BERKELEY'S NEWS • OCTOBER 01, 2022

UC Berkeley celebrates Mother Language Day, Indigenous tongues

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MEGHNATH DEY | STAFF

Campus is offering classes and multiple activities related to language revitalization, an effort spearheaded by Indigenous scholars.

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FEBRUARY 22, 2022

Home to students from all over the world, UC Berkeley has long been a melting pot of many different languages and cultures.

Campus’s linguistic diversity was spotlighted with International Mother Language Day on Monday, which was established by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, in 1999, according to a UC Berkeley news article. The event marks the anniversary of student protests at Dhaka University during which 16 students died trying to preserve the Bengali language.

“Mother Language Day is a global celebration of Indigenous languages, and an urgent call to support languages that are endangered,” said campus Native American Studies associate professor Beth Piatote in an email.

In honor of Mother Language Day, the campus Language Revitalization Working Group, or LRWG, will host a “cooking show” Wednesday where it will use Indigenous languages to explain how to cook a meal, according to Piatote.

Besides activities specific to Mother Language Day, campus offers undergraduate and graduate courses in language revitalization, Piatote noted. The LRWG’s events supporting Indigenous languages are open to anyone and a summer program on campus also supports language revitalization for California Native Americans.

“Our efforts to revitalize and reclaim our languages are often most successful when we collaborate with others beyond our own tribal communities,” Piatote said in the email. “It is important that we have organizations like the DE and the LR Working Group to support these collaborations.”

Piatote, whose research interests surround Native American and Aboriginal literature, Indigenous Language Revitalization and the Nez Perce language, helped establish the Designated Emphasis, or DE, in Indigenous Language Revitalization, which acts as a graduate minor available to students across disciplines.

She currently serves as the chair of the program.

“As a Nez Perce person, it is deeply meaningful to me to be able to pray and express myself creatively in my indigenous language,” Piatote said in the email. “It connects me to my homelands, my ancestors, and distinctly Nez Perce ways of thinking and being in the world.”

This year marks particular importance to the preservation of Indigenous languages — in February 2020, UNESCO declared 2022-2032 the Decade of Indigenous Languages, which promotes education of Indigenous peoples’ mother tongues and their uses in public life, according to the UNESCO website.

As Indigenous languages become increasingly endangered and replaced by colonial languages, those involved with Indigenous language revitalization efforts at UC Berkeley have stressed the importance of celebrating mother tongues.

“Indigenous languages offer beautiful, complex, and profound ways of understanding, describing, and engaging with the world,” Piatote said in the email. “There’s a wealth of philosophical, spiritual, medicinal, and scientific knowledge in the language and in texts produced in the language.”

Contact Cindy Liu at 

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FEBRUARY 23, 2022


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