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Did you know Arabic was adopted by UN as its 6th official language today?

Mon 18 Dec 2023    
EcoBalance
Babar Siddiqui | 2 min read

Arabic was officially adopted as the 6th official language by the United Nations (UN) 50 years ago on December 18, 1973.

Official languages are for UN documents, while working languages facilitate internal communication. As per the General Assembly resolution, Chinese, French, English, Russian and Spanish were adopted as official languages, and English and French were adopted as working languages on February 1, 1946. Although English and French serve as the Secretariat’s working languages, other official languages are also used in Regional Commissions.

On December 18, 1973, the General Assembly resolution 3190 (XXVIII) decided to include Arabic as an official language and a working language of the General Assembly and its Main Committees. The UN now has just six languages, but they’re so widespread and diverse geographically you’d think most folks worldwide speak at least one. But that is not the case.

If we count how many people speak the six UN languages, it’s less than half of the world’s population. So, more than half of the people worldwide might not understand what the highest international political body is saying in its documents and agreements. With so many languages in the world, aren’t many countries are fighting to get in their language as an official pick? Well they are and guess who is leading the race!

India is one in the top spot in this race. With a population of more than a billion, Hindi is the fifth most spoken language globally. The language wasn’t included earlier because it is mostly spoken only in India. Some might think it’s a move to boost India’s influence since many Indians are thought to speak English well. However, reports suggest that many people in India don’t speak English at all.

There is also the matter of footing the bill once a language is adopted as the official language. Back in July 2014, when India wanted to be included, reports said the UN spent around $492 million for two years to provide services in all six official languages. That means providing services in one language cost about $41 million per year.

An Indian political representative had explained that the cost is for provision of overall services including documentation, translation, interpretation, verbatim reporting, printing etc. in all the four UN offices — New York, Geneva, Vienna and Nairobi.

He explained that if Hindi becomes an official language, there would be extra expenses for things like setting up equipment and space for more interpreters.

Member states pay for the cost of adding a new official language according to their share.


Interesting Fact: The United Arab Emirates held the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council this year in June 2023. As president, the UAE oversaw the Security Council’s agenda for the month, organizing meetings, managing the distribution of information to other Council members, issuing statements, and communicating the Council’s actions to the public – as well as responding to evolving crises and current world events that are relevant to the Council’s mandate.

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Arabic UN language


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