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Global seminar on language diversity opens this week
16 December 2008 / 11:10

[Dateline: New York | Author: iSeek]

Languages Matter 2008A two-day global seminar to mark the close of the 2008 International Year of Languages will open at UN Headquarters in New York on Wednesday, 17 December (programme).

The "Languages Matter: Linguistics Diversity, Globalization and Development" event is being jointly organized by the Department of Public Information and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The event will take place in Conference Room 1, starting at 10 a.m.

Launched in February this year at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, France, the common goal of the International Year of Languages is to ensure that the importance of linguistic diversity and multilingualism in educational, administrative and legal systems, cultural expressions and the media, among others, is recognized at the national, regional and international levels. During the seminar, UNESCO will present a summary of activities undertaken through the year toward achieving the goal.

The seminar is one of the final events of the calendar for the International Year of Languages, which will be concluded on International Mother Tongue Language Day on 21 February 2009.

Mr. Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, President of the 63rd session of the General Assembly, Mr. Kiyo Akasaka, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information and Ms. Hélène-Marie Gosselin, Director of UNESCO's New York Office, will be among dignitaries attending the opening session.

There will be panel discussions on the following topics: Towards a Global Culture - Multilingualism, Opportunity and Development; Language Initiatives by Governments and Public Authorities – How it Works in Practice; and Multilingualism on the Move - Successful Inclusive Language Policy and Practice.

Films on multilingualism, including one called, Endangered Languages, will be screened in between the sessions, and messages have been sent by Mr. Abdou Diouf, Secretary-General of the International Organization of la Francophonie, and Mr. Paulo Coelho, UN Messenger of Peace. 

More than half of the 7,000 languages spoken in the world may disappear within the space of a few generations as on average, a language ceases to be spoken every two weeks, according to experts. About 96 percent of languages are spoken by only 4 percent of the world’s population.

The loss of these languages would not only weaken the world's cultural diversity, but also our collective knowledge as a human race,” said Secretary-General BAN Ki-moon on the occasion of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People in August this year.

At that event, the Secretary-General called for the need to “recognize the silent crisis confronting many of the world's languages, the overwhelming majority of which are indigenous peoples' languages.”  He also urged states, indigenous peoples, the UN system and all relevant actors to take immediate steps to protect and promote endangered languages, and to ensure the safe passage of this shared heritage to future generations.

“Languages are indeed essential to the identity of groups and individuals and to their peaceful coexistence,” said UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura on the occasion of the launch of the International Year of Languages in February.

Mr. Matsuura said languages constituted a strategic factor of progress towards sustainable development and a harmonious relationship between the global and the local context. “They are of utmost importance in achieving the six goals of Education For All (EFA) and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).”

The General Assembly proclaimed 2008 as the International Year of Languages in a 16 May 2007 resolution (A/RES/61/266), to promote unity in diversity and international understanding, through multilingualism. UN offices and departments have held several activities through the year to highlight language diversty and raise awareness.