UN International Mother Language Day: Translating Cultures and the Salzburg Statement for a Multilingual World

“In today’s interconnected world, the ability to speak multiple languages and communicate across linguistic divides is a critical skill. Even partial knowledge of more than one language is beneficial. Proficiency in additional languages is a new kind of global literacy. Language learning needs to be expanded for all – young and old.

However, millions of people across the globe are denied the inherent right to maintain, enjoy and develop their languages of identity and community. This injustice needs to be corrected in language policies that support multilingual societies and individuals.”

A statement that urges individuals, corporations, institutions and governments to adopt a multilingual mindset was  launched on UN International Mother Language Day, 21 February, by a team of global thinkers that includes members of “Transnationalizing Modern Languages”, one of the AHRC “Translating Cultures” large grant projects.

Professor of Translation Studies at Cardiff University and “Translating Cultures” CI, Loredana Polezzi, is co-author of ‘The Salzburg Statement’, a call to action penned by a team of international policy makers, industry experts and academics to celebrate and promote language diversity, tackle language discrimination, and develop language policies that advance multilingualism.

Millions of people worldwide are unable to access language learning due to a range of contemporary societal issues that include poverty, lack of education, displacement and geographical location.

There are currently 7,097 languages spoken across the world but almost half of them are due to die out within a few generations. Unfortunately, only a few hundred languages are currently integrated into our global education systems and less than a hundred are used in the digital world.

The statement, which is backed by Microsoft and the British Council among others, calls for this to be corrected in a variety of ways. It encourages a revision in policies in order to promote multilingualism positively; active support of language rights, diversity and citizenship in official documentation and public messaging; the tackling of all instances of discrimination associated with language; a recognition of the high linguistic capital of minorities, migrants and refugees; and the vital importance of translation and interpreting to ensure equitable participation in multilingual societies. To achieve this a number of key stakeholders are being targeted. These include teachers, community workers, non-governmental organisations, media, governments, business, and aid and development agencies.

Professor Polezzi said: “Everyone can take action to ensure that the richness and diversity of our languages are safeguarded for future generations. ‘The Salzburg Statement’ is putting multilingualism back on the agenda before it is too late.  We need language policies across society that recognise the importance of language education and support multilingual communities and individuals.”

Professor Polezzi said: “Everyone can take action to ensure that the richness and diversity of our languages are safeguarded for future generations. ‘The Salzburg Statement’ is putting multilingualism back on the agenda before it is too late…”