Language Policies of the United Nations - Discussions in the General Assembly

Johanna Hohaus

Studenteropgave: Speciale


In today’s time of increasing interconnectedness, global communication becomes more and more complex. International organizations have to deal with this issue in a specific form. Therefore, the United Nations serves as an exemplary case for this thesis. The global language system, described by Abram de Swaan, is mainly based on the size of the language group, referring to the uses and users of a language. The purpose of this thesis is to research the approach of the UN General Assembly to language policy. In such an international forum as the UN, it is unlikely that any decision is taken unbiased. Therefore, the main question is to what extent the General Assembly politicizes the discussion of new or additional languages. In that context, Joseph Nye’s term ‘soft power’ becomes especially interesting. On the basis of UN documents, like resolutions, reports etc. motives are filtered out and used to set up a set of categories. What system does the General Assembly follow with its language regime? The current linguistic reality within the UN can be described as a compromise between monolingualism (single lingua franca) and total multilingualism. The 70-year old history of the UN shows that the main considerations in language debates are of financial or economic nature. In spite of the importance of economic factors, soft power and the variety of sources for soft power still have a major impact on language attitudes and frame the economic aspects. However, provocative voices could claim that soft power aspects, like culture, are used as a pretext while ultimately following economic or power-political interests.

UddannelserGlobal Studies, (Bachelor/kandidatuddannelse) Kandidat
Udgivelsesdato28 jun. 2015
VejledereKlaas Dykmann


  • United Nations
  • Language policy
  • international organizations