In 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization –UNESCO used to say that if a language is extinct, the world loses its precious legacy and a lot of legends, poetry and knowledge gathered from generation to generation will go extinct.
The language is so important so that since February 21, 1999, UNESCO has determined the International Mother Tongue Day. The date was chosen based on the historic event of the Language Movement Day in Bangladesh.
On February 21, 1952, students and communities in eastern Bengal (now Bangladesh) took to the streets to protest the marginalization of Bengali by the Pakistani central government which only recognizes Urdu. A number of students were killed as victims of violence in the language movement. For this reason, UNESCO selected February 21 as International Mother Tongue Day. Through its commemoration, this year UNESCO reiterates its commitment to the diversity of languages and invites its member countries to commemorate it as much as possible. It is also a reminder that language diversity and multilingualism are essential for sustainable development.
Then, how does Indonesia respond the International Mother Tongue Day? From 1992 to mid-2016, the Language Agency has documented 646 local languages throughout Indonesia. The number of languages that have been verified and mapped reaches as many as 617 local languages. Summer Institute of Linguistics, a non-profit scientific organization in the United States that studies, develops and documents lesser known languages, reports that the number of languages in Indonesia is 742 and 737 of which are still actively spoken. In the meantime, less than 10% or maybe only 5% of Indonesian languages have been researched by linguists to be concerned because there are no more their speakers.
One hundred and forty-five languages whose speakers are fewer than one million people continue to decline. It is estimated that 30 of the 58 local languages in West Papua have been extinct over the past 20 years. In addition, around 15 local languages, such as Meyans, Mpur, Dunser, and Karondori in West Papua are also confirmed to have been out of use by their speakers.
According to UNESCO, language is the center of social, economic and cultural life. It's not just the research of linguists. Language also determines social struggles in completing economic development in a global era by prioritizing knowledge and local wisdom.
In addition, the commemoration of International Mother Tongue Day in some regions is a venue for local language lovers with different backgrounds, professions and even ages to share. Mother tongue is about not only for artists, writers or local humanists, but also all the stakeholders of Indonesian nation to preserve the mother tongues.