Commemorative function to mark the International Mother Language Day, Permanent Mission of Bangladesh

Statement by H.E. Mr. Ahmed Sareer, Permanent Representative of the Maldives to the United Nations

20 February 2016


My dear friend - Ambassador Masud bin Momen, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen 

Ambassador Momen - I thank you for this opportunity to share my thoughts on this important day. There is a famous poem in Maldives that goes... "bas bahee meehun hadhaa eche balaga nooney thedhey, astha astha gudhurathuge ey echekey hama hingava" ...Which roughly translates to, 'language is not a product of people: it's a living thing, part of the bounty and beauty of nature."

Indeed, language is ever evolving. It is a true reflection of your surroundings, your environment, your uniqueness: a true reflection and a mark of your identity. The Maldives is one of the smallest countries in the world. But we are a proud nation: we have our own language Dhivehi, our own script thaana: that has evolved from our need to understand our surroundings and describe them. From the aqua blue waters, the white sandy beaches, and the palm trees that fringe our islands, our language has learnt to describe them all. Our language is a reflection of our history and the experiences. The Dhivehi language has its roots in Saanskrit and Prakrit: in this we share roots with our Sri Lankan and South Asian neighbours. But it is also enriched with words from French, Persian, Portugese, Arabic, Hindu and English: a reflection of the cultural experiences we had, due to our position in the Indian Ocean, at the crossroads of trade roots. We have also managed to impact other languages: The English words atoll (a ring of coral islands or reefs) and dhoni (a vessel for inter-atoll navigation) are anglicised forms of the Maldivian words atoḷu and dōni.

Language is a true reflection of the richness of your culture. And nowhere is it more evident than in poetry. Maldivian poetry has evolved over generations, fitting and adjusting to the evolving demands of the time. Maldivians used to communicate in a form of poetry called raivaru, put our children to sleep with farihi, accompany our daily tasks with amba, and express our love with lhen. Even today, poetry inspires and soothes me immensely. Our language is our identity: it is how we communicate. It is how we think, and process our surroundings, and reflect on our hopes and fears. The importance of language in our societies is immense. Yet languages face many threats worldwide.

As I said in the beginning, language is ever evolving, whether we like it or not. The biggest challenge we face to our mother languages, is rigidity: the threat of becoming irrelevant. Because of our education systems, students graduate from schools without much knowledge and practise about our own language. Not much work is being done to make indigenous languages consistent with modern technology. While software is being developed, progress is slow. Specifically, as Dhivehi is a language spoken by so few people, our interaction with everyone but Maldivians, on a range of needs such as education, travel, healthcare, is in a foreign language, which further perpetuates the need to master other languages.

As far as Maldivian language is concerned, we are lucky that we have developed the computer software and Dhivehi script thaana can be typed on Microsoft Office.  However, there are many languages that are no so lucky. Like any other development project, much needs to be done to
preserve languages. Efforts need to be made, money needs to be invested in this cause. The international mother mother language day is another reminder of our responsibility to preserve our language, and in turn preserve our uniqueness, our identity. It is a reminder to celebrate the diversity of our world, the colour that diversity brings to our lives. It reminds us of the necessity to promote understanding among cultures: through language. Studying a language - even a little bit – is a study of the history and circumstances of that country. And that is the sort of study we need to make this work a better place. As we mark this important day, the International Mother Language Day I want to pay a special tribute to the Government and people of Bangladesh for their toil and dedication that marked the commemoration of an International language day by UNESCO since 1999. My respects are even more to the group of valiant youth who sacrificed their precious lives on the streets of Dhaka more than 6 decades ago to protect their mother tongue "bangla", which was later known as the language movement. As someone who spent 2 and half years in Dhaka, I came to understand the pain the people of Bangladesh had gone through in this process, and why it is marked as Shaheed Day or Language Martyr's Day. Therefore, it was a moving experience for me today when I laid the flower wreath at the replica of Shaheed Minar here, which I was so familiar with the actual Minar in Dhaka. On this special occasion, I wish to extend my well wishes to all Bangladeshis present here, in their home-town and abroad.
Joy Bangla
Joy Bangabandh!

Thank you.