The Importance of Multilingualism in International Organisations


Figure 1. Multilingualism around the world [Image] - Medium
Figure 1. Multilingualism around the world [Image] - Medium

International organizations have become increasingly significant in global governance with the end of bipolarity and the acceleration of globalization. There cannot be a crisis or a multilateral decision without their involvement. There are now over 300 organizations that govern, coordinate, assist, or promote activities concerning transnational political, economic, and cultural issues, up from less than a hundred in 1950 (Adam, 2006). They must obey their Statute and apply the principles inherent in the Treaties that constituted them, in order to act fairly and without favouring any of their Member States. Languages, which are direct and singular manifestations of diverse peoples' and nations' perceptions, are undoubtedly one of the most important aspects to consider. As a result, the formal regulations for determining their use are crucial, and they are frequently the result of tense disputes.


One could assume that multinational organizations' daily operations are built on natural and harmonious multilingualism, in accordance with the transnational scope of their operations, their official language regimes, and the abilities required from their employees. This is not the case at all. In practice, in fact, English is the dominant language in the majority of them. When asked about suspected violations of language regimes, the governing bodies of the organizations in question offer a variety of practical justifications, the most common of which is the financial rationale. Targeted evaluations, on the other hand, reveal that English is favoured even when no budgetary or technical grounds exist. Thus, we must look beyond these pretexts, which are surely true but fall short of explaining the phenomenon on their own (Lozinski, 2020).


Figure 2. Different people, different countries, different languages [Image] - Language Magazine
Figure 2. Different people, different countries, different languages [Image] - Language Magazine

The influence of certain practices, such as methodical standardization, ongoing cost-cutting, and a drive for operational pragmatism, is always shown by a close investigation of the mechanisms in action (UN, 2016). The latter, on the other hand, are typical of Anglo-Saxon globalization processes with strong identity modelling as a by-product. International organizations are complex human constructs with distinct professional cultures. Actor games, like everywhere else, take precedence over rules, and identities take precedence over conventions. While the cosmopolitan makeup of the staff means that mission interpretations and inter-agent relationships are influenced by their respective cultures and current geopolitical balances, systemic social logics remain the primary driving force behind professional equilibrium.


These social logics refer to the same cultural and conceptual linguistic origins, which are deeply influenced by globalization's emergence. The prevailing theory is neoliberalism, in which the English language and Anglo-Saxon intellectual tools are dominant. By allocating internal know-how and trying to manage above all the complexity of their position, international authorities socialized to these practices show no commitment or disavowal to the task of the organization for which they work, or to the tactical or strategic positioning of either national authority (UN, 2016). They just adapt to the whims of the professional culture that surrounds them, regardless of how this culture affects the institution's overall functioning. It is then a type of mechanism, independent of official norms and purposes, that imposes a rhythm and tends to strengthen in the long run as a result of the convergence of the human logics that feed it.


This vicious cycle is powerful and impossible to control by its own nature (Tessuer, 2016). Moreover, as nation-states in crisis strive to strike a balance between their desire for sovereignty and the unrelenting reality of transnational political, economic, and cultural concerns, it becomes even more irresistible. As a result, the increasing cultural and conceptual linguistic singularization that affects all multinational organizations is as much a question of model and priority selection as it is of actual operational duties. Beyond the aforementioned factors, it is mostly personal convergent techniques that end up enforcing monolingualism, as a result of societal processes with high modelling impact strengthened by a lack of a proper head in an international organization.


Figure 3. Tags for saying "thanks" in all the languages of the world [Image] - European Commission
Figure 3. Tags for saying "thanks" in all the languages of the world [Image] - European Commission

Monolingualism, in a multilateral setting, is a sneaky foe with potentially disastrous long-term consequences, such as the marginalization of other languages in favour of one deemed superior, or the extinction of the linguistic variety that distinguishes the globalized world (Stein-Smith, 2016). It would be naive to believe that this complicated issue, which has various political, economic, cultural, and societal elements, can be readily contained. In the current state of affairs, international organizations, however imperfect they may be, remain the only actors able to handle and regulate states' growing interdependence, both in terms of coordination, negotiation, and institutionalization.


As Abdou Diouf, President of the OIF, rightly stated: "International organizations, however imperfect they may be, remain the best and only ones to be able to manage and govern our growing interdependence, both in terms of coordination, negotiation, and institutionalization. They are the only ones capable of achieving the essential synthesis between conflicting national interests and concepts, which is a precondition for any truly international policy." (UNESCO, 2014). How could it be possible to do so without preserving their diversity, which is a precondition for knowledge and representation of each State, people, and culture? This language war is not just a continuation of the strategic and punctual power struggles that characterize state-to-state relations. It is a fundamental issue whose management can only have significant implications for the world's equilibrium and future.

 

Reference

  • Adams, J Michael, and Angelo Carfagna. (2006). Coming of Age in a Globalized World: The Next Generation. West Hartford, CT: Kumarian.

  • Language and the UN. (2016). Symposium on Language and the Sustainable Development Goals. https://sites.google.com/site/languageandtheun/events/2016-symposium-conclusions

  • Lozinskiy, N. (2020, 0 0). Multilingualism in the United Nations system Report of the Joint Inspection Unit. Multilingualism in the United Nations System Report of the Joint Inspection Unit. https://www.unjiu.org/sites/www.unjiu.org/files/jiu_rep_2020_6_english.pdf

  • Stein-Smith, K. (2016). The Role of Multilingualism in Effectively Addressing Global Issues: The Sustainable Development Goals and Beyond. Theory and Practice in Language Studies.

  • Tesseur, W. (2014). Institutional Multilingualism in NGOs: Amnesty International’s Strategic Understanding of Multilingualism. Meta: Journal des traducteurs.

  • Tribute to President Abdou Diouf, Secretary General of La Francophonie | UNESCO. (2014, September 17). Tribute to President Abdou Diouf, Secretary General of La Francophonie | UNESCO; www.unesco.org. https://www.unesco.org/en/articles/tribute-president-abdou-diouf-secretary-general-la-francophonie

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Federica Panico

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