Katharina Ulbrich describes the German class she teaches at the Estevan Library as “fun and funny.” Canadians, for instance, say “on cloud 9,” but in German, the equivalent of that happy expression is “on cloud 7,” says Ulbrich.
I met Katharina while travelling the province during Culture Days in 2013. The seven partner organizations involved in the Stories of Integration Project -- Multicultural Council of Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan Organization for Heritage Languages, Saskatchewan German Council, Saskatchewan Filmpool Cooperative, Ukrainian Canadian Congress - Saskatchewan Provincial Council, Conseil Culturel Fransaskois, and Aboriginal Friendship Centres of Saskatchewan -- asked people to share their stories for a series of public service announcements.
Katharina wasn’t the only one who spoke about language. Berbel Knoll’s parents immigrated to Tisdale after WWII from Germany. Berbel’s mother worked in a Chinese restaurant, where the owners only spoke Chinese and Berbel’s mother only spoke German. As a result, they relied on their hands to communicate. One day, Berbel’s mother had gotten frostbite on her face. One of the owners of the restaurant ran outside, gathered some snow and put it on her cheek. Somehow, Berbel’s mother had managed to communicate that she had frostbite, and the owner knew exactly how to treat it.
Berbel’s parents fostered an appreciation for German in their children and eventually, Berbel became a German teacher at Luther College.
Every year since 2000, International Mother Language Day is celebrated on Feb. 21, making this year the 15th anniversary. The day promotes the preservation and protection of all languages all over the world.
|Photo by Maria Aman
The celebration was a day of multicultural performances, including powwow singing and dancing, Irish dancing, Bengali singing and dancing, Hindi singing, a Chinese Lion Dance, a Nepali dance, and a performance by a local spoken word artist.
|Natya Sudha Dance Group, photo by Maria Aman
According to the United Nations: “More than 50 percent of the approximately 7,000 languages spoken in the world are likely to die out within a few generations, and 96 percent of these languages are spoken by a mere 4 per cent of the world's population. Only a few hundred languages have genuinely been given pride of place in education systems and the public domain, and less than a hundred are used in the digital world.”
Statistics from the 2011 Saskatchewan National Household Survey reveal that only 24.3 percent of all self-identified Indigenous people indicate having an Indigenous language as one of their mother tongues.
According to UNESCO: “All moves to promote the dissemination of mother tongues will serve not only to encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education but also to develop fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions throughout the world and to inspire solidarity based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue.”