Language should be celebrated. We’re not just saying that because it’s our job, but because what we say and write is the glue that holds the world together. Because they are so critical to culture and to the condition of being human, languages are recognized at national and international levels through various days of celebration around the world. So, here’s a selection of our favorite language-related festivities.
- National Grammar Day is a US celebration on March 4th that was created in 2008 by American author Martha Brockenbrough. Martha wrote Things That Make Us [sic] and also founded the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar (SPOGG), which in my book makes her a hero. Theirs nothing that infuriate’s me, more than “sub” standard grammar. That even hurt to write.
- National Dictionary Day is also observed in the US. It occurs on October 16th and commemorates the birthday of Noah Webster, who is responsible for America’s first comprehensive dictionary and who decided to ‘simplify’ the English language by introducing an entirely new set of American spellings. I’m sure anyone who has ever studied English as a second language is immensely grateful.
- Some of the sillier days began nationally, but their popularity has spread significantly. Talk Like Shakespeare Day comes around every year on April 23rd, his birthday. While it was started in the US by the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, it has nevertheless caught on around the world. There is even a website dedicated to the many variations of language you can employ in honor of the Bard, from wooing your beloved with verse to cursing your enemies for jackanapes.
- Similarly, Talk Like A Pirate Day on September 19th is a day created out of thin air by a group of friends in the mid-90s, and has since grown to have a truly international fan-base. It is an excellent opportunity to gather some scally-wags to indulge in some of the more colorful examples of sailor vernacular. It’s also a good excuse for terrible pirate-related humor. Do you know what a pirate’s favorite letter is? You’d think it was Rrrrr, but actually their first love be the C.
- Moving away from the crazier celebrations, there are some slightly more serious days started by international bodies. For example, International Mother Language Day is on February 21st. It was officially announced by UNESCO in 1999 in recognition of Bengali students who fought and died in Bangladesh in 1952 in their efforts to have their language officially recognized by the authorities. During the day, multicultural festivities celebrate the promotion of all voices, raising awareness for social cohesion and cultural tolerance.
The UN also introduced a number of international language days in 2010 to celebrate multilingualism and promote the equal use of the UN’s six official languages:
- March 20th is the French Language Day, chosen to mark the creation of the predecessor of the Organization Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF), a body that represents 88 states and governments that share the French language. The organization estimates there are approximately 300 million French speakers across five continents. Mon Dieu.
- April 20th is Chinese Language Day, chosen to honor the Gu Yu spring festival and the creation of the Chinese alphabet in around 2650 BCE by Cangjie, a legendary figure in ancient China. According to stories, Cangjie was the official historian of the Yellow Emperor and had four eyes. Legend says that when he first invented the characters, deities and ghosts cried and the sky rained millet.
- April 23rd marks the celebration of both the English and Spanish languages, chosen as a day that commemorates the deaths of their greatest respective exponents: William Shakespeare (yes, his birthday and death were both on April 23rd and Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (often just shortened to Cervantes). Native English speakers will be deeply familiar with the works of the Bard, while Cervantes’ novel Don Quixote is considered by some to be the first modern novel and the best work of fiction ever written.
- Russian Language Day is on June 6th, the birthday of the founder of modern Russian literature and the country’s greatest poet, Alexander Pushkin. A member of Russian nobility, Pushkin was exiled by Tsar Alexander the First for reciting his controversial poem “Ode to Liberty.” He died a poet’s death, too, having been fatally wounded in a duel with his brother-in-law, who had attempted to seduce Pushkin’s wife.
- December 18th marks the Arabic Language Day of Celebration. Spoken by more than 422 million people, Arabic is the sacred language of both the Qur’an and Islamic prayer, and its influence can be found in languages ranging from Swahili to Portuguese. Its celebration day was chosen as the day when the UN officially adopted Arabic as one of its official languages.
- Finally, a relative newcomer to international days of celebration is International Translation Day on September 20th, which was only introduced in 2017 by the UN’s General Assembly. Its purpose is to pay tribute to the work of us language professionals for our important role in, and I quote: “bringing nations together, facilitating dialogue, understanding and cooperation, contributing to development and strengthening world peace and security.”
Now, it’s probably going too far to consider us heroes, but, you know, it’s nice to be recognized. So, when September is drawing to a close next year, we will certainly be raising our quills and tipping our keyboards to translators around the world. Feel free to join us.