The Universal Esperanto Association hosted a symposium on May 1, 2012, on the topic “Language and the United Nations,” during which it considered the role of language in the operations of the United Nations and the ways in which linguistic concerns intersect with United Nations programs. (Link to the program guide here: http://www.esperanto-un.org/languages-and-the-un.html). This program raised an issue that you have probably considered and that deserves some attention.
As you are aware, there are hundreds of languages swarming the globe, raising communication challenges in the legal, financial, business, medical and other fields. I’m sure you have heard of the two main solutions to communication challenges: (1) using interpreters/translators which help to safeguard the linguistic identity of the speakers or (2) asking everyone to speak the same language, like Esperanto.
UN organizations such as UNESCO have devoted particular efforts to the preservation of linguistic diversity, the linguistic and cultural rights of indigenous peoples, the right to mother-tongue education, and the preservation of endangered languages and cultures. In the field of human rights, the issue of language rights, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights instruments, is receiving increasing attention.
We also know that, in the UN and several other organizations, there is a tendency to see language at the formal level as a technical problem rather than as an issue that is fraught with ideological, political and cultural implications. This tendency to downplay the significance of language can be seen as an ideological, political and cultural choice, leading to potential distortion of the mission and accomplishments of the organization.
In a sense this tension reflects a larger tension in society as a whole – between those who welcome the forces of globalization as a way of opening opportunities for all and those who fear that global homogenization will lead to the loss of a sense of identity and individuality.
Built into the very purposes and mission of the United Nations is the idea of an alliance of the nations of the world in free association to improve the lot of humankind and to advance equality, democracy, and material and spiritual well-being of all nations. Therefore, would their mission be more accomplished if they were to encourage linguistic diversity or monolingualism? I invite your opinions! Please let me know what you think!