Language and the Sustainable Development Goals - UN Symposium

British Council Panel

Symposium: Language and language differences tend to get taken for granted by planners

The Study Group on Language and the United Nations, an independent group of scholars and practitioners on matters related to language, convened a symposium on Language and the Sustainable Development Goals in New York, on 21 and 22 April 2016.  Its goal was to examine the importance of issues of language in the formulation, implementation, and successful completion of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

As you all know in 2015, world leaders adopted a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to address the root causes of poverty, inequality, and environmental degradation. The press release on the above mentioned symposium states: "Without greater clarity the global partnerships envisioned in Goal 17 and fundamental to the achievement of the SDGs cannot succeed.  These partnerships require fair and multidirectional communication, which must inherently involve language. In fact, all of the SDGs interface with language, either as a substantive element of the goal itself (language as a goal) or as a means of communication, dialogue, response, and implementation (language as a tool).

The dominance of certain languages, particularly English, in international development discourse creates the illusion of a unified global effort. In fact, this dominance has widened the gulf between the Anglophone elites who research, discuss, and write policies, and the billions called on to implement these policies at the individual level. Dialogue tends to go in one direction: from the planners to the planned.  Often, language prevents dialogue in a spirit of reciprocity and equality between planners and people."

The symposium then comes to the following conclusion: There is an "urgent need to include language at the planning, implementation, and assessment stages of each of the SDGs." This is then further worked out in five areas of focus:
1. Language rights - Rights to education
2. Language issues in displaced populations
3. Language issues and ideologies - A social problem
4. Language at the institutional level - At the UN and beyond
5. Language rights - The legal system

More details can be found in the Language and UN website, particularly through the links listed on the top of the page.



Copyright © 2016 Karsten van Riezen, All rights reserved.
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