Omnilingual Aspirations

The Case of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights


  • Steven G. Kellman University of Texas at San Antonio


translation, United Nations, human rights


In this essay, Kellman analyzes the linguistic particularities of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which bears equal force of law in each of its 466 distinct linguistic iterations, and which its composers hoped would become the Magna Carta of the modern era. This unique historical occurrence allows Kellman to explore the “theology of international governance” as it is transmitted through principles of linguistic equivalence. The essay further brings the insights derived from its analyses to bear on other historical instances of political translatability, including the 1889 Treaty of Friendship and Commerce between Italy and Ethiopia and the United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 on the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Palestine.