Connected to the Human Family: UVU Celebrates International Mother Language Day

On Monday, February 22, 2021, the Office for Global Engagement held its annual International Mother Language Day event.


Utah Valley University is committed to a global community.

On Monday, February 22, 2021, the Office for Global Engagement held its annual International Mother Language Day event. This year’s virtual event included a panel of staff and faculty members at UVU hosted by Dr. Sayeed Sajal, assistant professor of computer science. Viewers attended the event via Facebook Live.

International Mother Language Day was proclaimed by the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in November 1999. Since 2007, International Mother Language Day has been observed on February 21. The month of February was chosen in memory of university students in Bangladesh who were killed on February 21, 1952, while campaigning to officially use their mother language of Bengali.

After introductions and a small tribute to the university students killed in the Bangladesh protests, panel members began to discuss the importance and complexities within the relationship between language and culture.

“You cannot have culture without language, and you cannot have language without culture,” Sajal said.

As the largest university in the state, UVU’s need and appreciation for all types of languages and cultures are paramount. UVU has 580 students from over 70 countries where English is not the native language. In addition to these students, UVU has many multicultural American students who were raised in homes with languages besides English, such as Hawaiian or Native American languages.  

This panel allowed for attendees to increase their awareness of how local and global languages positively contribute to all environments. A rising theme of the event was the connection of language to the human family.

“Language to me is humanity — it is everything to me,” said Dr. Michael Ballard, assistant professor of ASL and Deaf studies at UVU. “It not only provides connectivity to the human family but a disconnect from language is also a disconnect from my human family.”

Panelists then discussed the oppression and discrimination many cultures and languages have and continue to receive on a daily basis. Meg Singer, program director of Native American Initiative at UVU, spoke on the discrimination Native Americans received in the United States, relaying how voting and religious rights were not granted until 1958 and 1978, respectively. Before religious rights were granted, Native Americans were unable to participate in their rituals, ceremonies, and other cultural activities.

“The importance of culture is not only to continue the traditions of my ancestors from the beginning of time,” said Singer. “It’s also empowering to fight against large forces that just don’t want you to speak your language.”

Finally, the panel members discussed ways and resources available to those looking to learn another language. Some tips included practicing, studying, and not being afraid of making mistakes.

UVU hosts a variety of language courses in addition to study abroad opportunities and international guest lectures and conferences. UVU’s Multicultural Student Services Department also hosts yearly events that highlight language and cultural diversity.

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