Launch of World Digital Library

Launching today in Paris, UNESCO’s new library will become the world’s third major digital library, behind Google’s Book Search and the EU’s Europeana.

The WDLwill function in seven primary languages - Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.

The library is the product of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and 32 partner institutions. Quelle collaboration!

LOC Director James Billington will co-chair the launch event alongside UNESCO director general Koichiro Matsuura on Monday.


Of all the languages that could have been chosen to comprise a seven language offering, why was Portuguese chosen? Isn't it similar enough to Spanish that a person whose first language is Portuguese would understand the former fairly easily? Heck, if Spaniards, Italians, and French, all speaking their own language, can understand each other reasonably well, one would think that the Portuguese and Brazilians could likewise understand Spanish. Do not get me wrong, I am not saying there is no place for Portuguese, but given seven language slots, I think another language more unrelated to one already chosen could have been selected (while one could make the point that Portuguese could have been chosen over Spanish, since the latter is spoken by more people, as well as being more widely spoken, if only two languages could have been chosen from the Iberian peninsula, it makes more sense that those languages be French and Spanish). For example, aren't any of the Asian languages more dissimilar to each other than Portuguese is to Spanish?

Portuguese and Spanish are very similar. But written French and Spanish (and to certain extent English and French, when it comes to words of Latin origin) are also quite similar, and they are surely similar enough, to be able to navigate your way through the library website. So by that argument you may as well drop one of French or Spanish. When it comes to the explanations of the different library items, it is easy as a Portuguese speaker to misunderstand a text in Spanish, since the two languages share a lot of vocabulary, but there are many false friends. Many of the words that are written almost the same way in Spanish and Portuguese have a (even if only slightly) different meaning. Since a library needs be a reliable resource, you cannot rely on explanations where you recognize almost all the words but you cannot be sure that they actually mean what you think they mean.

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