Madam Speaker, a few years ago, I read a National Geographic article about endangered languages. I do not remember the names of the specific languages, but I know there was one in Russia, one in India and a series of them in Mexico.
This article not only gave a voice to some of the people who still speak these languages, but it also illustrated the richness of these languages and the difference they make in people's world views.
A language is a way to describe the world, after all. The more ways there are to describe our world, the more accurate picture we will have of that world and its features. An international mother language day would allow us to highlight those features, take time to acknowledge them, love them and promote them.
I want to tell my colleague from Cloverdale—Langley City, whom I hope is still listening, that the Bloc will be supporting Bill S-214.
My speech in support of Bill S-214 will provide a brief history of the idea of mother language day and some statistics. I will also spend a few moments on the mother tongue aspect of languages and give some examples of the richness of different languages.
UNESCO has been observing International Mother Language Day since 1999, when it was adopted unanimously. When this day was added to the calendar, UNESCO noted that 43% of the languages spoken today are at risk of disappearing. In fact, one language disappears every other week on average. It is alarming. That is what will happen now and in the future if nothing is done to preserve and promote the languages. That does not even include all those that have already disappeared over time.
In 2007, the UN General Assembly asked its members to encourage the preservation and protection of all the languages spoken by all peoples in this world. At the time, many languages had already disappeared and many others were disappearing. Why does this happen?
There were events that took place in the past. Civil wars between nations and colonization are two examples of history and its impact, which weakened several languages and made them disappear. We have to acknowledge that and be able to look to the future, make things right and move forward. We have to be able to recognize the mistakes of the past so as not to repeat them.
These days, educational systems, the online world and the belief that English is the only international language of business all contribute to making languages vulnerable. Just a few hundred languages in the world are supported by existing educational systems, and even fewer are supported by the online world and social networks. If you were to go by social networks alone, it would be easy to assume that English is the world's only economic salvation, but people do business in almost every language in the world, not just in English.
When we are conscious of what puts languages in danger of disappearing, we are in a better position to take action, to find solutions and to foster relationships of respect. Mutual respect allows us to see languages as complementary, rather than incompatible or incongruous, ways to talk about and see our world.
Have you ever wondered why we use the expression “mother tongue” instead of “father tongue” or “birth language”? It is simply because the first words children hear are usually spoken by their mother. These words are usually tender and kind, and those sentiments reflect our attachment to our mother tongue.
Like mitochondrial DNA, the mother tongue is passed down from the mother. For example, when French settlers arrived in Quebec, they had several different accents, because France did not, and still does not, have only one nationwide accent. Today, there is the Norman accent, the Parisian accent, the northern accent called the Ch'ti accent, and the southern accent, from the Marseille or Toulouse region. At the time when the first French settlers came to America, it was the same. It was like that then, and it still is today.
How did the distinctive Quebec accent come to be?
Let us talk about one of Quebec's accents, because it is wrong to claim that there is just one. There is the Montreal accent, the Quebec City accent, the Gaspé accent, the Acadian accent, and so on. The first Quebec accent is thought to have come from the filles du roi. They were poor girls or orphans, sometimes belonging to the genteel poor, who were educated at the expense of the French king Louis XIV. The accent we hear today, with words like “moi” and “toi” pronounced like “moé” and “toé”, is the Parisian accent of the 17th century. To those who tell us, even today, that our French is not French, I would say that our French is the legacy of what created French in France and the international French of today. Our expressions are a gateway to history. The same goes for all the world's languages. Some are modern, while others are doors to the past, to nature, and more.
A few years ago, when I was in university, my English second language professor confessed that she adored French. I get that. Even though it was not her mother tongue, she adored it because she found French to be more vivid and precise than English. Take it easy; those were her words. For example, she said that, in English, there is blue, light blue and dark blue, but in French, there is a whole spectrum of blues. She found English interesting because it is a fast language made up of short words. She loved her mother tongue, but she was able to perceive the charms of another language. We should all be like her.
This is true of other languages too. There are words that exist in one language and not another. If I remember correctly, in Inuktitut, there are several dozen words for snow. That makes sense because it was crucial that they be able to describe snow precisely. It was a matter of survival. It helped them find their way. By comparison, in French we have wet snow, loose snow, packed snow, icy snow, slush, powder, and a couple more I have probably forgotten. We do not have that many.
It is only by taking an interest in lesser-known, rarer languages that we can discover the breadth and beauty of the world we live in. Mother tongues should be celebrated. We need to share them, to share the insight that each of them gives us into our world, our emotions, our spirit. The more words a person has, the more precise their vision of the world, both physical and abstract, is. By sharing our languages, by respecting and honouring them, by doing everything possible to protect endangered languages and by allowing these languages to be passed on, we are sharing world views, sharing our visions, and learning to respect one another. As the great Pierre Bourgault said, to protect a language is to protect all languages from the hegemony of one, whatever it may be. A nation can have one, two or three official languages, and individuals can have many more. It is this individual richness that must be preserved and praised.
In conclusion, a language is a system of concepts. It is the basis of every individual and of the construction of the psyche. The more we do to keep the world's languages from disappearing, the more we will enable people to have a strong psyche that is rich in imagery, and the more we will love this diversity. The world's mother tongues are also part of diversity, and we must love them, no matter what they are.
I want to close with this final thought. International mother language day is a bit like Valentine's Day. Lovers love each other all year round, not just on Valentine's Day. We must love our mother tongue all year round, not just on February 21. We have to demonstrate it every day. Still, I do hope we will all celebrate international mother language day together next February 21.