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The Girona Manifesto: Encapsulating the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights

Monday 12 September 2011 - 3:41pm


High on the agenda of the 77th PEN Congress in Belgrade, Serbia this September is the approval of a unique document in defence of linguistic diversity.

The Girona Manifesto lays out the essential arguments of the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights (UDLR) in a clear, concise and practical way. Its ten points can be contained on a single page.

PEN International’s Translation and Linguistic Rights Committee drew up the Manifesto in May 2011, fifteen years after leading a coalition of civil-society and international organisations (including UNESCO) in the creation of the UDLR itself, at the 1996 World Conference on Linguistic Rights in Barcelona.

The UDLR was approved by PEN’s annual Assembly of Delegates, and went on to play an important role in specialist circles around the world.

John Ralston Saul, President of PEN International, says of the context that gave rise to the Manifesto:

We are all concerned about pressures being put on languages with a smaller population base. We are concerned about the lack of translation from these languages and the difficulty they have making themselves heard in the world. Many languages are in danger. Many are actually disappearing. The loss of one’s language, and through that loss much of one’s culture, can be seen as the ultimate removal of freedom of expression.

Of the Manifesto itself, he adds:

“[It] could give us a clear public document with which to defend and advance languages with smaller populations as well as endangered languages.”

Text of the Girona Manifesto on Linguistic Rights:

PEN International brings together the writers of the world.

Fifteen years ago, the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights was first made public in Barcelona by PEN International's Translation and Linguistic Rights Committee.

Today, that same Committee, gathered together in Girona, declares a Manifesto of the Universal Declaration's ten central principles.

1. Linguistic diversity is a world heritage that must be valued and protected.
2. Respect for all languages and cultures is fundamental to the process of constructing and maintaining dialogue and peace in the world.
3. All individuals learn to speak in the heart of a community that gives them life, language, culture and identity.
4. Different languages and different ways of speaking are not only means of communication; they are also the milieu in which humans grow and cultures are built.
5. Every linguistic community has the right for its language to be used as an official language in its territory.
6. School instruction must contribute to the prestige of the language spoken by the linguistic community of the territory.
7. It is desirable for citizens to have a general knowledge of various languages, because it favours empathy and intellectual openness, and contributes to a deeper knowledge of one's own tongue.
8. The translation of texts, especially the great works of various cultures, represents a very important element in the necessary process of greater understanding and respect among human beings.
9. The media is a privileged loudspeaker for making linguistic diversity work and for competently and rigorously increasing its prestige.
10. The right to use and protect one's own language must be recognized by the United Nations as one of the fundamental human rights.

Committee of Translation and Linguistic Rights of PEN International
Girona, 13 May 2011