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Entries Tagged as 'education'

International Mother Language Day 2017 & the Linguapax Prize

The 18th annual International Mother Language Day (IMLD), observed today (21 February 2017), has as its theme, “Towards Sustainable Futures through Multilingual Education,” which seems to carry on the focus on language in education from last year (presumably still with an eye on Sustainable Development Goal #4).

The definition of multilingual education given on UNESCO’s IMLD page is worth copying here…

Multilingual education facilitates access to education while promoting equity for populations speaking minority and/or indigenous languages, especially girls and women:     

  • It emphasizes the quality of teaching and learning with a focus on understanding and creativity;
  • It reinforces the cognitive aspect of learning by ensuring the direct application of learning outcomes to the learner’s life through the mother tongue;
  • It enhances dialogue and interaction between learner and teacher by allowing genuine communication from the beginning;
  • It facilitates participation and action in society and gives access to new knowledge and cultural expressions, thus ensuring a harmonious interaction between the global and the local.

Linguapax Prize

This year’s Linguapax Prize, announced today (as it is annually, on IMLD), was awarded to Dr. Matthias Brenzinger, a German linguist specializing in African languages (notably non-Bantu click languages) and endangered languages, who is currently at the University of Cape Town and heads the Centre for African Linguistic Diversity (CALDi), which he founded. Dr. Brenzinger has also worked in Japan.

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Two language museums in Washington

PW logoOn the eve of International Mother Language Day (IMLD), here’s a quick look at the news that the Washington, DC area will get a second museum dedicated to languages: Planet Word Museum. This project began several years ago, based on the vision of Ann B. Friedman, a philanthropist and former reading instructor, and was incorporated in 2013 as the Museum of Language Arts, Inc. On 25 January 2017, the DC Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development announced an agreement by which (pending DC Council approval) Planet Word and its partners will convert an old landmark school building into a museum space. Opening is planned for 2019.

PW logoThe first museum in this genre in the DC area, and in the entire United States, is the National Museum of Language (NML), which despite the name is also a private non-profit venture. Its origins go back to Dr. Amelia C. Murdoch and a “group of expert linguists, language specialists, and language enthusiasts” in 1971, but it wasn’t until 37 years later that a small museum space was opened in College Park, Maryland (Multidisciplinary Perspectives featured an article about their opening in 2008). Unfortunately, the recurring cost of the museum space turned out to be too high to maintain, so in 2014, NML closed its permanent exhibit and shifted to a strategy of moveable exhibits, an enhanced online presence, and other activities.

A tale of 2 museums

The first question that comes to mind on learning of the new language museum project in this metro area, is whether it and the older one are in communication. The answer, according to NML president Dr. Jill Robbins, is yes.

A second question or set of questions has to do with the relationship between the two – both in terms of missions (similarities, differences, complementarities), and in terms of practical links (such as connections among people working on the two different projects). These seem to me to be harder to answer. In part that is because one is new and the other still relatively young. And there are other differences between the two that would figure in any collaboration.

In terms of their respective missions, my impression is that NML is somewhat more focused on aspects of language diversity or “unity in diversity” (the themes of the museum include “universal aspects of language,” “language in society,” and “languages of the world”). Among various exhibits, they have done some interesting work presenting dialect research in the US, for example. From NML’s mission statement:

Our mission is to inspire an appreciation for the magic and beauty of language. We seek to lead our visitors to their personal discoveries of language and languages. …

My impression is that Planet Word is somewhat more concerned with language arts (note the incorporated name mentioned above) and applied linguistics. Literacy figures as “The Big Issue” on their “About” page. We can expect more details as the project develops, but in the meantime, an article in Chronicle of Higher Education by Planet Word board member Prof. Anne Curzan offers some insights into their thinking. Planet Word’s vision (from the About page):

Language is what makes us human. From earliest childhood we weave our words into speech to communicate. At Planet Word we inspire and renew a love of words and language through unique, immersive learning experiences.

On the organizational level, there are some obvious differences. For example, Planet Word is clearly able to access funding at a level several orders of magnitude above what NML has ever obtained. It also has a much larger board with a wider geographic and institutional representation than the smaller NML has.

On the other hand, NML has a significant experience with the practicalities of running a language museum – albeit on a smaller scale than Planet Word evidently aspires to – and in developing relations with educators and institutions in its vicinity and more widely. The latter include, for example being a founding member of the International Network of Language Museums (INLM; see also addendum, below), participating in events such as the IMLD 2013 celebration at the Bangladesh embassy in Washington, DC, and having a wall exhibit – about American lexicographer Noah Webster – on display at the Noah Webster House in West Hartford, Connecticut.

From the descriptions, however, it seems that Planet Word is modeling itself on certain larger museums – the National Museum of Mathematics in New York was mentioned in one article. Also, Planet Word is expected to have a major impact on development of its immediate neighborhood (see article in City Lab, which includes a comparison with the National Building Museum in DC) – not a role that NML has had to play.

All that said, these two language museums do occupy much of the same terrain even as their emphases and some of their angles may differ. The field of study of language(s) and linguistics after all is broad, and there are diverse approaches to organizing museums. So basically, it’s no surprise that “language museum” can mean different things.

A question at this point is what kind of collaboration might be possible and make sense from the points of view of NML and Planet Word, and also for the public, for whom even one language museum is still a novelty.

We’ll see how this develops, but it will be interesting to see an interview of Ms. Friedman that I am told is planned for publication on the NML website. One question I’d like to ask of both efforts is how they would celebrate IMLD, an annual observance that is not that well known in the US.

Addendum (Feb. 21)

Thanks to NML’s Dr. Robbins for feedback on this post as originally published, leading to some corrections to copy and also a clarification on her institution’s range of activity (which I further expanded on). A key element in that range is the INLM (a list of the members of which appears in an NML blog post).

In the interests of economy, I did not get into the subject of language museums worldwide in this post, even though they figured prominently in my compilation of resources on the International Year of Languages 2008. The global dimension of this class of museums (within the larger class of “locations” about language, to use David Crystal‘s term from “LADDA“) is to a certain extent unavoidable (some articles about Planet Word have mentioned the Mundolingua in Paris, for example), but important enough to merit a separate discussion.

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Literacy Day double take

UNESCO ILD2016 posterThere are two days devoted to literacy: International Literacy Day, today, 8 September 2016 (poster on right); and Indigenous Literacy Day, which was celebrated in Australia yesterday.

International Literacy Day has been observed for a half-century, with UNESCO taking the lead by, among other things, choosing a theme (this year’s is “Reading the Past, Writing the Future”) and sponsoring major events (this year over two days at its headquarters in Paris).

Indigenous Literacy Day is more recent, and organized by the Australian NGO, Indigenous Literacy Foundation. It is a “fundraising and advocacy day” on which the organization and partners “spread the word about improving literacy levels and opportunities for Indigenous children living in some of the most remote and isolated parts of our country.”

Both have important roles, though in contexts where some languages are minoritized, the question can be posed about which languages – whose languages – are prioritized. A tweet raised just that issue regarding Indigenous Literacy Day:

Another question is what are compelling criteria for setting up such separate observances for literacy, rather than concentrating efforts on the main international observance. This is not to say everyone (group, organization) has to so limit themselves, but rather that it is a good to ask what the separate observance brings to specific targeted linguistic and cultural demographics on the one hand, and global efforts to expand literacy on the other.

Literacy prizes

In the run up to International Literacy Day, the two annual literacy prizes were announced (on 31 August; the awards are given on 8 September):

The King Sejong Literacy Prize was awarded to:

  • the Center for Knowledge Assistance and Community Development’s programme “Books for rural areas of Viet Nam’
  • the Research Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia of the Mahidol University in Thailand for its programme ‘Patani Malay-Thai Bi/Multilingual Education Project.’

The UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy was awarded to:

  • the South African Department of Basic Education’s ‘Kha Ri Gude Mass Literacy Campaign’
  • the Jan Shikshan Sansthan organization in Kerala, India for its programme, Vocational and Skill Development for Sustainable Development
  • the Directorate of Literacy and National Languages in Senegal for its ‘National Education Programme for Illiterate Youth and Adults through ICTs.
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International Mother Language Day, 2016

IMLD 2016 posterThe 17th annual International Mother Language Day (IMLD), observed today (21 February 2016), has as its theme “Quality education, language(s) of instruction and learning outcomes.” Each IMLD has had a theme, and this year’s links mother languages to Sustainable Development Goal 4 of the recently adopted 2030 Agenda, which “focuses on quality education and lifelong learning for all,” and to the implementing plan for Goal 4, the Education 2030 Framework for Action.

According to  Ms. Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO, in her message on the occasion of IMLD, the Education 2030 FFA encourages “full respect for the use of mother language in teaching and learning, and the promotion and preservation of linguistic diversity.”

IMLD has been observed every year following its proclamation by UNESCO in 1999 (i.e., starting in 2000). IMLD events are organized locally, with UNESCO hosting the main annual event(s) in Paris. There is no definitive list of observances, which probably would not be possible anyway, as some are very small and not widely publicized. Nevertheless, one can get an idea of the range of activities from the internet, via searches or in social media (Facebook has several groups, pages, and event listings – see for example this one).

Although IMLD is international, a fair number of events around the world that are organized by Bangladeshi groups reflect the origins of the observance: In 1952, several students were killed in a protest over language of instruction in what was then East Pakistan, an event that has been marked as Language Movement Day in that country after it became independent as Bangladesh

TweetMotherLanguage.org logoOn the internet there is an IMLD “Tweet in your #MotherLanguage” campaign again this year (first begun in 2014?). It’s not clear what those of us whose mother language is the dominant one on Twitter should do that’s different on IMLD, but there’s always the option to (re)tweet something in another language.

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Visualizing language, development, education & ICT connections

A few years ago, I came across the following “model of development communication with regard to language(s) and education” by Ekkehard Wolff, a professor emeritus and former Chair of African Studies at the University of Leipzig. It was presented in a 2006 working document entitled “Optimizing Learning and Education in Africa – the Language Factor: A Stock-taking Research on Mother Tongue and Bilingual Education in Sub-Saharan Africa” (later revised and published in 2011 as “Optimising Learning, Education and Publishing in Africa: The Language Factor“).*

What first struck me was that this simple triangular model portraying the relative strength of links among development, language, and education captures the essence of the situation as regards African languages in development and education programming in Africa.

Secondly, the model could easily reflect development communication – or extension work – in a mostly monolingual country, where almost everyone speaks a single tongue as their first language (“L1”), and those who don’t mostly have that same language as an “L2.” Language is not a factor that needs particular attention beyond the appropriate use of the common tongue.

Third, it is significant, though not surprising, that this came in discussion of education. The field of education tends to give more attention to issues relating to language and languages, for instance in research and policy recommendations on mother-tongue based/multilingual education, than does the field of development studies. (For a more complete discussion, see Prof. Dr. Wolff’s chapter 1 in the last version of the above-cited document).

And finally, it also occurred to me that one could readily extend this model in a third dimension by adding another factor: information and communications technology (ICT). ICT after all is (1) a more or less established dimension of development assistance (per ICT4D), (2) a feature of some projects to assist education, and also (3) the focus of a range of language technology and localization efforts. So the connections of ICT with all three are natural.

Expanding the model

The expanded model with four factors – language, development, technology, and ICT – is a triangular pyramid or tetrahedron that allows us to visualize six related pairs of factors and characterize their relative weight in development communication (programming, extension, etc.).

These six pairs with comments (those on the first three are Wolff’s) are:

  • Development ↔ Education: “Widely accepted on a priori groun ds, but with little understanding of exact nature of relationship”
  • Education ↔ Language: “Little understood outside expert circles,   particularly in terms of MoI [medium of instruction] vs. SoI [subject of instruction]”
  • Language ↔ Development: “Largely ignored”
  • Development ↔ ICT: Established in development thinking and practice as ICT4D
  • Education ↔ ICT: Established connection, often as part of ICT4D or as  local-level projects
  • Language ↔ ICT: Linkage well established for major languages as “localization” (“L10n”), but not as well supported in terms of policy or technology, for less-resourced languages

This model also facilitates visualization of other dynamics beyond the language-development-education triangle introduced by Wolff, each of which which involve ICT. Specifically:

  • Links among language-development-ICT (is L10n part of ICT4D projects? do L10n projects address development needs?)
  • Links among language-education -ICT (does use of ICT in education projects include localized content or interfaces?)
  • Links among development-education-ICT (how are ICT4D and ICT4E linked?)

Language belongs in the picture

Overall, any such model incorporating language among the dynamics of development helps expand thinking about development and learning processes. Communication is fundamental to development and education, and one of the principal uses of ICT, and language is fundamental to communication.

Why has language been so neglected in this regard (particularly in Africa)? That is another discussion. In the meantime, Prof. Dr. Wolff’s chapter (referenced above) is highly recommended as an analysis of the state of affairs and disciplinary divides involved.


* Hassana Alidou, et al. 2006. Optimizing Learning and Education in Africa – the Language Factor:  A Stock-taking Research on Mother Tongue and Bilingual Education in Sub-Saharan Africa. Paris: Association for the Development of Education in Africa. (NB- This document carries the note that it is a draft and not for dissemination, however it is widely available on the web and has been cited in at least two published books.)
Adama Ouane and Christine Glanz, eds. 2011. Optimising Learning, Education and Publishing in Africa: The Language Factor A Review and Analysis of Theory and Practice in Mother-Tongue and Bilingual Education in sub-Saharan Africa. Hamburg: UIL & Tunis: ADEA.

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International Decade of Languages?

As we draw to the end of 2008 – which is designated as, among other things, International Year of Languages (IYL) – I wanted to ask what’s next? And to propose the possibility of an International Decade of Languages to follow up on issues that the IYL dealt with as well as some others.

A year is a short time to do much more than raise awareness, achieve some limited project results, and begin to link and expand networks interested in such a vast topic as languages. Is it time to prepare the rationale and plans for a longer term campaign?

Issues that could be addressed by an International Decade of Languages might include:

  • What more can be done for endangered languages and their speakers, from documentation and preservation, to development and education
  • Highlight the situation of languages that are not on lists of endangered languages like the Red Book, but are contracting or not being developed for education and advancement of their first language speakers.
  • Explore how the languages of the least powerful regularly get less attention in education and development, than those of the more powerful, even when significant numbers of speakers are involved.
  • Related to the above, consider the importance of languages in achieving the Millennium Development Goals, the objectives of the UN Literacy Decade, etc.
  • Discuss how to develop language policy and planning worldwide, on country, regional and global levels.
  • Consider the importance of language education for individuals and in regard to other goals of education and language development.
  • Develop an official International Declaration of Linguistic Rights for ratification by the UN and the world’s countries.
  • Explore how localization of ICT and application of human language technologies can impact language preservation, development, arts, and learning.
  • Consider whether, how and when to adopt an official international auxiliary language (or to just let English continue to evolve into this role de facto).
  • And others.

There is a little bit of time yet to consider such a concept before the end of the IYL – which was officially launched on the last International Mother Language Day (21 Feb. 2008) and will officially close on the next (21 Feb. 2009). Should proclamation of an International Decade of Languages be a recommendation to come out of the IYL experience?

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