ABU DHABI // Bangladeshi schoolchildren and expatriates celebrated International Mother Language Day at their embassy in the capital yesterday, marking a turning point in the nation's history.
The event, recognised by the United Nations as a day to promote linguistic diversity, is based on an event in Bangladesh called Language Movement Day.
In 1952, when Bangladesh was still East Pakistan, predominantly Bengali-speaking Bangladeshis protested against a Pakistan government decree that declared Urdu the official language of the country.
In 1999, Unesco, the cultural arm of the UN, declared the day an international event and has since created a theme every year to celebrate multilingualism.
The holiday coincides with Amar Ekushey ("My 21st" in Bangla), also known as National Martyr's Day in Bangladesh.
Dipu Moni, the foreign minister of Bangladesh, said in a speech read at the embassy yesterday that the day showed "the importance of preserving the linguistic diversity of mankind".
"The 21st of February has thus assumed a new dimension of fostering better understanding and bonding amongst the global citizenry," she said.
Bangladeshi pupils marked the occasion by singing a popular song that tied into the beginning of the country's struggle for independence.
This year's theme is safeguarding and promoting languages, Unesco has said. The focus is on preservation of ethnic group languages and dialects that are lesser known and threatened by more dominant, urban languages.
"This is now an internationally recognised day by Unesco," Nazmul Quaunine, the Bangladeshi ambassador to the UAE, said.
"Now people recognise at the mention of International Mother Language Day, that it was initiated by Bangladesh … it is now a source of inspiration for all people of the world to establish truth and justice."