The year 2008 is of particular significance for poetry. Indeed, the United Nations
has proclaimed it International Year of Languages. Languages are the very material
of poetry constituting the substance out of which poems are made. For poets, this
year is therefore the occasion to reflect and act on the extraordinary richness that
linguistic diversity offers for their art.
Languages are an essential part of the living heritage of humanity. However, more
than half of the approximately 6,700 languages spoken in the world are in danger of
disappearing, and it is estimated that 96% of them are now spoken by only 4% of
the world’s population.
The threat to the survival of these languages means that an infinite number of
images, perceptions and meanings conveyed by the words could be lost forever, to
the detriment of linguistic diversity and the equilibrium of their communities of origin.
UNESCO has been working for years to develop a standard-setting framework that
can meet the challenges raised by globalization in the field of culture. To that end, it
adopted the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in
2003, and the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of
Cultural Expressions in 2005, which offer a unified set of measures designed to
offset the risk of cultural and artistic impoverishment that threatens today’s world.
Its action accompanies and supports the efforts of all those who are endeavouring
to safeguard and protect our cultural heritage. Such efforts will bear fruit only if they
are part of concerted international action, within which poets have their full place.
I therefore invite the community of poets to rally this year in support of safeguarding
poetry in all its forms and in all languages, especially endangered languages.