Language as a Tool of Revolution, Restoration

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On June 1, 2017, Liberal MP Marc Miller delivered a statement in the Canadian House of Commons entirely in Kanyen’kéha, the language of the Mohawk people.

The statement marked the first time a Canadian MP had delivered a statement in Kanyen’kéha, one of the languages of Canada’s First Nations. Miller is non-indigenous; he decided to learn the language “to embrace the heightened focus on reconciliation after Canada’s residential school inquiry.” He said, “I hope to have inspired a few people to learn an indigenous language!” Language can contribute powerfully towards reconciliation and restoration.

Issues around language rights are also the stuff of revolution. Governments play a strong role in supporting or suppressing the use of a language, and because language is tied-up with identity, language policy can be an explosive issue.

A strong example of this was the partition of British India in 1947, involving the division of two provinces, East Bengal (today Bangladesh) and the Punjab based on district-wise Hindu or Muslim majorities. Bengali speaking people in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) made up 44 million of the newly formed dominion’s 69 million people. Yet, despite their overwhelming majority, power was strongly held by those in the Western part of Pakistan, who submitted a key resolution in 1947 that Urdu would be recognized as the only state language, for exclusive use in school and media. Unsurprisingly, this resolution did not go over well with the Bengali speaking majority!

The Bangla Language Movement of February 21, 1952 in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) was the beginning of the fight for recognition of the Bangla language as an official language of Pakistan. Bengalis protested and some made the ultimate sacrifice, becoming casualties in the fight. The subsequent Bangladesh liberation war in 1971 resulted in Bangladesh as the only country in the world named after its language.

UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) first established International Mother Language Day on Feb. 21, 2000, to commemorate the Bangla Language Movement. The aim of International Mother Language Day is to “preserve linguistic diversity and promote mother tongue-based multilingual education.”

At CanIL, we believe that every language has intrinsic value; this is a natural extension of our conviction that every person has intrinsic value as image-bearers of God. We believe that people are best able to receive God’s message of love in their heart language, and that the diversity of the world’s languages is an expression of the creativity of God.

As an organization, CanIL affirms that mother-tongue based multilingual education and literacy is fundamental to educational and cultural preservation, and economic sustainability. We train students for roles in linguistics, literacy, language survey, Scripture Engagement, and Bible translation. Hundreds of our alumni are serving in minority-language communities around the world.