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Mother Language Day: a celebration of language diversity

7 March 2024
Where languages come together, identities converge. At the first edition of Mother Language Day, language diversity was highlighted with engaging stories and lively panel discussions. In a world where discrimination based on language variation is still widespread, this event clearly emphasized the importance of language diversity.

Text: Annelotte Adriaanse / Photos: Marieke Wijntjes

On a rainy Thursday afternoon on 29 February 2024, an enthusiastic group of about 100 participants gathered in the NU building for an impressive event on awareness and appreciation of language diversity at VU. Participants were not only immersed in perspectives on multilingualism and language variation but also witnessed an engaging panel discussion, all organized by Laura Rupp, VU senior lecturer and director of the Centre for Global English.

The Holobox was ready to warmly welcome visitors at the entrance and showcased various mother languages spoken at VU. One by one, students, teachers, and staff entered the Holobox as holograms, proudly sharing stories about their mother language. Their enthusiasm echoed throughout the building and set the tone for this special day.

'Mother tongue is the language of your heart'

René van Woudenberg, the dean of the Faculty of Humanities, opened the event by offering a glimpse into multilingualism as a virtue but also as a challenge. After this brief introduction, the speakers took the stage.

Petra Bos, VU lecturer and language researcher, delved into the fascinating world of multilingualism in children and explored the meaning of 'mother language.' Language is not just a means of communication but also an essential part of your identity. This illustrates the importance of recognizing mother languages and giving them ample space. 'Anyone with an accent speaks at least one other language fluently.'

Walt Wolfram, American professor and advocate for language equality, addressed the audience with a video presentation about his language diversity program at North Carolina State University. His vibrant storytelling style and vivid anecdotes immediately captured the undivided attention of the audience. Wolfram emphasized several serious issues, including discrimination of language variation and linguistic profiling. 'Academics are the gatekeepers of language. It is precisely the gatekeepers who are in the best position to break down these gates.'

In between presentations, the audience was also addressed in the language of poetry and music. Jörgen Gario brought together various languages in his performance and enchanted the audience with his words.

Education and language

Under the guidance of Gijsbert Siertsema and Laura Rupp, the much-awaited panel discussion kicked off. Here, issues regarding language diversity in education and possible solutions were discussed from various perspectives. Andrew Niemeijer emphasized the biggest challenges in education. ‘Breaking barriers starts with the courage to speak’.

Annemarie Nuwenhoud discussed encouraging more diversity and letting go of language ideologies. ‘We miss out on the enrichment that other languages provide’. Siema Ramdas focused on interpersonal communication because communication always involves two participants. And finally, Reham Zakhari shared her experiences of studying in a language other than her mother tongue.

Dare to speak

The event concluded with a cheerful reception, where a mix of voices, each with its unique cadence, contributed to lively conversations. ‘I found it very interesting to hear different perspectives on language diversity and the prejudices surrounding it,’ said student Milan van der Meer. As the afternoon came to a close and the final conversations faded away, it became clear that this day was not just a moment but rather the beginning of an ongoing conversation about the richness of language diversity.

The event was organised by Laura Rupp, Associate Professor at VU Amterdam and Director of the Centre for Global English, and Hannah Stoffels, alumni officer at the Department of University Relations & Fundraising.



See the photos of this event: