Category Archives: policy/planning

“MEI,” “MIEL,” or “MINEL” languages?

As the proposal for an International Decade of Indigenous Languages moves toward consideration by the UN General Assembly,1 I’d like to return to an old discussion about ways of referring to a broader set of languages – including but not limited to those called indigenous – that in some ways face similar challenges. I’ve long felt this could be useful in discussing equitable approaches to language policies and multilingual planning.

Overlapping categories

I first looked at this issue in the early 2000s, seeking a way to refer to the many languages that are not dominant in terms of numbers of speakers, or advantages in policy or technology development. One encounters several different terms used to describe one or another grouping of these languages depending on the context, but none of them really applied so broadly. So an idea I had was to blend some of the main ones into an acronym.

An early try was “MINEL,” originally for “MINority & Endangered Languages.” It was immediately apparent that MINEL could be expanded in more than one way, such as Minority, Indigenous, National, Endangered, and Local.2 I actually created a Yahoogroup by that name in 2005,3 where for a brief while I reposted news about languages in this super-category.

There are other possible formulations, such as MIEL and MEI, which I’ll get to below. but first here are the elements of MINEL, elaborated:

M – minoritized

Regional Library of Bizkaia, Bilbao. Photo: Mary Linn, Smithsonian (Sustaining Minoritized Languages in Europe)

“Minoritized” is not a term I used originally, but it absolutely fits in this space. With specific reference to languages, while minority properly refers to a numerical relationship (fewer speakers than a majority), minoritized refers more to a power relationship (disadvantaged status, often as a result of prejudices and/or intentional policy). Many, but not all minoritized languages are minority languages, and vice-versa, but the terms are not equivalent.

I – indigenous

Indigenous languages” may be understood more narrowly as languages of indigenous peoples (a category that has a more or less precise definition), or more broadly as a language native to a particular region (that is still used there and has not been imposed elsewhere). I discussed these takes in relation to African languages on my other blog. Regardless of which definition is used, “indigenous” also fits in this space.

N – national

National languages” is another term that can be understood in more than one way. I meant it more in the sense of a language of a nation that is not also an official language – a usage common in Africa (some posts on my other blog include background). National languages in this sense, even when defined in statute, do not necessarily enjoy key benefits (official use in government and education, resources, etc.), and may actually be somewhat minoritized (“somewhat” in the sense that they may be promoted in a small number of programs such as adult literacy, so not entirely ignored). So understood this way, “national” seems to fit.

E – endangered

Endangered languages,” which are languages perceived to be in the process of declining in use to where they are not being transmitted to the new generation and may not survive, definitely belong in this space. It is estimated per various sources that there are as many as 3000 endangered languages.

Based on the numbers involved, plus the fact that potential extinctions are at issue, endangered languages have been the subject of various initiatives.4

L – local (etc.)

Local languages” is an expression commonly used, which in many contexts implies a limited range of use and maybe even a lesser status. I personally see a problem with how it is sometimes used, but include it as a useful way to underscore the intent of the acronym (not widespread).

“L” might also be considered to stand for languages that are “local” in the sense of being less used, spoken, taught, and resourced, per a series of acronyms discussed in the previous post on this blog: LUL, LWUL, LWSL, LCTL, LWULT, LWSLWT, and LRL.

Other fomulations: MIEL & MEI

When I first considered MINEL as an acronym, another option on the table was “MIEL,” leaving out the N for national. The latter is a bit problematic in this context as most people think of “national language” in the other of its main definitions, a single language used nationwide (perhaps quasi-officially). Although this is a sweet acronym, I opted to include the N in respect for how many African countries use the term national to describe many of their indigenously spoken languages.

A sparer but still beautiful acronym, “MEI,” would leave out L for local languages (an amorphous designation), as well as the N. Minoritized, endangered, and indigenous languages can be considered the categories needing most attention.

The purpose of all of this is to suggest a more broadly inclusive designation for policy and action to address challenges common to a great many of the world’s non-dominant languages, however they may be more narrowly categorized.


Notes:
1. UN General Assembly, 74th session, Third Committee, Agenda item 67 (a) Rights of indigenous peoples: rights of indigenous peoples (A/C.3/74/L.19/Rev.1), 6 Nov. 2019, #24.
2. Several other ideas occurred at that time, such as M for “maternal language” (per International Mother Language Day) and E for “ethnic language” (which I encountered in another context). Neither of these really work in this context.
3. The MINEL Yahoo Group will disappear on 14 Dec. 2019 per Yahoo’s decision to eliminate of group content. The messages will be saved.
4. Of the various initiatives and funds for endangered languages, I’ll just mention the Foundation for Endangered Languages, which is holding its 23rd conference in Sydney next month (13-16 Dec. 2019).

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LUL’d awake

Researching some details for a forthcoming post, I ran across a number of acronyms, several of which are used mainly in Europe, describing languages disadvantaged in terms of numbers of speakers (often referred to as minority languages), profile in education, status (official and social), and resources to take advantage of technology.

EBLUL logoThe best known of the acronyms for description of the size and status of languages probably is “LUL” for “lesser-used language.” It is, for example, part of the name of the European Bureau for Lesser-Used Languages, a once prominent NGO in language policy and planning.

A variant of LUL is “LWUL” – less widely-used language” – and an acronym similar to the latter is “LWSL” – “less widely spoken language.” Without having seen an explanation as such, one imagines the “less widely” formulation is in recognition that a language might actually be “more used” among a small population, meaning LUL would not be completely accurate.1

None of these – LUL, LWUL, or LWSL – appear to be commonly used, even though they all are near to the opposite of “LWC” – language of wider communication – which is a term used in discussions of language documentation and planning.

In fact, the lack of a globally accepted way to refer to languages that aren’t LWCs was part of how I got interested in this topic. I actually used LWSL in an early (2008) posting on this blog and also proposed my own coinage,  about which I will write in a following post.

In any event, there are at least three other acronyms, two of which are based on the above, which bring in the notion of how commonly taught the languages are. Aside from the first one listed below, the others do not appear to be … widely used:2

  • LCTLless commonly taught language. This term and its acronym are accepted in academia, although primarily in the US, but have an explicit reference to the context of second language instruction. That context will shift depending on who is employing the term/acronym, even well outside what might be considered an LUL (Mandarin Chinese, a language with over a billion speakers, is among the LCTLs in the US).
  • LWULT – less widely used, less taught,3 or least widely used, least taught.4 Some sources indicate that this applies specifically to EU “Community languages,” i.e. official languages of EU member states.5 But at least one source widens the scope to include regional minority and migrant languages.6
  • LWSLWT – less widely spoken, less widely taught. Not clear how current this is. I found only one instance of this acronym,7 but also an example of the expanded term.8 Not clear if this is a cognate of LWULT, or if there is a different nuance in meaning.

As should be readily apparent, the latter two combine LCTL with some aspect of LUL/LWUL/LWSL.

Since all of these acronyms spell out terms beginning with “less,” I should add another to the list: “LRL” – “less-resourced language.”9 This term, and more rarely the acronym,10 is used at the intersection of languages and information and communication technology to refer to a small level of published and digital materials that could be used to develop language technologies for them. (Like LCTL, its use is not primarily in Europe.)

LRLs don’t correspond neatly with LULs. Factors like history, income level, status, and effects of language policies mean some relatively widely spoken languages are LRLs, and some relatively “small” languages are well resourced.

So there you have it – a set of seven  acronyms beginning with “L” for terms describing at least three largely overlapping groupings of languages: relatively small in numbers of speakers, not frequently taught in schools, and not having much in print or digital format. Issues of status – lack of prestige and/or official role – may be (but are not always) crosscutting factors in these.


Notes:

1. However, the French translation of EBLUL – Bureau Européen des langues moins répandues (and not moins utilisées)- already puts the emphasis on how “less widespread” these languages are.
2. The following presentation slides were helpful in identifying acronyms featured in this post: Luciana Oliveiri, “Language policies at European universities for less widely spoken and less widely taught languages,” 6 June 2012 (via Issuu.com)
3. Three sources, for example, all expand it this way: Oliveiri (op cit); a Wikipedia article (accessed 24 Nov. 2019) mentioning the EU Lingua program that used LWULT; and the AcronymFinder.com page on the acronym.
4. European Community Law, Kluwer Law International B.V., 1995, page 285.
5. Wikipedia (op cit) and European Community Law (op cit)
6. European Commission, Comenius School Partnerships, handbook for schools, Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 2008, page 8.
7. Oliveiri (op cit)
8. Erich Prunč, “Priests, princes, and pariahs: Constructing the professional field of translation,” in M. Wolf & A. Fukari, eds., Constructing a Sociology of Translation, John Benjamins, 2007,  page 45.
9. Another formulation is “under-resourced languages.” There was at one point criticism of these terms analogous to those that moved us away from referring to “less developed” and especially “under-developed” countries, but I’m not sure where that is now – LRL still seems to be current in the field of language technology.
10. See for example at: Zygmunt Vetulani, ed., Human Language Technology. Challenges for Computer Science and Linguistics, Springer, 2011,  page vi; and a 2017 CFP, “Language Technology for Less Resourced Languages (LT-LRL) 2017 Under 8th Language & Technology Conference.”

 

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International Year of Millets, 2023

Early last year I noted India’s proposal to make 2018 the International Year of Millets (IYOM) and its subsequent rolling out of its own National Year of Millets in the same year. Apparently that IYOM proposal, submitted to FAO too late in 2017 to realistically have a chance, has been working its way through the system to where 2023 has been identified as the target year.

Samples of several millets (source: indiankhana.net)

In December 2018, the FAO Council decided to support India’s proposal for an IYOM, in 2023. The proposal, in the form of a draft resolution (see Appendix F in the Report of the Council of FAO, 160th Session) was supported by the Africa and Asia regional groups, European Union, Russian Federation, China, Sudan, Kenya, Cuba, Austria, Afghanistan, Thailand, Egypt, Senegal, and Mali.

2018, 2019, 2023

When its initial proposal did not go through, India subsequently (in mid-2018) advocated having the IYOM in  2019. That again might not have left enough time to organize such an observation. Also, the 2019 calendar was already pretty crowded with three international years (on indigenous languages, the periodical table, and moderation).

It is not clear what the process was of deciding on 2023, although that will certainly leave adequate time. The next step is getting a formal United Nations General Assembly resolution declaring IYOM 2023 and its objectives.

Millets (not simply “millet”) are several related grains that have been discussed at some length on this blog (see tag millets, plus an archived version of a post from another site). One question is whether the whole millet spectrum will be covered by IYOM 2023 – from sorghum at the large end to fonio and teff at the small end, via all the grains in between that are surnamed “millet” in English (pearl millet, proso millet, finger millet, foxtail millet, and others).

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International Year of Moderation, 2019

The International Year of Moderation 2019 (IYM2019) was declared in a UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution in December 2017. It is one of three UN international years being observed in 2019 – the other two concerning Indigenous Languages (IYIL2019) and the Periodic Table (IYPT2019) – but so far the one getting the least attention.

IYM2019 was an initiative proposed by Malaysia, and was framed by former Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak in terms of an effort to “combat the spread of extremism and radicalism by adopting moderation.”

The UNGA resolution cast the Year’s purpose formally as “an effort to amplify the voices of moderation through the promotion of dialogue, tolerance, understanding and cooperation.”

However, the IYM2019 observance does yet not appear to have as well-developed a public (social media) presence as the other two international years. The UN Alliance of Civilizations, which was “invited” in the UNGA resolution to “facilitate the observance” of IYM2019 “in collaboration with other relevant organizations” has nothing on its website. I found only, on Facebook, a page entitled “2019 as the International Year of Moderation,” and an associated event from the beginning of the year (from which I found the image above).

The slow start may be related to former PM Najib’s political and legal problems, and to the closure of the Global Movement of Moderates Foundation in mid-2018. Presumably these would have been prominent in organizing the IYM2019 observance.

Another factor could be the UNGA resolution’s stipulation that “the cost of all activities” in connection with the Year “should be met from voluntary contributions.” Should we conclude that IYM2019 has not (yet) generated sufficient donor interest?

A personal comment: It seems that a year devoted to “moderation” might also, beyond the aims stated above, encourage discussion of moderation as a virtue in other ways. It is for example discussed in philosophy and religious teachings. But it also has very practical benefits, such as in resource use or habits relating to health. If observance of IYM for the rest of 2019 is too narrow in its conceptualization, an opportunity for wider learning would be missed.

(Further edits were made to this post on 30 June 2019)

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Vertical forests in the Sahara?

According to a recent article in the New York Times on “The Allure of Vertical Forests,” cities currently cover about 3% of the Earth’s land. However, some forecasts say that population growth and migration could push that proportion up to about 10% by 2030. And it’s pretty certain that almost all of that will go into sprawl of existing urbanization over surrounding woods and fields. No amount of vertical forests or inside gardens, no matter how good, can compensate for the loss of such green space and arable land.

So what is the possibility of building new cities – including vertical forests – in marginal lands where food crops and shade trees aren’t otherwise so easy to grow? Even in the middle of the Sahara – perhaps surrounded by expanses of solar panels and wind turbines, and pools of desalinated water, if we are to accept the feasibility of some schemes?

Conceptualization of vertical forests under dome on Mars, by Stefano Boeri. Source: DeZeen.com

The vertical forest, which is the idea of architect and urban planner Stefano Boeri, is actually intended to help offset some of the intense use of resources and production of carbon dioxide in urban centers – while improving the living environment for people. Such towers have been built in or conceptualized for existing cities, each project unique to its location.

It is interesting to note that Boeri has also developed a conceptualization of vertical forests in domed cities on Mars. Readers of this blog may recall my contention two years ago that schemes for settling Mars – whether or not they will ever be realized – should at least be prefaced by experience with new cities in Earth’s harshest deserts. In that post, I highlighted another concept by OXO Architectes for a tower city designed specifically for the Moroccan desert.

So on a very Earth-bound, practical level, should we encourage more green tower concepts for new cities in deserts like the Sahara – concepts that could in effect help “green the desert” through sustainable urbanization?

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Assimilation – in the 21st century?

What does “assimilation” (in its socio-cultural sense) really mean in an age of globalization, easy digital communication, international integration, migration, and recently in the wake of recrudescent nationalisms?

Source: “The Forced Assimilation of Native Americans,” Gwich’in Steering Committee

On a vary basic level, we know that assimilation refers to a process by which individuals of a more or less distinct group (perhaps indigenous, immigrant, or formerly enslaved) are integrated or subsumed – willingly or by force – into the identity of a larger society or dominant culture. As such it has long been a goal of many plural states, and also of many immigrant groups settling in different countries.

Beyond that, the meaning of the term seems to be assumed without much clarity as to what the implications are.

Many questions

The initial question gives rise to others. For example, what are the issues/differences of assimilation as national policy, as socio-cultural process, and as personal or community aspiration? Are there different kinds or degrees of assimilation at each level?

Does assimilation necessarily require sacrifice of identities? Who decides whether or not that is the case, and what is sacrificed?

Is some kind of assimilation necessary for full participation in a society? Is equal status conditioned on type/degree of assimilation? If so, at what point – if ever – might it confer status and rights equivalent to those of the rest of society?

Considering the racist and nativist streaks in at least some nationalisms, do their definitions of assimilation exclude some peoples a priori? What is the relationship between assimilationism and racism (recognizing that there have been different treatments of various racial, ethnic, and religious minorities)?

Example of racist imagery associated with assimilationism. Source: “Chinese Immigration in the Late 19th Century: Discrimination in Action – Assimilation,” LEADR, MSU.edu

What is the burden shouldered by willingly assimilating? Or the cost imposed on individuals, communities, and cultures by assimilationist policies?

What are the benefits and costs of assimilation to the society as a whole?

What do other related terms like “acculturation” and “integration” (in its socio-cultural sense) mean in this context, and how are they different? Such terms would seem essential for fuller understanding of, and clearer discussion about “assimilation.”

Assimilation 2.0?

These questions in turn bring up other issues, such as:

Does it make any sense to talk of assimilation as we advance into the 21st century? If so, how and in what ways? If not, is there another term/concept that is more appropriate and productive for the changing realities that peoples and nations are living today?

Are we now defining an “Assimilation 2.0”? Or perhaps more fortuitously, new ways of thinking about how diverse peoples come to live together in peace, and with mutual respect and amity?

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The text of this post is adapted from the description of an email list with the same title that I ran in the mid 2000s.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail