History of the Arabic language at UNESCO
In 1948, the 3rd General Conference of UNESCO held in Beirut (Lebanon), declared that Arabic, in addition to English and French, will become the third working language of the governing bodies meeting in an Arabic-speaking country. From that moment, the desire to provide visibility for the other four languages is expressed by assuring the translation, as well as printing and distribution of documents, books and other UNESCO publications deemed particularly important for this purpose. At the 7th session of the Executive Council, the participants concede that Arabic could be used to provide interpretation at meetings and translation of periodicals and major working documents, since the Arabic language is shared by a large number of Member States.
In 1960, the General Conference recognizes the importance of the Arabic language and declares that UNESCO documents would have the greatest appeal in the Arabic-speaking countries if they were circulated in Arabic.
UNESCO decides to ensure the use of Arabic at regional conferences held in the Arabic-speaking countries, as well as translation of key documents and publications into Arabic.
In 1964, at the regional conference of Arab National Commissions held in Algiers, the participants evoke their wish to increase the number of translations into other languages. National Commissions and the Secretariat could then request to translate books according to their regional usefulness, the nature and the extent of public outreach, in order to promote multilingualism and cultural diversity. Translation services, printing, publishing, and a distribution mechanism are put in place with this purpose in mind.
In 1966, a resolution is adopted to increase the presence of the Arabic language at UNESCO. A decision is taken to implement simultaneous interpretation from and into Arabic during the plenary sessions, as well as to translate important documents. From this date, the Director General has been leading the effort to position Arabic on the same level as other official languages at UNESCO.
In 1968, at the request of the Director General to include Arabic among the working languages, the General Conference decides to make progressive use of Arabic by translating the working documents and verbatim records, and providing interpretation services. A program of expanding the use of the Arabic language is introduced at UNESCO, demonstrating the importance of Arabic as a means of expression and preservation of civilization and human culture.
In 1974, the General Conference adopts Arabic as the official language and decides to accord it the same status as that already enjoyed by Chinese, Russian and Spanish. The question of the use of Arabic as a working language of the Executive Council is placed on the agenda in 1974 at the request of the governments of Algeria, Saudi Arabia, the Arab Republic of Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Tunisia and Yemen.
After the adoption of Arabic as one of the official languages of UNESCO, the Organization is able to promote the Arabic language at the institutional level with the translation of official documents and reports, and the development of interpretation services for meetings and conferences. It is also able to advance Arabic through culture of the Arab world with a significant increase in translations of representative works written in and translated into Arabic. Furthermore, UNESCO has been able to establish programs promoting translations of periodicals and publications. Still today, UNESCO aims to expand the use of the Arabic language in its activities through projects such as the development of the Arabic version of its Internet portal, translation of terminological data, as well as encouraging the translation, publication and distribution of publications in Arabic. In 2005 it was decided to implement this project, thanks to the contribution from Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al Saoud,
International Day of the Arabic language is celebrated on December 18, the day when, in 1973, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted Arabic as the sixth official language of the Organization. The Language Days at the United Nations are designed to promote and celebrate multilingualism and cultural diversity, as well as the equal status of all the official languages used at the Organization. The United Nations has, so far this year, already celebrated five of its six official languages: French (20 March), English (April 23), Russian (6 June), Spanish (12 October) and Chinese (12 November).Back to top