Statement by H.E. Ambassador Katalin Bogyay Permanent Representative on the occasion of International Mother Language Day, 21 February 2017.

Excellencies, distinguished Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,


The 21st of February 2017 marks the 17th anniversary of the International Mother Language Day, declared by the 30th General Conference of UNESCO in November 1999.


I would like to express my appreciation for the People’s Republic of Bangladesh for their efforts in raising awareness regarding the role of mother language in education, fostering linguistic diversity, cultural pluralism and understanding.


As Nelson Mandela said, "If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart".


Indeed, mother tongue plays a pivotal role in all aspects of life, be it social and cultural activities, family and social life, work or leisure activities. Language shapes culture, preserves and transmits information.

I am going to illustrate this by highlighting three key areas: education, self-expression and exchange.


Let me start with education.


This year, UNESCO’s Mother Language Day focuses on theme of "Sustainable Futures through Multilingual Education." This theme builds upon UNESCO's 2016 Global Monitoring Report on Education, entitled “Education for People and the Planet: Creating Sustainable Futures for All".


Multilingual education, and the availability of mother tongue education is a key in successfully implementing SDG4 on inclusive and equitable quality education.


The benefits of mother tongue education in early schooling is emphasized by numerous studies and reports, including the annual UNESCO EFA Global Monitoring Report. According to the findings, mother tongue instruction is a pre-requisite for inclusive and efficient learning processes, because it creates an enabling environment for learning, and builds confidence in students. This way, the use of mother tongue facilitates the achievement of literacy and numeracy; a target set out in SDG 4.6; access to education for all, and contributes to ensuring that no-one is left behind. The inclusive nature of education is especially relevant in the case of groups speaking minority and indigenous languages.


And here I turn to the importance of self-expression.


The use of one’s mother tongue is pivotal in ensuring the preservation of linguistic and cultural diversity. The 2005 UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions recalls that linguistic diversity is a fundamental element of cultural diversity, and defends the diversity of languages as the main creative “fabric” of cultures and cultural diversity.


This is even more relevant for minorities. I come from a country, which has 13 national and ethnic minorities within its borders, and there are about 5 million Hungarians living outside the borders of Hungary and around the world. The Hungarian Government is making constant efforts in implementing policies and measures to preserve the linguistic and cultural heritage of the national minorities within our country, and, at the same time, support mother tongue education and self-expression of Hungarians living outside the borders of Hungary.


Finally, I will talk about exchange.


Multilingualism, including the preservation of and providing education on the mother tongue of communities and local languages play an essential role in preserving and developing our tangible and intangible cultural heritage. Access to this valuable heritage oftentimes depends on the knowledge of rare languages, spoken in secluded communities, which are threatened by extinction due to exposure to other languages or cultural integration. However, these languages are often the only channels for safeguarding and sharing local cultures and knowledge, with special reference to indigenous culture, which constitute vast reservoirs of wisdom. Being able to exchange with these communities, therefore, are the prerequisites for having access to these invaluable sources of tangible and intangible cultural heritage.


In conclusion, mother language is essential in education, self-expression and exchange. The use of mother tongue in schools ensures access to inclusive and quality education. The preservation of linguistic and cultural diversity is impossible without providing the opportunity for communities for self-expression on their mother-tongue. And lastly, the preservation of cultural heritage can only be ensured through intercultural exchange.


All these factors contribute to the successful implementation of Agenda 2030.



Ladies and Gentlemen,


Rumi, the Persian poet I have much respect for, left an advice for us: „Speak a new language, so that the world will be a new world.”


I cannot agree more with these words. The preservation of languages bolsters multilingualism, and multilingualism promotes not only tolerance, but mutual respect for the linguistic and cultural diversity of humankind, and this way, fosters the development of peaceful and inclusive societies. And this is exactly for what we, here in the UN, are striving for.


Thank you for your attention.