Symposium on multilingualism in international organizations & cooperation, 10-11 May 2018

Taking the opportunity again this year to publicize the latest in a series of annual symposia in New York on language issues in international contexts. The last two dealt with language(s) and the Sustainable Development Goals. This year’s edition, to be held on 10-11 May 2018, has as its title, Multilingualism in International Organizations and in International Co-operation.” It is sponsored by the Study Group on Language and the United Nations in cooperation with The Centre for Research and Documentation on World Language Problems, the Center for Applied Linguistics, and Birkbeck, University of London.

The organizers’ description of the event, and their preliminary program follow (the content is theirs; although not connected with the event or any of its sponsors, I’ve taken the opportunity to present this information with added links such as I could find – please advise if any should be replaced):


Multilingualism in International Organizations and in International Co-operation

Thursday & Friday, May 10-11, 2018, at the Church Center, 777 United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017 (First Ave. at 44th St.)

Multilingualism in international co-operation entails both costs and benefits: costs because it requires mechanisms such as the selection of multilingual staff and the mediation of language professionals; benefits because, if properly managed, it includes all parties to decision-making, promotes consensus, supports programme delivery, and aids dissemination of results. Thus it favours social justice and inclusion. Increasingly, multilingualism is seen as a positive force, though it is not always recognized as such by all stakeholders.

Within the United Nations, for example, owing in particular to the scarcity of available data, advocates of multilingual language policies often face ideological, financial and administrative resistance, despite a growing recognition that multilingualism, as a core value of the UN, is a potential source of strength.

This symposium seeks to focus on, and generate interest in, these issues. Contributorscription will address the challenges of supporting multilingualism in organizations and in sites of international co-operation across different sectors (e.g. business, diplomacy, economics) and communities. Included will be theoretical and methodological studies, on the one hand, and studies addressing specific practical challenges, on the other – especially papers that focus directly on the work of the UN system or other international bodies, or research having obvious implications for their work.

Among the themes that we hope to address are the following:

  • evolving perceptions of multilingualism in international settings
  • linguistic inclusiveness in multilingual settings
  • interpretation and translation in international organizations
  • speed of decision-making vs. information loss in monolingual contexts
  • language in international peace-keeping
  • language and human/minority rights
  • the economics of language regimes
  • linguistic equity in organizations
  • inclusive communication in local and international development
  • language policy in international organizations
  • language and sustainability
  • multilingualism and NGOs

PRELIMINARY PROGRAM (as of April 4)
Speakers will include:

Keynote speaker:

Michele Gazzola, Research Fellow, Humboldt University, Berlin
The economic effects of language regimes: The case of the World Intellectual Property Organization and the European Patent Office

Papers and presentations will include:

John Edwards (St Francis Xavier University and Dalhousie University, Canada)
Language claims & language rights

Timothy Reagan (University of Maine, USA)
Sign language multilingualism: The forgotten language diversity in disempowered communities

Emma Asonye (University of Mexico), Ezinne Emma-Asonye (University of Mexico), Queenette Okwaraji (University of Rochester, USA) and Khadijah Asili (Vizionz-Sankofa)
Linguistic diversity and the language rights of the underprivileged population in Africa and America: Towards an inclusive society in 2030

Nirvana Bhatia (Linguistic Rights Specialist)
The paper chase: A review of the UN’s recent language-rights legislation

Phindile Dlamini (University of Swaziland)
Swaziland’s dream of linguistic representation in international organisations: Will the sociolinguistic map of the United Nations ever change?

Maneeratana Sawasdiwat Na Ayutthaya (ASEAN Center for Multilingualism, Translation & Interpretation, Thailand)
Multilingualism, translation and interpretation in the ASEAN Community

Leigh Swigart (Brandeis University, USA)
English at the International Criminal Court: Working language or default language?

Beatrice Owiti (Kenya Methodist University)
Interpretation and translation in the International Criminal Court

Lisa McEntee-Atalianis (Birkbeck, University of London, UK), Michele Gazzola and Torsten Templin (Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany)
Measuring diversity in multilingual communication

Francis M. Hult (Lund University, Sweden)
Parallel language use: A Nordic solution for multilingual organisations?

Dorte Lønsmann (Copenhagen Business School, Denmark) & Janus Mortensen (University of Copenhagen)
English only? A critical examination of the ‘natural’ status of English as a corporate language

Spencer Hazel (Newcastle University, UK), Katherine Kappa and Kamilla Kraft (University of Copenhagen)
Language policing in international organisations: Explicit and embedded orientations to language repertoires and their impact on professional identity

Pia Decarsin (JPD Systems Translation Services)
Language policy in international organisations: Criteria and recommendations for strategic content selection for translation

Mirna Soares Andrade (Inter-American Defense College, Washington, D.C.)
Multilingualism and language services at the Inter-American Defense College

Shana Pughe Dean (Tone Translate, Utica, NY, USA))
Creating opportunity and understanding in a multicultural world on the move: Refugee resettlement agencies

Carol Benson (Teachers College, Columbia University, USA)
The importance of a multilingual habitus when assessing literacy skills in educational development

Erina Iwasaki (Teachers College, Columbia University, USA)
Reframing multilingualism in terms of opportunity

Ari Sherris (Texas A & M University-Kingsville, Texas, USA) & Joy Kreeft Peyton (Center for Applied Linguistics, Washington, D.C.)
The power of multilingualism and multiliteracy for languages and groups

Additional information and registration at http://www.languageandtheun.org


For information, below are links to posts on this blog regarding the 2016 and 2017 events:

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

An International Year of Millets?

India is celebrating 2018 as its National Year of Millets. This follows a proposal by the government of India to the United Nations (UN) in late 2017 to make 2018 the International Year of Millets (which I’ll abbreviate IYOM). The purpose of IYOM would have been to highlight the importance of diverse millets for for farmers, for nutrition, and for food production in the wake of effects of climate change. Evidently, and unfortunately, that proposal was too late in the year to set the machinery in motion to organize an international observance of this sort in the following year.

The question at this point is what is the possibility of organizing a future international observance for these important but not fully appreciated grains. Will India’s experience with its current National Year of Millets help generate interest for an eventual IYOM, or take the steam off that proposal? Or will it lead to a year with a related but broader topic, covering something like “underutilized crops”?

It will take some time to know the answers. In the meantime, here’s some information on what has and hasn’t happened with respect to both the national and international years.

India’s National Year of Millets, 2018

The purpose of the National Year in India is similar to that mentioned above for the IYOM. One apparent concern is that even as millets are adapted to diverse conditions and have good nutritional profiles, cultivation of them has declined significantly relative to the main grain crops like wheat and rice.

OMITF-2018In January, the southwest Indian state of Karnataka – a major producer of several types of millet – held a previously planned Organics and Millets International Trade Fair in Bengaluru (logo featured at right). But it is not clear from available information what actions are being planned specifically for the year. At such time as more information is available, I will post about it.

India is a veritable crossroads of millets – cultivating most of the millet species grown in diverse parts of the world, and even exporting some. So its success with its National Year of Millets will be important to watch.

Background on the IYOM proposal

As for the IYOM proposal, apparently the agricultural ministers of India (Radha Mohan Singh) and of Karnataka state (Krishna Byre Gowda) first brought up the idea with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) last October. The formal national government level proposal, in the form of a letter from Minister Singh to the UN Secretary General (António Guterres), came a month later.

Soon the Hyderabad, India-based International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) joined in, with a graphic presentation on the proposed IYOM and support for Minister Singh’s letter. The “Indian Father of the Green Revolution,” Prof. M.S. Swaminathan tweeted his support. Supposedly other countries were interested. But stepping back to look at the planning and lead time given for other international year observances, this idea, however laudable, did not have enough time to generate the support, means, and thinking needed to put together a successful world-wide observance for 2018.

According to the UN, most observances such as international years “have been established by resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly [UNGA], although some have been designated by UN specialized agencies.” So perhaps FAO could have declared a year of millets, though as Minister Gowda was quoted as saying already last October, “The FAO is of the view that it takes time to decide.” One would imagine that a decision by the UNGA to establish such an observance would carry more weight, since it speaks for the whole UN. However the UNGA only meets for a limited time each year, and its agenda is usually set several months in advance. Of the three International Year observances scheduled for 2019, one – Indigenous Languages – was decided in a UNGA resolution in late 2016, and the other two – Moderation and the Periodic Table – were set in late 2017. Talking must have begun at least a year earlier in each case. Looking at the calendar, some observances are scheduled already scheduled for 2022 and 2024.

In any event, as of 4 February 2018 (the most recent update I could find online), Minister Gowda is quoted as saying that they are still awaiting a response from the UN about the IYOM proposal.

Apparently one of the reasons 2018 was proposed for IYOM was that there were no other observances scheduled for that year. However, the same is true for 2020, and moving the proposed IYOM to that year would probably allow enough time to put together a successful campaign and observance for these important but often overlooked grains.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

International Mother Language Day 2018 & the Linguapax Prize

The annual observance of International Mother Language Day (IMLD) on February 21 focuses this year on multilingualism and linguistic diversity, with mention of their importance for sustainable development and peace. The theme has been seen in several forms, including:

  • Acting together for Linguistic diversity and Multilingualism (per poster above)
  • Linguistic diversity and multilingualism count for sustainable development (as seen on the program for the IMLD event at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris)
  • Linguistic diversity and multilingualism: keystones of sustainability and peace (as seen on the UNESCO website)

In her message on the occasion of IMLD, UNESCO director Audrey Azoulay characterized the importance of languages in this way:

A language is far more than a means of communication; it is the very condition of our humanity. Our values, our beliefs and our identity are embedded within it. It is through language that we transmit our experiences, our traditions and our knowledge. The diversity of languages reflects the incontestable wealth of our imaginations and ways of life.

2018 Linguapax Prize to BASAbali

The annual Linguapax Prize, which recognizes contributions to “preservation of linguistic diversity, revitalization and reactivation of linguistic communities, and the promotion of multilingualism,” is traditionally announced on IMLD. This year’s prize was awarded to BASAbali, an organization founded in 2011 to support and develop the Balinese language of Indonesia, and to develop language revitalization methods.

BASAbali’s founder, Alissa Stern, is quoted on the Linguapax site as describing the group as follows:

BASAbali is founded in the belief that all languages, but most importantly a language of a great culture such as Balinese, deserve recognition and use in the modern world — and not be relegated to a language of rural farmers or a language of home, not worthy of activities associated with learning, public affairs and local educational and political practices. The aim, in short, is to develop facilities that will enable Balinese and other local languages to occupy a position of prestige alongside modern national and international languages and to carry forward their rich cultural traditions.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Concluding 2017, looking forward to 2018

This year has been one of some personal transitions, hence less posting on this blog than originally planned. As 2017 comes to a close, I wanted to touch on a couple of topics among several related to the blog content.

IY2017First, 2017 is the U.N. Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. Usually I try to get out quick mentions of such observances early in the year, but this time had planned a longer treatment mentioning two places I know in different ways – Djenné, Mali and Lijiang, Yunnan, China. That material will have to come out later in different form. However the topic of this year will remain important even as the calendar changes.

Early in the year, I posted several “why are we doing this?” (WAWDT) questions about policies that seemed ill-considered. That is, beyond the level of agreement or disagreement on particulars, but questions about the soundness of decisions from whatever viewpoint. Very quickly it became apparent that any attempt to continue such inquiries would become all-consuming. That in itself is a comment. In any event, I’m not planning any further WAWDTs for now.

Looking forward to a productive 2018, and sharing ideas and information here on Multidisciplinary Perspectives.

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Late Ming China & the contemporary United States

Listening to a recorded course on Chinese history* a few months ago, I was struck by how descriptions of “gridlock” in the late Ming dynasty government of China sounded much like the US government in recent years. Typically, Americans draw comparisons – apt or not – with ancient Rome, but perhaps late Ming China (which fell in 1644) might also offer some cautionary lessons.

Some comments by the course instructor, Prof. Kenneth J. Hammond, stood out in this regard:

  • “New ideas about integrity and individualism contributed to a moralization of political life that let to gridlock in government.”
  • “… debates and controversies at [the royal] court tended to be framed not as issues for compromise and pragmatism but as black-and-white moral issues.”
  • some groups “came to act almost like political parties in pursuit of their moral programs, treating their political rivals as agents of evil rather than simply gentlemen with differing ideas.”

Wang YangmingAccording to Prof. Hammond, this situation had its origins in the thinking of the prominent neo-Confucian philosopher and court official, Wang Yangming 王阳明 (1472-1529), who held that all individuals have an “innate knowledge of the good.”

Being neither an expert in Chinese history nor a student of Eastern philosophy, I am not in a position to comment in depth on this interpretation. However, the influence of Wang Yangming’s moral intuitionism among the literati in China at that time, the inability of the government to grapple with multiple problems, and the ultimate end of the Ming dynasty, are all known facts.

Recent politics in the US has been marked by extreme, intransigent positions, mainly on the part of an influential minority, and a tendency for two main partisan sides to talk less and even impugn the motives of the other. The influence of one particular thinker, Ayn Rand (1905-1982), on some members of the US government, is arguably a key factor in this devolution.

This is admittedly a shallow comparison, but not much worse than many comparisons of the US and Rome. The advantage of looking at a range of possible past parallels to one’s current situation is in drawing lessons from them so as not to repeat history.


* Kenneth J. Hammond, 2004, From Yao to Mao: 5000 Years of Chinese History, The Great Courses. (CDs & course book; the quoted passages come from lecture 24 “Gridlock and Crisis”)

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

After digitizing libraries, translating knowledge?

Nine years ago I asked the question “Can we localize entire libraries?” In the wake of the National Library of Norway‘s (Nasjonalbiblioteket) digitization of its holdings and collaboration with Nigeria on materials in the latter’s languages, it seems like time to review what mass digitization could mean for translation of knowledge into diverse languages.

My original question in 2008 came from looking at trends in digitizing books – notably Google Books – and machine translation (MT). It elicited some interesting responses, including Kirtee Vashi’s mention of an Asia Online project planning to link these two trends.

Book scanners. Source: TecheBlog.com

In the ensuing years, Google Books’ digitization program – the biggest and most promising book digitization effort – ran into controversy over rights to reproduce copyrighted materials beginning in 2008. This ultimately has put their entire vision of digital access to a vast library of works in doubt. And the unrelated Asia Online project, which used statistical MT to translate 3.5 million pages of the English Wikipedia into Thai, was stopped in mid-2011 in the aftermath of a changed political situation in Thailand and funding issues.  (Asia Online has since become Omniscien Technologies)

So while the technologies for digitization and for MT – the two pieces in localizing libraries of information – are established and improving, each has encountered some combination of legal, political , or funding issues limiting their use individually for mass expansion of access to knowledge, as well as their potential use in tandem.

However, could the Norwegian program, announced in 2013, and the project it has with Nigeria, announced earlier this year, introduce a new dynamic, at least for mass digitization? Could and should large national libraries take the lead in this area?

The idea of digitizing libraries has generally been advocated in terms of access to knowledge, without particular reference to the languages in which publications are written. But languages are critical not only for access to knowledge, but also for facilitating scholarship and the interfacing of ways of knowing. Hence the need to associate mass digitization and MT.

There is at least one proposed project mentioning the potential for translation of books that have been digitized – Internet Archive’s initiative to digitize 4 million books (a semifinalist in the MacArthur Foundation’s 100 & Change grant competition).

Any such digital data produced by the Nasjonalbiblioteket, Google Books, Internet Archive, or any other organization could be translated with MT into other languages, with a few caveats (quality of optical character recognition [OCR]; how well resourced a particular language is; and of course the accuracy of the MT). This means that potentially any mass digitization could be mass translated into a large number of languages, given legal cover and sufficient funding.

What about the accuracy of MT, and how useful could mass MT of mass digitization be if there are inaccuracies? These are critical questions for any project to use MT to translate digitizations. Responses could reference, for instance, domain-specific MT, which is generally more accurate than general MT, provided of course that the material matches the domain used. Or perhaps some system for post-editing could be devised.

This is an exciting area that needs more attention and policy support. Books and other production in print can be digitized on a mass scale, making the knowledge in them more widely available. Digitized text can be machine translated into other languages, and the quality of that can be made high enough for use by speakers of the target languages. As much as the printing press revolutionized access to knowledge of that age, so too the potential to digitize and translate what is in print promises another revolution benefiting more people directly.

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail