Malaysia should officially recognize and celebrate International Mother Language Day to take full advantage of Malaysia’s cultural diversity

Speech (7)
on the Royal Address 
by Lim Kit Siang

(Dewan Rakyat, Wednesday): Although cultural diversity is one of our  national assets, this has not been fully taken advantage of, as compared to other countries.  The United Kingdom government, for instance, has multi-lingual websites, including the Chinese language, of government publications, such  as executive summaries or overviews of White Papers. 

This is a practice Malaysia should emulate in the borderless world of ICT, and in this regard, it is regrettable that although Malaysia was one of the 28 countries which seconded the proposal which was adopted by the UNESCO in 1999 leading to the proclamation of February 21 as the International Mother Language Day, Malaysia has still to officially recognize and celebrate the International Mother Language Day six years after its promulgation.


February 21 this year again saw the  sixth International Mother Language Day (IMLD) celebration -  a day dedicated to celebrate cultural and linguistic diversity and to  promote understanding, tolerance and dialogue between different cultures,  nations and civilizations  – again  conspicuously ignored by the government in the past six years.

For  more than three years, DAP had been the lone voice calling on both the Federal and State governments to celebrate the annual International Mother Language Day in a big way as the country is the home of several mother tongues of its citizens. 


This call must now be heard and taken up in Parliament by MPs transcending party affiliation.  Ministers, whether from MCA, Gerakan, MIC, SUPP and even UMNO, should explain their reluctance or hesitation in raising in Cabinet in the past six years the issue of the government officially recognizing and observing the annual International Mother Language Day, when as  the home to diverse mother-tongues, Malaysia is  the most ideal country  to lead the world in celebrating the IMLD with verve, vigour and imagination.

Until recently in Malaysia, when we talk about protecting "mother-tongues", it invariably refers to Chinese, Tamil, Iban, Kadazan, Bidayuh, Orang Asli but excludes Malay as it is the official language of the country.


But Malay is also a mother-tongue that requires respect and protection especially with the globalization of communication and the tendency to use a single language – the English language -  at the risk of marginalizing the other major languages of the world and  even causing the lesser-used languages, including regional languages, to disappear.

In fact, there is the view that a language that is not on the Internet is a language that "no longer exists" in the modern world, which is why there is a global movement to protect mother tongues on the Internet through the promotion and use of multilingualism and universal access to cyberspace. 

A study of the universal statistics on  the use of different languages on the Internet  will show that even the Malay language will have to safeguard its position from the threat of seeping global monolingualism - highlighting the importance of the IMLD even to the Malay language  in the global context.

Lets hope that the  six-year delay and failure of Malaysia to officially recognize and observe the International Mother Language Day  would end  with the official recognition and celebration of the  International Mother Language Day under the Ninth Malaysia Plan (2006-2010) starting from next year.



* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman