The United Nations has declared February 21st (this Sunday) as International Mother Language Day, based on the original Bangladeshi holiday on the same date. On February 21st, 1951 many Bengali students gave their lives to preserve the right to use Bengali.
Protests in Dhaka to preserve vernacular, February 21st 1951

Bangladeshis value their vernacular (mother-tongue) like no other nation, because they fought their independence war primarily to protect the use of their Bengali mothertongue. The Pakistani government rejected Bengali as a ‘Hindu’ non-Muslim language which wasn’t appropriate for Muslims. Indeed, “linguistic imperialism” is a force killing mothertongues (and cultures) all over the world..
As we reflect this Sunday on the importance of preserving mothertongues, we need to remember how worldviews tends to spurn or encourage mothertongue development. Most religions in history have so intertwined their scriptures, worship and one “divine” language that the mothertongue is ignored. Be it Hebrew, Arabic, Latin, Sanskrit or Chinese, the “heavenly” language becomes institutionalized as the only permitted language of worship and scripture.
I’ve found that the Bible is the only scripture that firmly rejects this pattern. Jesus spoke colloquial Aramaic, the New Testament was written in everyday Greek, and the beginning of the church at Pentecost was inaugurated by the use of many languages. There’s no room for the myth of a divine language.
This has played out in history—Lamin Sanneh, a West African Yale professor, has documented how Bible translations across Africa have sparked indigenous renaissances which empowered local cultures to resist European imperialism.

(above: John 1:1 in various translations)

Few Bengalis realize that only two hundred years ago, no scholar or priest in Bengal would use Bengali, since they scorned it as a broken language of demons and fishermen and only used “Muslim” and “Hindu” languages like Sanskrit, Arabic and Farsi. William Carey’s Christian community in Serampore was the first force to dignify the Bengali language. The first book ever printed with Bengali letters was the New Testament:

The first Bengali prose book, textbooks, newspaper, journal, and encyclopedia were all produced by this small community of Christians. Later well-known “Bengali Renaissance” leaders like Rammohan Roy wanted English, not Bengali, to be the medium of higher education, and continued to use Sanskrit instead of Bengali in worship. It’s an interesting and seldom-discussed history. Vishal Mangalwadi, an Indian expert on Carey, writes in The Legacy of William Carey:

“Carey began dozens of schools for Indian children of all castes, and launched the first college in Asia, at Serampore near Calcutta. He wanted to develop the Indian mind and liberate it from the darkness of superstition. For nearly three thousand years, India’s religious culture had denied most Indians free access to knowledge; and the Hindu, Mughal and British rulers had gone along with this high caste strategy of keeping the masses in the bondage of ignorance. Carey displayed enormous spiritual strength in standing up against the priests, who had a vested interest in depriving the masses of the freedom and power that come from knowledge of truth.”

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