Arabic Language Day at the UN

As-salam-aleykum! With more than 290 million people around the globe speaking Arabic each day, it should come as no surprise that the United Nations created Arabic Language Day “to celebrate multilingualism and cultural diversity as well as to promote equal use of all six of its official working languages throughout the organization.”

Since 2012, World Arabic Language Day has been celebrated every year on December 18. The date coincides with the day in 1973 that the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted Arabic as the sixth official language of the Organization. The other official languages of the UN are French, English, Russian, Spanish and Chinese.

“World Arabic Language Day is an opportunity to celebrate the great contributions to human civilization, notably through its unique arts, architecture, calligraphy and literature. The language has also been a conduit, channeling knowledge in science, medicine, astronomy, mathematics, philosophy and history,” wrote Ms. Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO.

Similar to the way Latin influenced many Romance languages, Arabic left its mark on several European languages. Arabic influence in vocabulary can be seen in Spanish and to a lesser extent in Portuguese and Catalan, as a result of the proximity of Christian European and Muslim Arab civilizations and hundreds of years of Arabic culture and language in the Iberian Peninsula. Sicilian has about 500 Arabic words as result of Sicily being gradually overtaken by Arabs from North Africa, from the mid-9th to 10th centuries. Many of these words are agriculture-related. The Balkan languages, including Greek and Bulgarian, have also acquired a significant number of Arabic words through contact with Ottoman Turkish.

World Arabic Language Day not only celebrates the long history of the language, but also Arabic works of philosophy and literature. Organizations and governments hold cultural events that showcase the history and richness of the language. Seminars and conferences highlight the current developments in Arabic literature through lectures, talks and workshops by Arabic writers and poets. Schools promote the education of Arabic as a medium of communication and organize short story and poetry competitions.

In 2018, the UN Secretary General wrote on UNESCO’s website, “This day also celebrates the Arabic language beyond its use at the United Nations and other international organizations – and recognizes its beauty, its lyricism and the way it expresses the Arab identity.”

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