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International Year of Languages

The Year 2008 was the United Nations’ (UN) International Year of Languages. This event coincided with other UN initiatives – the International Year of the Potato, the International Year of Planet Earth, and the International Year of Sanitation.

Child learning the Chinese written language.

The year 2008 was the International Year of Languages, which promoted language education and other projects centered on language initiatives.


What do people do?

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) invited all its partners to increase their own activities to promote and protect all languages, particularly endangered languages, during the International Year of Languages.  Various government and non-government organizations, universities, language centers and institutes, artists, language teachers, and individuals expressed their commitment to the year by participating in many projects worldwide in 2008.

Projects to support the year included:

Activities that supported these projects included: conferences, courses, workshops for schools and communities, language festivals, and the publication of various material about languages.


According to UNESCO, more than 50 percent of about 7000 languages spoken in the world are likely to die out within a few generations, and 96 percent of these languages are spoken by only four percent of the world’s population. Cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue, the promotion of education for all and the development of knowledge societies are central to UNESCO’s work. But they are not possible without broad and international commitment to promoting multilingualism and linguistic diversity, including the preservation of endangered languages.

On May 16, 2007, the UN General Assembly proclaimed 2008 the International Year of Languages after recognizing that multilingualism promoted unity in diversity and international understanding. The assembly also recognized the UN’s commitment to promote, protect and preserve the diversity of languages and cultures globally. Language issues are central to UNESCO’s mandate in education, science, social and human sciences, culture, and communication and information. Therefore the organization was named the lead agency for the International Year of Languages.


The formal International Year of Languages logo includes UN and UNESCO logos together with the words “2008 – International Year of Languages”. These words are written in the UN’s six official languages, which are: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. The slogan “2008 – Languages matter!” is also used to promote the event. It has been written in more than 200 languages.

The UN logo is often featured to promote UN events, including the International Year of Languages. It shows a projection of a world map (less Antarctica) centered on the North Pole, enclosed by olive branches. The olive branches symbolize peace and the world map represents all the people of the world. It has been featured in colors such as blue against a white background.  


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