Language and the UN- are we on the path to Esperanto or maintaining linguistic diversity?

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:  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!


11 thoughts on “Language and the UN- are we on the path to Esperanto or maintaining linguistic diversity?

  1. Recently, and as a follow up to the May 2012 conference, we have established a Study Group on Language and the United Nations. We welcome participation by people seriously interested in the topic.

  2. Pardonu min, cxar mi ne kapablas skribi angle. (Se vi pritraktas tiun cxi aferon kaj citas Esperanton, do mi pensas, ke vi eble povus trovi homon kiu traduku tion cxi el Esperanto al la angla por vi.)
    Mia demando estas: Cxu vi vere diras, ke oni devas elekti aù Esperanton aù plurlingvecon? Cxu oni ne povas elekti ambaù? Cxu vi pensas, ke Esperanto estas ilo por forvisxi la aliajn lingvojn? Per Esperanto oni ne deziras unulingvecon, sed plurlingvecon kaj Esperanton.
    Se vi pensas tiel, do vi ne konas la Esperantan projekton.

  3. Esperanto was created to let people communicate with each other quickly and easily on a neutral linguistic basis. As a common auxiliary language Esperanto respects and protects all existing languages without discrimination or genocide by political, economic and military forces who try to conquer the whole world. The value of Esperanto is foremost humanitarian and cultural and deserves for this reason our special attention and reverence.

  4. Reading this article I had the impression that the author considers encouraging linguistic diversity as an opposite solution to the universal adoption of Esperanto. Well, I consider that adopting Esperanto for international communication is an efficient way to encourange linguistic diversity, because each people would use its own language for the day-by-day, and Esperanto for international situations. This way people there would not be privilleges to any ethnicity or nation. Moreover, after learning Esperanto in the school, people would feel free to study another languages by their own interest, instead of choosing to study a language imposed by the system. What languages do people study actually? Actually people prefer to study English instead of Vietnamese, German instead of Gaelic, French instead of Guarany, not because a personal preference, but because of a preference of the governments and big companies, that hire fluent speakers and pay them good salaries. A recent report by European Union concludes that international large use of Esperanto is the best way to promote linguistic diversity and save money (, mainly because after learning Esperanto for international communication people would be free to learn another languages by its own interest and preferences, even minority languages; because of the fact that Esperanto facilitates learning another languages ( and because by Esperanto people become more conscious about the importance of cultural and linguistic diversity.

  5. Great issue to raise, but I’m surprised that you position Esperanto as the opponent of linguistic diversity. In fact — and I wish I had more info off the top of my head to give you — but I recall that at a recent UN or UNESCO conference of NGO’s that drafted resolutions touching on human rights, it was the delegation from Universal Esperanto Association (UEA) that specifically raised the point that language rights were not included in the initial drafts, and text was eventually added to make sure the resolutions encourage linguistic diversity and the rights of people to speak their native language(s). So it sounds to me like UEA is on your side here.

    The position of the Universal Esperanto Association is that, yes, speaking a single language can be a detriment to other languages (and the people who speak them); but unlike most native languages, Esperanto is especially suited to be used as a common *second* language. UEA does not promote Esperanto as a common first language, to replace linguistic diversity; but as an easier-to-learn and easier-to-use language for people to pick up as a *second* language.

    So instead of your two options, (1) translators/interpreters and (2) a common first language. UEA would suggest that there’s also (3) a common second language, to help preserve linguistic diversity and identity and rights.

    I suspect that UEA would also agree that there’s a tendency to view the issue from a formal technical viewpoint. But they might argue that using translators and interpreters suffers from that same problem: real human connection is most possible when speaking directly. It sounds UEA recognizes the issue that you’re pointing and is proposing an alternative (to #2) that has the benefits but without the downside.

  6. in the Esperanto community we recognize that the increased use of an international language is a powerful tool to preserve languages. the Prague Manifesto enshrines the goal of all persons learning at least three languages: a local (perhaps endangered) language, the national language of one’s own nation, and Esperanto, for use in international contexts. it is undeniable that the growing strength of English threatens many minority languages, and even undermines the dignity of many national languages. it seems obvious that there are many advantages to arranging a common language for all people: it would facilitate travel and make telephones much more useful! it would be much cheaper and easier to teach Esperanto to 99% of the world than to teach English to the 80% who do not yet know it. native speakers of English have a tremendous advantage over people who need to devote an extra two thousand hours (or more) of study to gain basic fluency in this powerful language. in the interest of fairness and efficiency, there should be widespread programs to teach Esperanto to the next generation, so they do not grow up with the same language barriers and linguistic-political inequality which we suffer today

  7. This article completely misses the point. Using Esperanto is not countering linguistic diversity, far from it, it is simply encouraging a platform where nobody is a native speaker, so that there is no native advantage given to one side. National languages should be used wherever it’s convenient and fair to do so, but it’s much more egalitarian to have, for example, Franco-Anglo negotiations in Esperanto than in English or French.

  8. Hieraù mi komentis tie cxi en Esperanto, sed vi forvisxis mian komenton. Mi ne ripetos mian komenton; sed pensu: se vi opinias, ke Esperanto volas forvisxi aliajn lingvojn, vi tute eraras.
    If you think that Esperanto wonts to kill other languages, it’s a mistake. Know more about Esperanto.

    • Unuavice mi volas emfazi, ke cxiu rajtas havi sian opinion. Pri Esperanto mi mi suficxon scias. Do miaopinie, la ideo ke cxiu persono en la mondo povus bone funkcii dulingve estas naiva, pro tio mi dekretus ke Esperanto estu la unua lingvo de cxiu. Tiuj kiuj volos aldone praktiki iujn ajnajn naciajn pralingvojn, neniu rajtas malpermesi tion al ili. Mi prognozas ke cxi tio okazos ene de tri cent jaroj.

  9. We need all languages of the world. But we also need one common language, that shows the oftenly use of English beside translations into other languages or without them. As an esperantist I think it is very well if everyone could use his/her own language and/or translate it direct into Esperanto for people with different tongues, quite equally if they belong to a small or a big language-group. The neutral international language Esperanto is a possibility to liberate or emancipate the national, regional and even local languages for their own users.

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