What can be done to promote multilingualism in the work of the United Nations? How would it make the UN more effective? These were questions raised at a recent symposium on multilingualism organized by the Study Group on Language and the UN.
In a wide-ranging discussion, UN personnel, diplomats, NGOs and academics were in broad agreement that, if the UN is to realize its mission to reach out to civil society, and if it is to engage in constructive dialogue with its various publics, it needs to address its language priorities in the field and find the resources to act on these priorities.
Among other organizations whose language policies were examined in the course of the symposium were ASEAN, the International Criminal Court, and the European Union. Some one hundred people attended the symposium. The Study Group plans to continue its work of sensitizing the United Nations to the importance of multilingualism. Stressing the need for two-way communication and echoing one of the slogans associated with the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the General Assembly in 2015, Humphrey Tonkin, chair of the symposium, remarked, “We all know how to say ‘No one left behind’ in English, but can we say it in Twi, or Gujarati, or Guarani — languages of the people whom we are supposedly serving? And can we understand, or even hear, the left-behind when they speak to us?”
The symposium was sponsored by the Center for Applied Linguistics (Washington DC), Birkbeck University of London, the Center for Research and Documentation on World Language Problems and its journal Language Problems & Language Planning, the Universal Esperanto Association, and the Esperantic Studies Foundation. More information is available at the Language and the UN website.