Language and language difference is an often underestimated or overlooked dimension in the effectiveness of the United Nations in many fields – from administration to economic and social development, from peacekeeping to diplomacy, and in many places in between. The Study Group on Language and the United Nations, founded in part on the initiative of the Universal Esperanto Association, has for the past several years organized, with ESF’s support, an annual symposium on aspects of language and the UN. This year’s symposium, “Multilingualism in International Organizations and International Co-operation,” will take place on Thursday and Friday, May 10 and 11, at the Church Center, 777 United Nations Plaza, New York, beginning at 9:00 a.m. on May 10.
Multilingualism in international co-operation entails both costs and benefits: costs because it requires mechanisms such as the selection of multilingual staff and the mediation of language professionals; benefits because, if properly managed, it includes all parties to decision-making, promotes consensus, supports programme delivery, and aids dissemination of results. Thus it favours social justice and inclusion. Increasingly, multilingualism is seen as a positive force, though it is not always recognized as such by all stakeholders.
Within the United Nations, for example, owing in particular to the scarcity of available data, advocates of multilingual language policies often face ideological, financial and administrative resistance, despite a growing recognition that multilingualism, as a core value of the UN, is a potential source of strength.
This symposium seeks to focus on, and generate interest in, these issues. Contributions will address the challenges of supporting multilingualism in organizations or in sites of international co-operation across different sectors (e.g. business, diplomacy, economics) or communities. Theoretical and methodological studies will be included, as well as those addressing specific practical challenges – especially papers that focus directly on the work of the UN system or other international bodies, or research having obvious implications for their work. Keynote speaker will be Michele Gazzola (Humboldt University, Berlin), well known as a specialist on the economics of language policies.
To find out more about the symposium, and to register, go to www.languageandtheun.org. On the website you will also find the final report of the 2017 symposium, on “Language, the Sustainable Development Goals, and Vulnerable Populations.”
The North-American-based Esperantic Studies Foundation supports scholarship, teaching, and research in all aspects of planned languages and in modes of communication across languages.