Mother languages: a key role in identity and connection

A worldwide observance, International Mother Language Day (IMLD) has been held annually held on Feb. 21 since 2000. According to the United Nations, languages have complex implications for identity, communication, social integration, education and development. This year’s theme IMLD is Linguistic diversity and multilingualism: keystones of sustainable and peace.

Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) will hold a mother languages celebration on Feb. 21, 2018 at the Melville Centre on KPU’s Richmond Campus. The International Mother Language Day celebration will include traditional songs, poetry, readings and dance, showcasing French, German, Halkomelem, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Punjabi, Spanish, Vietnamese and more. Beverages and snacks will be provided.

For Duong Tran, a junior UX/ graphic designer in Vancouver, the importance of her mother language – Vietnamese – and why it reminds her of her birth place is crucial.

“It reminds me of my origin and defines me as a Vietnamese,” Tran says. “It also helps me understand my community better.”

Identity, history and language connections

Mother languages connect people to their cultural heritage, their history and their identity. For Joshua Kim, Tran and Julia Choi, their native tongue helped them explore various aspects of their identities.

Kim, a KPU student in his second year studying psychology, was born in Canada but moved to South Korea with his family when he was 6 years old, inheriting both Canadian and Korean cultures.

The Korean language played an important role in Kim’s daily life in South Korea, which also brought him life philosophies he never thought about before.

Mother languages speak of identity.

“[Korean] is especially important since it is the language that my high school teacher of Korean [the subject] used when he taught me how to think the way I do, such as liberal values, being individualistic, being responsible to my own actions and questioning everything, including the things I think I know,” says Kim. “I guess there’s some obsession in my love for Korean.”

Kim also says he has a strong sense of the history underlying the Korean language.

“I would say, in case of the Korean letter system [Hangul], it has philosophical value,” he says. “Hangul was developed under King Sejong’s order during the Joseon dynasty era to standardize the writing system for Korean [as a spoken language], which was complicated and varied through regions. Since it was easier to learn, Hangul allowed for educationally neglected classes to communicate with ease.”

When it comes to the presence and bonding in the Korean community, Kim says Koreans have fostered and nurtured the mother language.

“The strength of the Korean culture comes when there are more than two people,” Kim says. “From eating in a restaurant or drinking in a bar to singing along songs with the artist in a four-hour live show in the arena, there is a tight bond in every Korean’s heart.”

Language is heritage

For many people, their first language connects them with a heritage unique to them.

Choi, a student at Simon Fraser University (SFU) whose first languages are both English and Cantonese, embraces the diversity of international experiences and local Hong Kong heritage with its various traditions.

“The native culture in Hong Kong has a foundation for Kung Fu, movies, Chinese traditions, British background and the sense of independence,” she says.

KPU’s International Mother Language Day Celebration, geared at marking the importance of cultural identity and multilingualism, is open to all.

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