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Mother Language Lovers Of The World Unite For Successful And Enlightening Seminar

By Balwant Sanghera

Organizers of the Mother Language Lovers of the World (MLLW) held a very successful Seminar at the University of British Columbia on Sunday, October14.The theme of the seminar was Multilingualism for Inclusive Education. President of MLLW, Rafiqual Islam, welcomed the attendees and gave a brief account of the organization’s objectives and the expected outcome of this event. He was followed by John Yap, BC’s Minister of State for Multiculturalism. Yap commended the organizers for planning this event and bringing various stakeholders to-gather. He stressed the significance of multilingualism in a multicultural Canada. This function was co-sponsored by Multicultural Helping House Society. Its president, Tom Avendano, stressed that Canada is a wonderful country and that all of us should do our bit to make it even better. He stated that a person’s mother tongue plays a major role in his/her growth and development.

This gathering brought to-gather a number of prominent resource people with impeccable credentials in this field. They included Dr.Chinnoy Banerjee, president of Hari Sharma Foundation. Dr. Banerjee stated that we lose our bearings when we lose our language. He emphasized that culture and language don’t stay the same. They keep evolving. We should not only accept but also respect linguistic differences. Mutual respect for different languages and cultures are essential for the success of a multicultural society. Chinnoy also expressed concern about extinction of a lot of languages, especially the Aboriginal ones. This point was reinforced by a number of speakers who followed him.

Dr. Iqbal Bhuiyan, from the MLLW, made a very comprehensive presentation about the struggle for mother language by the Bangladeshi community which gave birth to the International Mother Language Day (IMLD). His theme-IMLD in our Multicultural Canada-its Significance and Framework brought the question of multilingualism into sharp focus. This idea was reinforced by all of the speakers who followed him. They included Dr. Jessica Ball from the University of Victoria, Dr. Onowa McIvor, Director of Indigenous Education, University of Victoria and myself.

Dr. McIvor explained in detail the fate of the Indigenous languages in Canada. She dealt   in detail with the mistreatment of Native children in residential schools especially with reference to their language and culture. Dr. McIvor mentioned that prior to the contact of Aboriginals with the people from Europe; more than 450 Indigenous languages were flourishing in this country. However, since the arrival of Europeans this number has declined to less than 60 .She stated that if some drastic measures aren’t taken soon to reverse this trend, there will be very few (possibly 3) , Indigenous languages left in this country. However, she expressed hope that people and governments seem to be paying more attention than before to the revival of these languages. This is very encouraging.

There are 6,900 languages spoken around the globe. 22% of them have less than 1,000 speakers. Nearly half of them might become extinct by the end of this century. In this context, this Seminar was an appropriate one. It brought to-gather a number of distinguished resource persons to discuss the issue and work collaboratively in finding solutions. The importance of a mother language, whatever it is, can’t be underestimated. Multilingualism is an integral part of multiculturalism. In order for them to prosper, Canadians, along with different levels of government, have to play a pivotal role. Certainly, Canada’s two official languages are English and French. Every resident/citizen of this country must make an effort in becoming fluent in at least one of them. At the same time, let’s not forget that Canada is a multilingual country. As such, other languages should also get some support and recognition. Currently, all of the languages other than English and French are considered to be foreign languages. This is something that must be looked at. Take for example, the Punjabi language. The Punjabi community has made a commendable contribution to the growth and development of Canada for more than 125 years. Though their culture, customs and religion are considered to be Canadian yet their mother language Punjabi is still considered to be a foreign language. Same goes for many other languages.

The formal presentations were followed by a very lively discussion and a question and answer period. Excellent multicultural performances by the Bangladeshi Group, Aboriginal Drummers and the Filipino Dancers added another dimension to the Seminar. The organizers deserve a vote of thanks for putting on this event. Hopefully, there will be a lot more like this in the future.

Balwant Sanghera is the President of Punjabi Language Education Association (PLEA Canada).

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