(Originally posted on January 28th 2009 at http://stoa.usp.br/tom/weblog/41554.html)
Today, after Virginia Cram-Martos announced that the United Nations Office in Geneva is looking for a student to work there, I asked to the people of the Open Educational Resources mailing listabout Portuguese not being considered as an official language of the United Nations. Nowadays, the six official languages of the United Nations are Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.
Here is my email:
2009/1/27 Virginia Cram-Martos <Virginia.Cram-Martos AT unece.org>:
> They are ideally looking for someone who speaks English plus one of the
> following: Arabic, Chinese, Russian or Spanish. French is also useful for
> daily life here (Geneva is a French-speaking city/region). The other
> languages are needed because they would like the intern to help them
> increase the materials in their database in these languages (the current
> selection of materials in English and French being much more complete).
I’m going to submit my CV to the email specified in the attached
document, but I want to ask you all another thing which called my
attention (it’s not the first time). Why Portuguese is not an official
language of United Nations? According to this list
Portuguese is the 6th most spoken language in the World. This list says there are around 178 million speakers, but I think there are even more, since Brazilian population is around 190 million. Sure I’m not only considering the number of speakers, but also Brasil importance on the international scenario.
I’m asking here because maybe someone knows the answer or for whom should I ask this (I’m going to send an email later to someone at UN and I’ll look for an email in their website). If I’m wrong, sorry.
Wondering to myself. How much bureaucratic is UN for such kind of change (or improvement)? How much space this organization has for Portuguese speakers? (I must say in Brazil people don’t speak Spanish, besides similarities in both languages, and I read a lot of people abroad thinking we do. Also. English is spoken more often by middle class to rich people, a minority here.)
It seems UN has great influence by economic powers in their decisions, but even so, Brazil is an emerging country and, in my humble opinion, UN should consider an improvement in their communication with Portuguese speakers <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portuguese_language>.
I hope my email didn’t sound as some kind of nationalism or
patriotism. It’s really a curiosity and an important issue, in my
opinio (maybe for other Portuguese speakers, as well).
“Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all
other countries because you were born in it.”
~ George Bernard Shaw
“Patriotism is the willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons.”
~ Bertrand Russell
Virginia’s answer (note that this is a very unofficial note about the official UN working languages):
Official UN working languages
Dear OER colleagues,
In response to the discussion about languages that my first message about an Intern has generated, I would like to offer this short and very unofficial note about the official UN working languages which are those used by our training resource centre here in Geneva. These are : Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. The working languages were decided by the General Assembly where all countries take part. The General Assembly could also add or subtract languages in the future. For budgetary and humanitarian reasons, I think it is unlikely that any more will be added.
– Budgetary reasons because it is very expensive to publish, translate and interpret into multiple languages, keeping in mind that the additional cost for each new language is exponential because for each language you add, you must translate into it (and from it ) for all of the other languages.
– Humanitarian reasons because the UN has a very restricted budget (much smaller than that of New York City) and the money that it would need to spend in order to use more languages is money that it (and its member States) would not be able to spend on development and humanitarian work.
The designation of official working languages is a practical issue to facilitate the work of the UN. I am sure that the General Assembly and the UN secretariat do not intend the designation of official working languages as anything more than a practical measure to facilitate the UN’s work. It is not in any way meant to reflect on the importance, or the beauty, of any of the hundreds of languages (widely spoken or spoken by only a few) that are not official working languages. The UN believes strongly in multi-lingualism, one evididence of this being, if I am not mistaken, UNESCO’s mandate is to promote and preserve native languages and multilingualism in the world.
I hope that the above is useful and provides a slightly better understanding of the issue.
Since my email was off-topic, some people seemed to dislike it and I’ve been informed that many members of this mailing list have very difficult and expensive connectivity, I decided to publish on my blog our small discussion.
- Mr. Carlos Dos Santos, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Republic of Mozambique to the United Nations, begging for a radio in Portuguese to divulge information about UN and activities within the Lusophone Community (New York, 2 May 2001).
- Movement to make Portuguese an official language of the UN
- Português pode ser língua oficial na ONU (17 Dec 2005)
- Petição para tornar oficial o idioma português nas Nações Unidas (Petition to make Portuguese an official language of the United Nations.) – 56552 signatures on 28th Jan 2008.
I still have some questions and, thinking about what have been said, I’m not sure if it would be important to make Portuguese an official language:
1. Would be useful to have United Nations documents read by Portuguese speakers? Maybe a person who doesn’t speak one of the official languages could ask about UN usefulness at all (or even one speaker could ask as well?).
2. If “the designation of official working languages is a practical issue to facilitate the work of the UN”, is it really necessary to have all these six languages?
3. Virginia talked about the budgetary reasons. I’ll search for information about this later, if it exists publicly — if not, it should, I think. Maybe she is right, but it would be interesting to compare how much money is spent on army around the world with the money delivered to UN.
I’m going to think and research about this issue later. If you know or have something to add, please, feel free to comment. :-)
(Originally posted on January 6th 2009 at http://stoa.usp.br/tom/weblog/40328.html)
The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt. Even those of the intelligent who believe that they have a nostrum are too individualistic to combine with other intelligent men from whom they differ on minor points. This was not always the case.”
“The Triumph of Stupidity”, by Bertrand Russell
First of all, there is no winner side on this stupidity called war, there are innocent people dying.
I have no words for what is happening these days in Palestine, but I would like to recommend one of the most beautiful movies I have ever watched, Promises, recommended to me, recently, by my friend Leonardo Motta. Here is the trailer for this wonderful movie and it is really worth watching it before “taking sides” on this conflict.
Several Jewish and Palestinian children are followed for three years and put in touch with each other, in this alternative look at the Jewish-Palestinian conflict. The three filmmakers followed a group of seven local children between 1995 and 1998. They all have a totally different background. These seven children tell their own story about growing up in Jerusalem. Through this portrait of their generation, we see how deep rooted and almost insoluble the problems of the Middle East have become. When the protagonists speak out in an epilogue a couple of years later, it becomes apparent that all have lost their childlike innocence. Written by Sujit R. Varma
Watching this movie, maybe we can think better that what is being reported on news are not just statistics, there are innocent people dying and suffering. How much hatred could be avoided if people on those regions could understand how alike they are and accept their small differences?
At the end of Promises, when the Israeli and Palestinian children are separated, they cry. They cry because they know that it will be almost impossible for them to see each other again.They cry because now they have became friends.Yes, Israelis and Palestinians can be friends, as strange as this can sound for a narrow mind.
I remember when Sanabel Hassan, the little girl you can see on the trailer, says
No Palestinian child ever tried to explain our situation to the Jews. […]
Arab and Jews should meet. […] Not politicians! I want CHILDREN to meet.
How easy can it be for an adult to change the mind of a little child like Sanabel?
I hope some day we can transmit the message of this movie for most of the people from Israel, Palestine and every people solicitous about this problem. We should start with all the children. This great movie is a step. I would like to know how to help, but the most I can do for now is to manifest my concern for every innocent being killed and suffering. Until we can find out a way to improve human communication, there will never be peace.
Aditional information (updated)
Related movies on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be found here. I have also seen from this list Paradise Now, and, more recently, Lemon Tree, wich is not on this list. Both are also good movies. I like best the second one. If you have watched some film from this Wikipedia list, I would like to know which do you recommend and why.