2008: International Year of Languages

V. Krebs, traducción española R. Gomez
10 January 2008

Languages are indeed essential to the identity of groups and individuals and to their peaceful coexistence. They constitute a strategic factor of progress towards sustainable development and a harmonious relationship between the global and the local context.

Mr. Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO

As declared by the United Nations General Assembly, 2008 is the International Year of Languages (IYL). The official launch of the year will take place on 21 February 2008, the International Mother Language Day, at UNESCO in Paris, France. Hosting the secretariat of Maaya - the World Network for Linguistic Diversity - ICVolunteers will play an active role in the year.

As outlined by UNESCO, languages, with their complex implications for identity, communication, social integration, education and development, are of strategic importance to people and the planet. Yet, it is estimated that, due to globalization, one third of all the world's languages will disappear throughout this century. This is evidenced as statistics indicate that 96% of the 6,000 languages spoken in the world are used by just 4% of the world's population; less than a forth of them are used in schools and cyberspace, for the most part in a sporadic fashion, and less than one hundred languages are present in the digital world. When languages fade, so does the world's rich tapestry of cultural diversity, opportunities, traditions, memory, unique modes of thinking and expression.

It is therefore timely to look at ways in which languages can be documented, enhanced and revived. As shown by Marcel Diki-Kidiri in his studies (4), linguistic diversity in cyberspace requires looking at a number of factors and issues related to technology and languages, such as coding standards, special characters, vocal transmission of information, and connectivity, to mention a few.

Studies also show that multilingualism and bilingualism are positive for the cognitive development of a child beyond cultural preservation, provided certain minimal benchmarks are attained (5). This is enhanced if languages are seen as being complementary to one another, rather than  in competition with each other.

These and many more issues come up when discussing languages, linguistic diversity and the different topics related to it. 

Upcoming events

Throughout the International Year of Languages, a number of events will focus on different aspects related to languages, their existence and usage. These include for example Asian Language Resources (Hyderabad, India),  Specialized Translation (Havana, Cuba) and Terminology (Quebec, Canada).

Multilingualism is also the theme of this year's International Mother Language Day, which is celebrated on 21st February 2008 and will serve as the official kick-off of the IYL. A series of debates will be organized for the occasion. Assia Djebar of the French Academy will be one of the speakers addressing the topic of "Mother Writing". Two other debates will be held on the same day: "Philosophy: A riddle of words" and "Multilingualism in Romance-language countries". 

The programme will continue on 22 February, focusing on multilingualism in cyberspace. Issues related to the use of technologies are indeed key to language representation and diversity, linking the potential offered by modern communications tools and linguistics.

For the full list of events related to languages panned in 2008, see ICVNews.

Maaya - World Network for Linguistic Diversity

Maaya, the Network for Linguistic Diversity - the headquarters of which is hosted at the ICVolunteers office in Geneva - will play an active role during the year, facilitating a range of activities, including a list of events in which it will be involved to varying degrees.

Initiated by the African Academy of Languages, the Network was created as one of the results of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). Among its members are the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF), UNESCO, the Language Observatory of Japon, Funredes, the Union Latine, Instituto Brasileiro de Informação em Ciência e Tecnologia, ICVolunteers, Linguamón - the House of Languages, Global Knowledge Partnership (GKP), SIL Linternational. For more information, see: www.maaya.org


1) www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2007/ga10592.doc.htm

2) www.maaya.org

3) http://portal.unesco.org/culture/

4) Marcel Diki-Kidiri, "Comment assurer la présence d'une langue dans le cyberespace". Chargé de recherche au CNRS, Laboratoire "Langage, Langues et Culture d'Afrique". UNESCO, 2007.

5) Krebs V., Bilinguisme précoce... Douce folie ou opportunité à saisir? Revue Educateur. 2002/04. Krebs V., Bilinguisme, interculturalité et communication politique, Revue Droit et Culture, 2008.

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