16 March 2001


NEW YORK, 15 March (UN Headquarters) -- Following are remarks by Secretary-General Kofi Annan on laying the Foundation Stone for the Centre of International Mother Language Studies in Dhaka, Bangladesh:

It is truly an honour for me to lay the foundation stone of this institute, to be dedicated to the study of mother languages across the world. In an age when a few languages have become global languages, it is imperative that we uphold the diversity of local languages too. I share your hope that this Centre will help raise awareness among all peoples of the distinct and enduring value of their mother tongue.

Let me pay tribute to Bangladesh for its commitment to this cause. It was that commitment which inspired the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to declare the date of Shahid Dibosh, 21 February, International Mother Language Day for the whole world. It is that commitment which has led you to create this institute devoted to mother languages worldwide.

Bangladesh is a nation built on the understanding that along with faith and homeland, language is an essential component of identity; a means by which we find our place in the world. The very essence of belonging, in an increasingly rootless world, is to hear a language of one’s own, to understand and be understood with ease. While differing languages have in the past separated peoples and groups, it is my hope that in this century all peoples can unite in celebrating the full diversity of languages.

There is a danger that many of the 6,000 languages spoken today may disappear in the next 20 years. The international community must redouble its efforts to protect this common heritage of mankind. We must accept that languages are not mutually exclusive, but that human beings and humanity are enriched by communicating in more than one language; that languages, and the peoples to whom they belong, can and must coexist in our new century. I hope this institute will help us advance that understanding everywhere. On behalf of the United Nations, Onek dhonnyabad. Thank you.

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