UN launches new initiative to promote multilingualism

19 February 2010 – The United Nations will today launch UN Language Days, a new initiative which seeks to celebrate multilingualism and cultural diversity as well as to promote equal use of all six of its official working languages throughout the Organization.

UN duty stations around the world will celebrate six new observances dedicated to a UN official language: French (20 March), English (23 April), Russian (6 June), Spanish (12 October), Arabic (18 December) and Chinese (to be determined).

The new initiative – which seeks to increase awareness and respect for the history, culture and achievements of each of the six working languages among the UN community – is part of this year’s observance of International Mother Language Day, observed annually on 21 February.

The observance of the Day will also feature a special screening of the Danish documentary In Languages We Live – Voices of the World at UN Headquarters in New York today. The film explores the world’s linguistic diversity, especially in light of the fact that half of the world’s approximately 6,500 languages will disappear by the end of the century – currently, at least one language is disappearing every 14 days.

In addition, a two-day symposium on translation and cultural mediation will open on 22 February at the Paris headquarters of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

This year, UNESCO is celebrating Mother Language Day as part of the 2010 International Year of Rapprochement of Cultures (2010), the agency’s Director-General Irina Bokova noted in her message for the Day.

“Languages are the best vehicles of mutual understanding and tolerance. Respect for all languages is a key factor for ensuring peaceful coexistence, without exclusion, of societies and all of their members,” she said.

International Mother Language Day, proclaimed by UNESCO’s General Conference in 1999, has been observed every year since 2000 to focus on endangered languages and the importance of preserving these languages.


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