By Balwant Sanghera
VANCOUVER: Organizers of the Mother Language Lovers of the World (MLLW) held a very successful seminar at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver this Sunday on the theme of Multilingualism for Inclusive Education.
MLLW president 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 Chief Guest Honourable John Yap, British Columbian Minister of Advanced Education, Innovation and Technology and Minister Responsible for Multiculturalism. Yap commended the organizers for planning this event and bringing various stakeholders in a multicultural Canada.
This function was co-sponsored by Multicultural Helping House Society, with its president, Tom Avendano, stressing 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 together a number of prominent resource people with impeccable credentials in this field. They included Dr. Chinnoy Banerjee, president of the 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 is essential for the success of a multicultural society.
He also expressed his concern about the 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 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, Coordinator, First Nations Partnership Program at the University of Victoria, Dr. Onowa McIvor, Director of Indigenous Education, University of Victoria, and myself.
Dr. Ball, in her opening remarks, emphasized the importance of the mother language in the child’s early years and its impact later in life. She also shared her research in the area of Aboriginal languages
Dr. McIvor explained in detail the fate of the Indigenous languages in Canada. In this context, she referred to the mistreatment of Native children in residential schools, especially with respect to their language and culture.
Dr. McIvor also 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 three), 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. About 22 percent 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 together 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 full 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, their mother language Punjabi is still considered to be a foreign language. The 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 to be lauded for the event. Hopefully, there will be a lot more like this in the future.
(Balwant Sanghera, based in Richmond, BC, is the president of the Punjabi Language Education Association or PLEA)