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CFP: Language, the SDGs, and Vulnerable Populations

SDG logoThe Study Group on Language at the United Nations, in cooperation with the Centre for Research and Documentation on World Language Problems and the Center for Applied Linguistics, will again this year hold a two-day symposium (11-12 May 2017) on language and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). I reproduce below the call for participation (CFP) based on versions seen on the Language Policy List and Linguist List. The contact person is Prof. Humphrey Tonkin. Note the call deadline of 28 February.

This blog previously featured the CFP for the April 2016 Language & SDGs symposium and its program. The Final Report of that symposium is available on the Study Group’s site.


Language, the Sustainable Development Goals, and Vulnerable Populations

New York, NY, USA • Thursday-Friday, May 11-12, 2017

What issues of language and communication are raised, or should be raised, by the efforts of the United Nations to reach the most vulnerable populations through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) approved by the UN in 2015? Particular attention will be given to language issues surrounding refugees and their children, migrants, and minority communities.

When the UN General Assembly unanimously approved the 17 SDGs 2015-2030, proponents foresaw a comprehensive and cooperative effort extending beyond the United Nations and its Member States to incorporate civil society in general. The SDGs, they said, should “leave no one behind” and should emerge from a dialogue in which all parties collaborate in a spirit of equality. Moreover, the most vulnerable populations need to be first on the agenda.

These vulnerable populations speak a multiplicity of languages often little understood by development specialists, and they are often isolated or neglected, and unconnected to those who seek to help. Reaching them requires reaching across languages, and it implies listening to their concerns, freely expressed. Is the UN ready for such an effort? Though the SDGs are largely silent on language issues, sustainability requires two-way, democratic communication in multiple languages.

The world is witnessing the largest population movement since World War II: refugees who must be returned to their homes or resettled, displaced children who need education, migrants who must acquire new languages to become productive in new circumstances. In negotiating their way in foreign environments, they must deal with officials who often do not know their languages. The SDGs identify problems but say little about reaching these populations.

To carry out the SDGs through dialogue and understanding, we must reach vulnerable populations in languages they understand. Preserving cultural identity while communicating across languages must become a recognized issue: we must educate through languages young people understand, deliver health care comprehensibly, and reach refugees and migrants through comprehensible dialogue. Attaining all seventeen SDGs requires mutual comprehension at every level.

The Study Group on Language and the UN drew attention to the absence of language issues in formulating the SDGs through a symposium it organized in April 2016 and a subsequent report. We return to this topic in our 2017 symposium, but with special stress on vulnerable populations.

The organizers welcome proposals for 20-minute papers on topics linking the SDGs with vulnerable populations, such as:

  • Language as a factor in sustainable development
  • Language policy for refugees, migrants, and displaced populations
  • Language & migration
  • Language as it relates to race, ethnicity, age, gender, religion, economic status, or other factors
  • Language & education of refugees and migrants
  • Language & quality education for vulnerable populations (Goal 4)
  • Language & mother-tongue education (Goal 4)
  • Language & gender equality (Goal 5)
  • Language & economic growth (Goal 8)
  • Language & reducing inequalities (Goal 10)
  • Language & peace & justice (Goal 16)
  • NGOs, language & vulnerable populations
  • UN language policy & implementation of the SDGs
  • The role of regional or minority languages
  • Language & stateless nations

Please send proposals (200 words or less, accompanied by a biography of approximately 50 words) to the chair of the symposium organizing committee, Prof. Humphrey Tonkin, at tonkin (at) hartford (dot) edu, by February 28, 2017.  The committee expects to make final decisions on the program by March 15.

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