In September 1301, the king of Aragon, James II, wrote urgently to his treasurer commanding him to get the royal Librum medicine vocatum Avicenne out of pawn. He had allowed his favourite surgeon to pawn the volume with a Barcelona merchant for 500 sueldos, but now he found a "valda necessarium" and had to have it back. Five hundred sueldos was an enormous amount, the price of fifty meters of Persian cloth, of a good mule or of a horse and not even the royal treasury always found such sums easy to produce.
The king had to repeat his order for the book's redemption for months to come. This volume, on which the king placed so much store, can only have been Avicenna's Canon, the great medical encyclopaedia of Ibn Sina, translated into Latin in the twelfth century.*
Since the first signs of human development, scholars and scientists have always dreamt of ways to crackdown on language barriers that separate them from other civilizations knowledge. Their thirst for what is being said in other languages was a "survival issue" in some cases and an "ethical issue" in others. Translation School of Toledo was created in the eleventh century to shorten the distance between the East and the West. Hellenistic, Latin and Arabic literature and sciences were crafted into a unique form of Knowledge Sharing. The flow and exchange of information was not governed by the language of the ruling power, it was rather governed by Knowledge itself.
The king of Aragon was keen on giving his people the chance to be educated in math and medicine using their native language. He continued spending fortunes to ensure that every valuable medicine book is translated into Latin.
Nowadays, public access to information is governed by the means used to deliver this information. Technology has provided the tools to diversify the types and forms of dissemination. From the publication of journals to the instant RSS feeds, the core drive-element in the whole process is always the "persona". People's thirst for information is always there, it gets stronger and more acute when it comes to vital and reliable information.
Language is still the main instrument used to convey messages and to communicate with. Mother tongue is still the first choice to interact with the world. Studies show that our perception and understanding of what is being said in our mother tongue is never 100% accurate. Thus, our understanding of what is being said in a foreign language is far from being perfect. People are more confident and more secure when they use their own language in any comprehension or expression process.
English is in the lead of world languages in what concerns communication and publication. It is spoken by 508 million people (this figure includes those who use English as a second language) but this is less than 8% of the world population (6,452,349,381). More than 92% of people on earth DO NOT understand English; therefore, whatever is produced or published in this language has no value for them.
Total number of Internet users in the world is around 1.5 billion (IWS estimate, May 2008). English language represents 30.4%. Adding one of the top 9 languages (Chinese, Spanish, Japanese, French; German, Arabic, Portuguese, Korean and Italian) to English will increase your Organization's presence by (2.4%-16.6%) and adding the 9 languages will increase the figure to 84.8%! This is what Multilingualism does mean in terms of figures: delivering information in languages understood by 85% of people on earth instead of 30%; a very simple equation, but with a huge impact on your activity.
* Michael McVaugh, University of North Carolina.