Wednesday, June 19, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

Language struggles around the world

Update : 20 Feb 2016, 06:52 PM

Here we are again at the month of language movement and the 21st of February has finally arrived. The 21st of February has been officially declared International Mother’s Language Day for a while now. It is fitting that we should know more about other people’s struggle around the world for their languages. Here are 5 languages that are being threatened by cultural hegemony:

Tamil Nadu language movement

India is diverse and hundreds of languages exist within the borders of the modern Indian state. Naturally, the Indian government wants to forge a national identity through common culture. But an attempt to establish the Hindi language as the primary official language did not go over well within India, particularly in the state of Tamil Nadu. The movement started before independence, when the Congress announced that teaching Hindi will be compulsory in secondary schools. This sparked massive protests in Tamil Nadu in 1937. Interestingly, this tells us that Jinnah was not at all unaware that attempting to make Urdu the national language may not be received well. In its most recent iteration in 2014, there was a backlash in Tamil Nadu when the Indian Home Ministry ordered that government officials should primarily use Hindi in social media.

Non Mandarin Chinese speakers

The Speak Mandarin Campaign by the government of Singapore ensued huge negative reactions from the speakers of Non Mandarin Chinese languages. Although not a movement per-se, the Chinese Singaporeans are opposed to this campaign. However, the government arrogantly pressed on. The campaign is alive and well, and has its own website.


The European missionaries in the Hawaiian island caused the native Hawaiian language fight for its place. At one point (in 1893) a de facto ban was imposed on the native language by imposing English as the primary language of instruction in schools. The Hawaiian language is still suffering from the assault. With only two-thousand native speakers remaining, the thriving language is now threatened for its existence.

The British Isles Languages

Even though the English, the Scotts, Welsh, Irish, all are Britons, the Imperial adventures of the English enabled them to shove the language down more openings than most of us are aware of. The dominance of English has had huge effects on its immediate neighbours. The Welsh, Scottish Gaelic, Irish languages (among others) suffered heavily from the cultural onslaught. These fully formed and modern languages are now spoken by a minority, as English is primarily spoken. The government, having realised that such practices are not civilised, stopped mandating the use of English and instead trying to preserve these languages. But considerable damage has been done.


Kurdish people are spread across different national borders in the Middle East (Syria, Iraq, Iran, Turkey). Their language has come under assault by pretty much every majority with whom they live. The most hostile has been perhaps Turkey. Although the situation has improved, there are still heavy restrictions on the use of Kurdish and the language is severely discriminated against. 

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