri Musa Mohamad should explain to Parliament why the government has lost its initial enthusiasm and support for the International Mother Language Day as it had failed to celebrate the significant occasion in the past three years although it was one of the 29 countries which brought the International Mother Language Day into existence.  

Be that as it may, Malaysia should henceforth celebrate the International Mother Language Day every February 21 in a big way, and there cannot be a better start than in the display of Chinese and Tamil notices at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport at Sepang to inform the world of the country’s linguistic diversity.  

The Tourism Minister, Datuk Abdul Kadir had said that Chinese notices would be put up at the KLIA once there are one million tourists from China.  This is a totally wrong approach, as Malaysia should put up Chinese and Tamil notices at KLIA not just because of the lure of money but because Malaysia is proud our linguistic and cultural diversity – regarded and accepted by the government and nation as our great national resource rather than as a “headache” to nation-building.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman