29 March 2006

Secretary-General Introduces Chinua Achebe, Paul Muldoon Speaking on "Use of Language in War and Peace"

NEW YORK, 28 March (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of today's remarks by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan introducing Professor Chinua Achebe and Professor Paul Muldoon prior to their discussion on "The Use of Language in War and Peace":

Good afternoon, friends and colleagues.  I'm delighted to welcome you to another lecture in this series, after a rather long gap.  We did have a few distractions last year, as you probably remember.

Anyway, it's a great honour and pleasure to have two such eminent writers to resume the series.

Chinua Achebe is surely known to you all by his writings.  He is widely considered the founding father of modern African literature -- which of course means that he belongs not just to Africa, but to the world.  His groundbreaking novel Things Fall Apart is a classic of world literature.  It has been translated into 50 languages.

And his collection of poems, Beware, Soul Brother, written during the Biafran War, was the joint winner of the first Commonwealth Poetry prize in 1972.

Paul Muldoon is yet another outstanding poet from a land of poets -- Ireland.  He published his first collection of poems when he was 20 years old.  Since then he has won many glittering awards, including the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for his book of poetry, Moy Sand and Gravel.

The Times Literary Supplement in London has described him as "the most significant English-language poet born since the Second World War."

We could not have two lecturers better qualified than these two professors, who are both masters of language, to talk to us about "the use of language in war and peace".

Language is an essential attribute of human nature.  Without it, we could not communicate any but the very simplest thoughts.  In fact, it's hard to imagine how we would think at all.

So language connects us to one another.  But, ever since the Tower of Babel, it has also divided us.  Like other forms of diversity, linguistic diversity is well worth cherishing -- because one of the great joys of human existence is learning from, and about, people who are different.  But, like other forms of diversity, it can also become a source of mistrust, misunderstanding and even hatred.

And between people who do speak the same language, words have a remarkable power, which can be used for good or ill.

So we cannot really understand our world without understanding how language is used, and for what purpose.  And no one can explain that to us better than people who have the gift of writing.  That's why I'm especially grateful to Professor Achebe and Professor Muldoon for accepting my invitation today.

They are going to speak in alphabetical order, and I have asked each of them to start with a mini-lecture of 20 minutes or less.  That should leave time for both of them to answer some questions.

Professor Achebe, you have the floor.

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