[lg policy] Symposium on Language and Sustainable Development, New York, May 11 & 12

Tonkin, Humphrey tonkin at hartford.edu
Wed Jan 25 09:20:19 EST 2017


The Study Group on Language at the United Nations
in cooperation with
The Centre for Research and Documentation on World Language Problems
and the Center for Applied Linguistics
invite you to contribute to
a symposium on

Language, the Sustainable Development Goals, and Vulnerable Populations

on Thursday & Friday, May 11 & 12, 2017
at the Church Center, 777 United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017
(First Avenue at 44th Street), Thurs. 9:00-5:00; Fri. 9:15-3:30


When the United Nations General Assembly unanimously approved the 17 Sustainable Development Goals 2015-2030 (https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdgs), proponents foresaw a comprehensive and cooperative effort extending beyond the United Nations and its Member States to incorporate civil society in general. The SDGs, they said, should "leave no one behind" and should emerge from a dialogue in which all parties collaborate in a spirit of equality. Moreover, the most vulnerable populations need to be first on the agenda.

These vulnerable populations speak a multiplicity of languages often little understood by development specialists, and they are often isolated or neglected, and unconnected to those who seek to help. Reaching them requires reaching across languages, and it implies listening to their concerns, freely expressed. Is the UN ready for such an effort? Though the SDGs are largely silent on language issues, sustainability requires two-way, democratic communication in multiple languages.

The world is witnessing the largest population movement since World War II: refugees who must be returned to their homes or resettled, displaced children who need education, migrants who must acquire new languages to become productive in new circumstances. In negotiating their way in foreign environments, they must deal with officials who often do not know their languages. The SDGs identify problems but say little about reaching these populations.

To carry out the SDGs through dialogue and understanding, we must reach vulnerable populations in languages they understand. Preserving cultural identity while communicating across languages must become a recognized issue: we must educate through languages young people understand, deliver health care comprehensibly, and reach refugees and migrants through comprehensible dialogue. Attaining all seventeen SDGs requires mutual comprehension at every level.

The Study Group on Language and the UN drew attention to the absence of language issues in formulating the SDGs through a symposium it organized in April 2016 and a subsequent report. We return to this topic in our 2017 symposium, but with special stress on vulnerable populations.

The organizers welcome proposals for 20-minute papers on topics linking the SDGs with vulnerable populations, such as:


*        Language as a factor in sustainable development

*        Language policy for refugees, migrants, and displaced populations

*        Language and migration

*        Language as it relates to race, ethnicity, age, gender, religion, economic status, or other factors

*        Language and the education of refugees and migrants

*        Language and quality education for vulnerable populations (Goal 4)

*        Language and mother-tongue education (Goal 4)

*        Language and gender equality (Goal 5)

*        Language and economic growth (Goal 8)

*        Language and reducing inequalities (Goal 10)

*        Language and peace & justice (Goal 16)

*        NGOs, language and vulnerable populations

*        UN language policy and the implementation of the SDGs

*        The role of regional or minority languages

*        Language and stateless nations

Preference will be given to papers that move the discourse forward by proposing theoretical and/or research-based strategies for addressing language-related concerns.


Please send proposals (200 words or less, accompanied by a biography of approximately 50 words) to the chair of the symposium organizing committee, Prof. Humphrey Tonkin, at tonkin at hartford.edu<mailto:tonkin at hartford.edu>, by February 28, 2017.  The committee expects to make final decisions on the program by March 15.


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