Message from Ms. Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, on the Occasion of World Portuguese Language Day
5 May 2020
On Tuesday, 5 May, we will be celebrating the first edition of World Portuguese Language Day, which spotlights the ways in which Portuguese has enriched human civilization.
The inaugural celebration of this special day is, of course, taking place under very particular circumstances. The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic is the gravest crisis humankind has faced since the Second World War.
At a time when we are experiencing anxiety about the present and feeling doubt about the future, the Portuguese language can serve as a catalyst for a new resilience through its culturally evocative and unifying power.
At a time when, faced with a virus indifferent to passports or nationality, we need unity more than ever before, Portuguese can help us to forge “the intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind” cited in the Constitution of UNESCO.
For indeed, the Portuguese language builds bridges between peoples. With a transcontinental history which spans the centuries, the Lusophone world is today a melting pot of myriad cultures enriched by each other’s variety.
“My homeland is the Portuguese language”, wrote the great poet Fernando Pessoa in his masterwork, Livro do desassossego (The Book of Disquiet). Today, the language is “home” to more than 265 million speakers, making Portuguese the most spoken tongue in the southern hemisphere. There is thus a universal quality to Portuguese, a language buzzing with creativity around the globe – from Angola to Brazil, from Portugal to Mozambique, from Timor-Leste to Cabo Verde.
In the age of globalization then, this day reminds us that cultural diversity is an invaluable resource which we must protect and promote. It is in this spirit that UNESCO strives unflaggingly to ensure that linguistic diversity and multilingualism are fostered through all the Organization’s actions.
Just as we need unity in diversity in order to be able to cope with this pandemic, so too do we, at the present moment, need languages’ powerful ability to move us.
A language is more than a simple means of communication. It is a way of seeing and of feeling. It is a vast repository of symbols and experiences, a kaleidoscope of dreams and creative wonderlands.
Literature, films and music in Portuguese evidence the language’s variety and exuberance. We can turn to them when we need a moment of escapist respite during confinement.
Let today be an opportunity to make the most of this linguistic treasure trove. I wish everyone a happy World Portuguese Language Day.