The United Nations is celebrating French language today as part of a new initiative to raise awareness and respect for the history, culture and achievements of each of the six official languages of the world body.
“French, as a working language of the UN and one that is spoken on all continents, plays an important role in spreading the message of the United Nations in the world,” said Kiyo Akasaka, Under-Secretary-General for the Department of Public Information (DPI) and Coordinator for Multilingualism at the UN.
“The United Nations practices multilingualism as a means of promoting, protecting and preserving diversity of languages and cultures globally,” Mr. Akasaka added.
Each of the six official UN languages ¬– Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Spanish and Russian – will be honoured on a relevant day for that language.
The 20 March celebration of French coincides with the 40th anniversary of the International Organization of La Francophonie, a group whose members share a common tongue, as well as the humanist values promoted by the French language.
As part of celebrations at UN duty stations around the world, the world body’s New York Headquarters is presenting documentation and information in French.
French versions of the UN documentary series “UN in Action” and other products available in French have also been made available.
“On this special day, DPI is happy to share with delegates and UN staff the linguistic diversity of its productions, its publications, its radio and TV programmes and the UN website,” Mr. Akasaka said.
“We are planning future celebrations on the birthdays of great writers and poets – Shakespeare and Pushkin – illustrating the link between language and culture,” said Mr. Akasaka, noting that the English language day will be celebrated on 23 April, the day believed to have been William Shakespeare’s birthday, while Russian language day will be marked on 6 June, the birthday of Aleksandr Pushkin, recognized as the father of Russian literature.
Later this year, the UN will highlight the role of the Spanish language on 12 October to coincide with Spanish National Day.
The 18th of December has been designated Arabic language day. On that day in 1973, the General Assembly approved Arabic as one of the official UN languages.
A date marking Chinese language has yet to be approved.
“As an avid reader and consumer of news in English, French and Japanese, I can see how different cultures think and perceive the world, including the UN,” said Mr. Akasaka, who is a Japanese national.
“I think it's crucial to remember that we exist in a multilingual world where the languages we speak, or read, or write, affect the way we think and act,” he added.
While the UN language days are part of a DPI initiative, the UN system has historically emphasized multilingualism among its staff.
UN duty stations offer language classes in the six working languages for free to their staff.