Director-General addresses the 2008 UNESCO/UNU International Conference on “Globalization and Languages – Building on our Rich Heritage”

Director-General addresses the 2008 UNESCO/UNU International Conference on “Globalization and Languages – Building on our Rich Heritage”
  • © UNESCO/D. Bijeljac

On 27 August 2008, the Director-General of UNESCO, Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, together with the Rector of the United Nations University, Mr Konrad Osterwalder, opened the 2008 annual UNESCO/UNU International Conference on “Globalization and Languages – Building on our Rich Heritage” held at UNU Headquarters in Tokyo, Japan.

Recalling that the United Nations General Assembly designated 2008 as the International Year of Languages and assigned the lead role to UNESCO, the Director-General, in his address, underlined the “growing recognition of the essential place held by languages in the social, economic and cultural life of our societies.” “Linguistic diversity is inseparable from cultural diversity. It is through their language that people build, apprehend and express their emotions, their intentions, their values and their conceptions of the world.” […] “Language helps to shape individual and collective identity.”

It is estimated that, in few generations, more than half of the 7000 languages might have disappeared. “We must act urgently,” said Mr Matsuura, “the costs of losing linguistic diversity are high and may jeopardize international cooperation to promote sustainable development, and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and Education for All goals.” The Director-General therefore called for the development of language policies that enable each linguistic community to use its first language, or mother tongue, as widely and as often as possible, including in educational, administrative and legal contexts. “Only if multilingualism is fully accepted as an invaluable asset can all languages find their place in our globalized world,” concluded Mr Matsuura.

Other speakers at the opening session were: Mr Olabiyi Babalola Joseph Yaï, Chairman of UNESCO's Executive Board; Mr Shintaro Ito, State Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan; Mr Hirokazu Matsuno, Senior Vice-Minister, Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan; Ms Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, Former President of the Republic of Iceland and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Languages; Mr Stephen May, Professor and Chair of Language and Literacy Education from the University of Waikato, New Zealand; and Mr Adama Samassékou, Executive Secretary a.i. of the African Academy of Languages and President of Maaya Network.

The Conference brought together some 30 leading international specialists from a variety of fields and with different cultural backgrounds that work for the safeguarding of linguistic diversity throughout the globe.

Four panel discussions and workshops were organised on the following themes: Multilingualism, Translation, Communication and Literacy; Education and Learning; Safeguarding Endangered Languages; and Policy-Making and Standard-Setting Instruments.

This Conference was the sixth meeting organized jointly between UNESCO and the UNU on an annual basis dealing with issues related to the challenges and opportunities of globalization.

  • Author(s):Office of the Spokesperson
  • Source:Flash Info N° 105-2008
  • 04-09-2008
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