United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

The Director-General opens International Conference on Cultural Dialogue through Literary Translations

On 8 September 2009, the Director-General of UNESCO, Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, opened an international conference entitled “Globalization through Localization – Cultural Dialogue through Harry Potter Translations” at the Fondation Simone et Cino del Duca of the Institut de France, in the company of Mr Arnaud d'Hauterives, Secrétaire perpétuel de l’Académie des Beaux-arts de l’Institut de France, Ambassador Yamamoto, Permanent Delegate of Japan to UNESCO and Mrs Yuko Matsuko Harris, the organizer of the event and the publisher and translator of the Harry Potter stories in Japan.

Observing that the conference coincided with International Literacy Day 2009, the Director-General said that “the Harry Potter stories…originally published in English and now translated into almost 70 languages thanks to many of the people gathered here today……have opened the hearts and minds of millions of children all over the world to the joys of reading…[which is] a crucially important part of becoming literate, with all the benefits that this brings in terms of fulfilling one’s potential and participating in the social, political and economic life of the community.” Furthermore, “the designation by the United Nations of 2008 as International Year of Languages, with UNESCO as lead agency, was a sign of the growing recognition of the strategic importance of languages… as more than mere tools for communication. It is through languages that people build, understand, express and transmit their values, knowledge and practices.”

Continuing, Mr Matsuura explained UNESCO’s active commitment to multilingualism as a way of promoting cultural and linguistic diversity and sustainable development and said that translators and interpreters played an important role. “By allowing users of one language access to others, translators and interpreters are by definition creators of dialogue, central figures in the process of exchange and fertilization at the root of every civilization…Translation facilitates the expression of the variety and nuances of the diversity of each language - and of all cultures. “The fact that I, a Japanese, can speak to a multinational audience in English at a meeting in Paris and be understood by everyone is a perfect illustration of this proposition,” he said.

The Director-General further stated that “in today’s globalizing world, the role of translation was even more essential. On the one hand, local and national languages are treasured by countries and communities as sources of pride. Yet at the same time, international languages are valued as a means to communicate beyond linguistic barriers or territorial boundaries. Translation can serve as a valuable bridge between the local and international dimensions of everyday life and thus maintain the world’s cultural and linguistic diversity,” he added.

Noting that while in the last twenty years, foreign literature had experienced an unprecedented boost, the variety and representative nature of the global book market could not be taken for granted, the Director-General called on the publishing industry to promote cultural diversity as well as effective, inclusive, pluralism through judicious choices in the material selected for wide dissemination. “The case of quality bestsellers like the Harry Potter series merits in-depth study and observation because they help us better understand our world and the challenges to be met in years to come. One such challenge that UNESCO endeavours to tackle is the promotion of translation into and from “local” languages through private-public partnerships involving translators, the publishing world and policy makers”, Mr Matsuura concluded.

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Author(s): Office of the Spokesperson - Source: Flash Info N° 159-2009 -  Publication Date: 10-09-2009

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