In a plenary session at the UN this week, the General Assembly proclaimed 2008 the International Year of Languages. The text affirms that this year will serve to promote unity through linguistic diversity. The Assembly called upon States and the Secretariat to work towards the conservation and defence of the world's languages. They also requested the Secretariat to appoint a coordinator for multilingualism. The idea of devoting a whole year to languages arose two years ago. It came up at the 33rd UNESCO General Conference, held in Paris at the end of 2005. It's great to see that it has been taken on board at the highest international level. There was a European Year of Languages in 2001, which did some fine things. I hope next year will do much more.
But do we in the UK have a government that is able to see anything else but the Olympics? I have my doubts. Already new arts development programmes in my area have come to a dead stop. Generating top-down interest in new language projects is going to be very hard, therefore. It's a shame, for it would be an ideal moment to resuscitate the proposal to build a 'House of Languages' in the UK - a project which nearly got off the ground in the late 90s, but which was killed off by another brilliant government idea, to build a Millennium Dome.
I think it will be up to individuals and individual institutions to do something. My own first priority will be to try to find sponsorship to get a full production of 'Living On' (see earlier posts) on stage next year. But I'm sure all kinds of unpredictable things will crop up. That's what happened in 2001, anyway.
Getting the news out is the first step. The UN has never been very good at publicising its 'years'. Hence this post.