5 interesting facts about mother languages

21 February is International Mother Language Day, which has been observed all over the world since February 2000 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. Here are five interesting facts about mother languages.

Languages are not only the most important tools of communication amongst nations, but they also have complex implications for identity, social integration, education and development.  International Mother Language Day acknowledges how important languages are for people and the planet. Despite all of this, globalisation has put many languages under threat with some languages disappearing altogether.

“When languages fade, so does the world’s rich tapestry of cultural diversity. Opportunities, traditions, memory, unique modes of thinking and expression — valuable resources for ensuring a better future — are also lost,” says the United Nations.

Here are some interesting facts about mother languages:

1. Many mother languages are endangered

At least 43% of the estimated 6000 languages spoken in the world are endangered. Only a few hundred languages have genuinely been given a place in education systems and the public domain, and less than a hundred are used in the digital world.

2. Languages disappear very often     

Every two weeks a language disappears taking with it an entire cultural and intellectual heritage. Linguistic diversity is increasingly threatened as more and more languages disappear.

3. Many people don’t have access to education in their mother languages

40% of the global population does not have access to an education in a language they speak or understand. Nevertheless, progress is being made in mother tongue-based multilingual education with a growing understanding of its importance, particularly in early schooling. More commitment has been given to language development in public life.

4. English is not in the top 3 languages spoken in SA

StatSA released its 2019 General Household Survey (GHS) and the most common home language spoken as a first language by South Africans is isiZulu (25.3%), followed by isiXhosa (14.8%), and Afrikaans (12.2%). English (8.1%) is the sixth most spoken home language in SA. English is, however, the second most commonly spoken language outside the household at 16.6% after isiZulu (25.1%).

5. Use of most languages outside the home has declined

StatsSA reported in 2019 that the use of most languages outside the household declined between 2018 and 2019 – with the exceptions of isiZulu and Setswana. There are at least 35 languages indigenous to South Africa and 12 of those are recognised as official languages. Most South Africans can speak more than one language.