Worldwide languages, self-empowering with poetry

The Translation and Linguistic Rights Committee of PEN International organizes its second video-poem marathon, 21 February to 21 March 2022

80% of the 118 Literature Nobel Laureates have written in just eight languages, and most of them (60%), in only four: English, German, French or Spanish. However, people around the world write, create and tell stories in hundreds and even thousands of languages. Many of those stories, poems and songs are only told orally, with literature in indigenous or minorized languages rarely reaching mainstream audiences.

The Translation and Linguistic Rights Committee of PEN International last year launched “A hundred years, more languages than ever”, a project aiming to give visibility to the work of writers expressing themselves in indigenous or minorized languages, through a collection of engaging video poems.

While languages are being lost tragically month by month, many speakers and writers from indigenous or minorized communities are taking their future into their hands. They simply do not want to be the last speakers. It is therefore fantastic to witness the pride that many people feel by simply seeing a poem in their often-neglected mother language, being shared with many others.

On the second year of this project, we aim to celebrate the importance of indigenous or minorized languages by publishing one poem per day, in a wide variety of world languages, echoing those beautiful and yet for many, unknown languages, and sharing this space with all PEN centers.

For a whole month, to mark Mother Language Day (February 21st) and World Poetry Day (March 21st), we will travel around the world accompanied by those languages. The translation of languages is the real bridge to connect peoples and cultures.

From the south of Argentina to the tropics of the Philippines, from the Volga in Russia to South Africa, dozens of writers have submitted and are still submitting their recordings in the most extraordinary languages – some of them with just a handful of speakers committed to preserving their native tongue.

You can follow the marathon on the official Translation and Linguistic Rights Committee Facebook page here:

We want to thank every PEN center and every writer participating in this project. Over the last few years, new centers have joined the PEN family, enriching our organisation with their writers, their literature, and their languages.

We know that writing in an indigenous or minorized language comes with challenges. Decades and centuries of colonialism and state-imposed languages have led to this situation. “A hundred years, more languages than ever”, is only possible because of writers who are committed to have their voice heard in these languages. For a whole month, these languages will take centre stage