Our languages, our selves – Importance of mother-tongues | 21st February 2023 | UPSC Daily Editorial Analysis

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What's the article about?

  • It talks about the significance of mother-tongues in preserving our culture, history, science, and heritage.


  • GS1: Salient features of Indian Society, Diversity of India;
  • GS2: Issues Relating to Development and Management of Social Sector Education, Human Resources;
  • Essay


  • In November 1999, UNESCO declared February 21 as International Mother Language Day.
  • This is done in response to the declining state of many languages all over the world.
  • This year’s theme – “Multilingual education — a necessity to transform education,” underscores the importance of using multiple languages in framing an impactful system of education.
  • India is an ancient repository of hundreds of languages and thousands of dialects with rich linguistic and cultural diversity.
  • These native languages are key to India's vast knowledge resources. Thus we must give importance to preserving our mother languages.

Why is preserving mother languages important?

  • Homeland of our innermost thoughts:
    • It is in our mother tongue that we express, with authenticity, our deepest thoughts, feelings, values and ideals, as also our literary endeavours.
    • Our languages, which are an integral part of our ancient culture, give us a sense of identity.
  • On the brink of extinction:
    • More than 40 of our dialects and languages have fewer than 10,000 users.
    • The situation is equal from all over the world with 40 percent of the speakers of 6,700 languages not having access to education in their mother tongue.
  • Declining Multilingual education and rising dominance of English language:
    • Several studies have shown the importance of multilingual education in upholding cultural and linguistic diversity.
    • Educators and parents continue to accord unquestioned primacy to English and, as a result, the child is compelled to study his or her mother tongue as a “second/third language” at school.
    • This emphasis on English has, ironically, made the educational system exclusive and restrictive.
    • As a result, while limiting the acquisition of knowledge in technical and professional courses, to a select few, we made it inaccessible to a vast majority of our students.

Famous Leaders on the importance of mother-tongue:

  • The Nobel Prize-winning physicist C V Raman said, “We must teach science in our mother tongue. Otherwise, science will become a highbrow activity. It will not be an activity in which all people can participate.
  • Writing in Young India in 1921, Mahatma Gandhi spoke with concern, of the strain of the foreign medium which turned “our children into crammers and imitators.
    • Gandhiji foresaw how “the foreign medium has made our children practically foreigners in their own land.
  • A monolingual system of education which relies on “providing education in only one language that is not necessarily shared by all learners may negatively impact learning performance, and the development of socio-emotional and foundational literacy skills.” – UNESCO

Constitutional Provisions:

  • Article 29 (Protection of interests of minorities) gives all citizens right to conserve their language and prohibits discrimination on the basis of language.
  • Article 120 (Language to be used in Parliament) provides for use of Hindi or English for transactions of Parliament but gives the right to members of Parliament to express themselves in their mother tongue.
  • Article 343(1) states that the Official Language of the Union government shall be Hindi in Devanagari script.
  • Article 350A (Facilities for instruction in mother-tongue at primary stage) provides that it shall be the endeavour of every State and of every local authority within the State to provide adequate facilities for instruction in the mother-tongue at the primary stage of education to children belonging to linguistic minority groups.
  • Article 350B (Special Officer for linguistic minorities): The President should appoint a special officer for linguistic minorities to investigate all matters relating to the constitutional safeguards for linguistic minorities and to report to him. The President should place all such reports before the Parliament and send to the state government concerned.
  • Article 351 gives power to the Union Government to issue a directive for the development of the Hindi language.

Initiatives taken by government to promote and preserve mother languages:

  • The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 is a farsighted document which advocates education in one’s mother tongue right from the primary-school level.
  • A number of studies have shown that children who learn in their mother tongue in their formative years perform better than those taught in an alien language.
  • The NEP’s emphasis on mother tongue as the medium of instruction will instil confidence in students belonging to poor, rural and tribal backgrounds.
  • AICTE's landmark decision to permit BTech programmes in 11 native languages.
    • In a survey conducted by AICTE in February last year of over 83,000 students, nearly 44 percent voted in favour of studying engineering in their mother tongue, highlighting its necessity.
  • The UGC has  written to governors and chief ministers of various states to give a fillip to measures for the promotion of mother tongue education in colleges and universities.
  • It is also heartening that the Staff Selection Commission has decided to conduct examinations in 13 Indian languages in addition to Hindi and English.
  • Similarly, the Supreme Court’s decision to make verdicts accessible in all Indian languages is of great significance.
  • The Government of India is running a scheme known as “Protection and Preservation of Endangered Languages” for conservation of threatened languages.

Way Forward:

  • The process of content creation in mother languages, especially with respect to technical and professional courses, must be hastened.
  • The mother tongue is analogous to eyesight, and spectacles are analogous to other languages; spectacles can only function properly if there is eyesight.
  • Let us remember this analogy whether we are policymakers, administrators, or teachers.

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