22 December 2009

official languages of the United Nations

The United Nations (UN) uses six official languages. From UN Department of General Assembly and Conference Management on official languages

An international organization must have effective ways to overcome language barriers to avoid becoming a Tower of Babel. Since almost every country in the world is represented at the United Nations, it is not an exaggeration to say that the United Nation is a microcosm of the world. The Organization uses six official languages in its intergovernmental meetings and documents, Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish; the Secretariat uses two working languages, English and French.

Statements made in an official language at a formal meeting are interpreted simultaneously into the other official languages of the body concerned by United Nations interpreters. If a delegation wishes to speak in a language that is not an official language, it must supply an interpreter to interpret the statement or translate it into one of the official languages. It is then rendered into the other languages by a relay system.

Documents are produced in the six official languages and are issued simultaneously when all the language versions are available.

(last paragraph in Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish)

ويتم إنتاج الوثائق باللغات الرسمية الست وهي تصدر معا عندما تتوافر بهذه اللغات جميعا.


Les documents sont produits dans les six langues officielles et publiés une fois que toutes les versions linguistiques sont disponibles.

Работая нередко «за кулисами», сотрудники ДГАКУ вносят негромкий, но существенный вклад в работу Организации Объединенных Наций.

El personal del Departamento, que suele desempeñar su tarea de manera discreta entre bastidores, realiza una aportación fundamental para la labor de las Naciones Unidas.

The BBC has reported that the Bangladeshi government and the West Bengal assembly of India are seeking to have Bengali made an official language of the UN.

How many people in Bangladesh and parts of India would be interested in reading UN documents, apart from government? In any case, even the governments of Bangladesh and the state of West Bengal use English themselves, so they may be missing the point.

The number of total speakers seems like a logical argument, but when that language is restricted to very few countries or parts of countries, then it wouldn't be efficient to translate every UN document into yet another language when only five per cent of documents would be of any used, particularly when those governments already function in English.

Hindi, more widely spoken, is not an official language. Portuguese, spoken in more countries, is not an official language.

In any case, nobody has missed out on the action so far, so the push to add Bengali is more aiming for recognition and pride, than anything bureaucratically necessary.

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