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The importance of preserving language through the proud use of one’s mother tongue was discussed at a celebration of International Mother Tongue Day.
POEMS and discussions marked International Mother Tongue Day, which was celebrated at the African Literature bookshop in Orange Grove.


the importance of mother tonguesNovelist and poet Mohloua Ntsasa stresses the importance of mother tongues in societyThe event was organised by the City to promote the use of mother tongues as a means of communication, interaction and understanding among people. It was attended by schoolchildren from Northview High School, the literary community and academics, who discussed the importance of using one’s mother tongue.

International Mother Tongue Day is observed worldwide each year on February 21, as proclaimed by the general conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) in November 1999.

Despite the efforts of this and other organisations, it is estimated that half of the 6 700 languages spoken in the world are at risk of extinction and 240 languages have died since 1950.

Speaking on the occasion, Maryna Moolman, the operations manager of Joburg’s library and information services, said the purpose of the day was to encourage the youth to discuss their different languages.

“Encouraging young children to learn their mother tongue [will] help them to develop confidence, self-esteem and their unique identity within a multicultural society.”


LiteratureWritten literature is a good way to preserve languagesShe also stressed the need for safeguarding and promoting mother tongues. “We must be conscious of the significance of our mother tongues, which gives us identity.”

South African novelist and poet Mohloua Ntsasa noted how local languages had been subdued by English. “A large number of people are reluctant to use their mother tongue, as they fear they will be considered illiterate,” said Ntsasa, pointing out that language was the epitome of culture.

“The mother tongue conveys and transmits culture … It is important to preserve our languages because it gives us a better idea of what Africa is all about.”

He feared the adoption of western culture would threaten local norms.

During a discussion about the importance of preserving languages, it was agreed that people should take pride in their mother tongue instead of feeling shy about communicating in it.

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