20 February 2009

Kiyo Akasaka, Under-Secretary-General for
Communications and Public Information and Coordinator for Multilingualism:

"Languages Can Make the Difference Between Being Able to Participate and Being Excluded"

Message on International Mother Language Day, 21 February 2009

VIENNA, 21 February (UN Information Service) - On 21 February, communities around the world will observe International Mother Language Day. It will be a day to celebrate the rich linguistic and cultural diversity that characterises our world.

The day will also mark the conclusion of the International Year of Languages, which was launched on this day last year with the simple message - "languages matter!" In proclaiming the Year, the General Assembly wanted to promote "unity in diversity" - and international understanding through multilingualism.

The United Nations pursues multilingualism as a means of promoting, protecting and preserving diversity of languages and cultures globally. It is keenly aware of the importance of communicating to the peoples of the world in their own languages.

Languages, which ones you understand or speak, read or write, whether on the Internet or in your society, can make the difference between knowing and not knowing, and between being able to participate and being excluded.

The Department of Public Information engages and communicates with the world through traditional and new media in the six official languages of the United Nations. But it also goes far beyond these six languages, to reach millions of peoples locally and across linguistic regions. Our radio programmes, for example, are also produced in Kiswahili and Portuguese.

With the capacity to work in almost 50 different languages, and produce information material in over 100 languages, our network of 63 UN information centres actively promotes multilingualism and indigenous languages. Working in concert with country and other partners, they are also helping to contribute tools for social and economic development and political engagement.

The United Nations in Mexico, for example, is working with local partners to translate the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into more than 20 indigenous languages of Mexico. The first two translations were in the Maya and Mexican Huasteca Hidalgense languages.

In Bangladesh, the United Nations Information Centre informs the local population of significant developments related to the activities of the UN system as well as news relevant to the Asia-Pacific region in a monthly newsletter published in Bangla. It also publishes in Bangla works on a range of issues, from climate change to UN human rights instruments and conventions.

Across Africa, United Nations Information Centres have translated the Millennium Development Goals into 34 African languages - including Afrikaans, Dhoulo, Ewe, Hausa, Kikuyu, Malagasy, Moore, Sesotho, Wolof, Yoruba and Zulu - helping to ensure that citizens are informed about and are able to participate in the achievement of the goals.

The United Nations Information Centre in Burkina Faso recently translated core documents like the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the Millennium Development Goals, into local languages and has shared them with our civil society partners.

And UN radio stations provide reliable information and enable public dialogue in support of ongoing peace efforts. Radio Okapi in the Democratic Republic of the Congo broadcasts in five languages: French, Kikongo, Lingala, Kiswahili and Tshiluba. Programmes are heard throughout the country and give all Congolese citizens a chance to be heard as well.

International Mother Language Day marks another opportunity to encourage and support linguistic diversity and multilingualism.

It also inspires us to continue to work with governments, international organizations, civil society, educational institutions, and the private sector, among others, to ensure that this respect for diversity is translated into the language of peace and an understanding of universal values we all share to realise a better world.

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