A Word for Wednesday: Diversity

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Yesterday was World Day for Cultural Diversity; a relatively new cause adopted by UNESCO just over a decade ago. But what is Cultural Diversity Day?

The United Nations describe the campaign on their Facebook page: ‘This Day raises awareness on the richness of world cultures and the opportunities that cultural diversity can bring to societies.’

I think it is a great incentive to explore the output of other cultures, from music, food and film to their literature, traditions and languages. So, if you have a spare moment this week, why not endeavour to understand another culture a little bit more?

I recently discovered the music of a band named Baka Beyond. They manage to blend the influences of African and Celtic music to almost mystical effect. As a musician, they presented some revolutionary ideas to me: on the album ‘The Meeting Pool’ they even use water as a percussion instrument!

Rambling aside, let’s have a quick look at the word ‘diversity’ itself. Early uses of the word trace back to the 14th century Middle English where it generally meant ‘unlikeness’. I think the connotations of the word have evolved too, yet another example of diachronic change. Nowadays, I feel the word ‘diversity’ now has strongly positive associations and these can only grow stronger.

Embracing cultural diversity has been essential in making the English language (and almost any other language) as rich and expressive as it is, as most words are borrowed or have evolved from the words of other cultures.

One piece of etymology I forgot to share with you is the early Latin relative of the word, ‘divertere’ (to turn aside). It seems the meaning of the word has come full circle. ‘Diversity’ is about turning aside differences in race, tradition and ideas, and taking positive influence from other cultures.

Spread the word about Cultural Diversity Day and find something new that inspires you!

Hugh MacDermott, Jazz Pianist


22 May 2013
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