Category Archives: language

Seven International Years & two decades

As we close out the year 2021, I’d like to catch up and look ahead at a number of UN calendar observances. Seven of those are International Years: 4 that are coming to a close; 2 that will begin next year; and one that was declared earlier this year for 2023 – the International Year of Millets, about which I’ve written on this blog. Two are Decades: the UN Decade of Family Farming, which began in 2019; and the International Decade of Indigenous Languages, another observance about which I’ve written here, which begins in 2022

The 4 Years of 2021

Some calendar years have a surfeit of UN International Year observances, and 2021 was one of them. Here’s a quick overview of the 4 concurrent observations, listed in the chronological order in which they were declared by UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolutions, with short descriptions following:

  • International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour (IYECL)
  • International Year of Peace and Trust (IYPT)
  • International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development (IYCESD)
  • International Year of Fruits and Vegetables (IYFV)

IYECL – Elimination of Child Labor

IYECL promotes the goals of ending child labor by 2025, and forced labor, human trafficking, and modern slavery by 2030.

The Year was declared in UNGA resolution 73/327 on 25 July 2019. ILO was tasked with facilitating the implementation of IYECL.

IYPT – Peace and Trust

IYPT had as its purpose “mobilizing the efforts of the international community to promote peace and trust among nations based on, inter alia, political dialogue, mutual understanding and cooperation, in order to build sustainable peace, solidarity and harmony.”

The Year was declared by UNGA resolution 73.338 on 12 September 2019. The resolution, which was initiated by Turkmenistan, did not designate an agency to coordinate observance, but rather called on member states, UN organizations, and a range of actors to promote the message of peace and trust.

IYCESD – Creative Economy for Sustainable Development

IYCESD highlighted the role of creative industries in diversified planning for sustainable development. The creative economy is seen as one of the world’s most rapidly growing sectors.

The Year was declared by UNGA resolution 74/198 on 19 December 2019. UNCTD and UNESCO were given roles in implementing and reporting on IYCESD

IYFV – Fruits and Vegetables

IYFV was intended to “raise awareness on the important role of fruits and vegetables in human nutrition, food security and health and as well in achieving UN Sustainable Development Goals.”

The Year was declared by UNGA resolution 74/244 on 19 December 2019. FAO was designated the lead agency for this observance.

The 2 Years of 2022

The UNGA declared two year-long observances for 2022, which I will just name here, and hopefully return to with more details next year:

International Year of Millets, 2023

I’ve been following the progress of India’s proposal for an International Year of Millets since 2018. Well, on 3 March 2021, the Year was declared for 2023 by UNGA resolution 75/263. I hope to have more to say about news related to IYOM2023 during the coming year.

UN Decade of Family Farming, 2019-2028

UNDFF “aims to shed new light on what it means to be a family farmer in a rapidly changing world and highlights more than ever before the important role they play in eradicating hunger and shaping our future of food.”

Following the success of the International Year of Family Farming (2014), the UNGA declared the Decade in resolution 72/239 on 20 December 2019.

It would seem to relate directly or indirectly to three of the Years discussed above: IYFV 2021; IYAFA 2022; and IYOM 2023.

International Decade of Indigenous Languages, 2022-2032

I’ve been tracking the IDIL proposal since its discussion following the success of the International Year of Indigenous Languages in 2019. And of course I intend to follow it as it evolves, with a particular interest in its potential impact in Africa.

The Global Action Plan for IDIL is available online.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

International Decade of Indigenous Languages!

In these waning weeks of the International Year of Indigenous Languages (IYIL2019), on a day that happens to also be observed as Arabic Language Day,  the UN General Assembly ratified the resolution of its Third Committee (7 Nov. 2019), which includes a declaration of an International Decade of Indigenous Languages (IDIL), 2022-32.

The proposal for an IDIL, which was originally suggested for 2020-30, has been working its way through the UN system for several months. It was discussed on this blog in a posting this past August, and again mentioned in another post last month.

The two-year lead will leave time to prepare and organize for the decade.

I’ll take the opportunity here to provide links to UNESCO’s “Strategic Outcome Document of the International Year of Indigenous Languages” (15 Nov. 2019), which mentions the then proposed IDIL, and an article discussing that document.

 

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

“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).

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

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.”

 

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Inclusion, Mobility & Multilingual Education Conference, 24-26/9/2019

The 13th biennial Language and Development Conference (LDC) will be held in conjunction with the 6th International Conference on Language and Education in Bangkok, Thailand later this month (24-26 September 2019).  The theme of this joint event is conveyed in its title, Inclusion, Mobility, and Multilingual Education Conference: Exploring the Role of Languages for Education and Development (IMMLE).

I missed the call for participation (CFP) earlier this year, so by now all that’s left before the event itself is the registration period, which ends on 15 Sept.

IMMLE description

The purpose of IMMLE is described this way (from the conference page linked above) and a page on the International Year of Indigenous Languages (IYIL2019) site:

We are all presently witnessing unprecedented levels of human mobility. Along side an increasingly mobile workforce and increased mobility for higher education, we are also seeing the highest levels ever of involuntary displacement, with over 68.5 million people forced from their homes, including 25.4 million refugees, over half of whom are under 18.

In the Asia-Pacific region, huge populations are moving for work and higher education, with internal displacement and cross border migration due to conflict, poverty, climate change and social injustice creating increasingly complex ethnolinguistic landscapes. Challenges of inclusion, social cohesion and peace-building are raised, for mobile populations but also stable but linguistically marginalized populations, including issues of access to civic participation, justice, health and information.

At a time when many more children are in school, but many are still not learning, and in particular in the context of the declared United Nations Year of indigenous languages, fundamental questions remain about the balance of local, national and global languages in education.

IMMLE objectives

The conference objectives are described in this way:

The overall aim of the conference is to provide a space for practitioners, NGO staff, researchers and government representatives to explore and exchange on issues of language, inclusion, and mobility in education and development.

The Conference aims to:

  1. Explore how an open and inclusive multilingual approach, especially in the context of education and wider society, can maximise outcomes and well-being for different groups and for an increasingly mobile population;
  2. Create linkages between policy, practice and research on how multilingual approaches can be used to advance (civic) participation, access, and learning for children and adults from marginalised and mobile communities;
  3. Investigate the role of, and balance between, different languages – local, national, and international – in the context of diverse and mobile populations, and social and educational practice;
  4. Identify policy priorities for advancing multilingual approaches to social and educational policy-making, learning and development;
  5. Raise awareness among participants in key thematic areas.

Linking the two conference series

The LDC is held every 2 years in different locations, and I posted on this blog about the previous two: 2017 in Dakar, Senegal; and 2015 in New Delhi, India. Per the current conference site, this series “provides an opportunity for policy-makers, researchers, development personnel, teachers and linguists to come together to share views and explore issues concerning language use in development contexts.”

The International Conference on Language and Education, also known as the Multilingual Education (MLE) conference, is organized by the Asia-Pacific Multilingual Education Working Group and held every 2-3 years, For information on the previous two events, see 2016 (Mahidol University website) and 2013 (SIL International website).

Again, per the IMMLE background page:

Bringing the two conferences together represents a unique opportunity to demonstrate the shared mission between the LDC and the Language and Education Conference and to raise the profile of the language issues affecting achievement of the SDGs globally in the context of global mobility.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

International Decade of Indigenous Languages?

Logo of IYIL2019
                                 Logo of IYIL2019

As we look beyond the current International Year of Indigenous Languages (IYIL2019), it is interesting to note a proposal for continuing that effort as an International Decade, 2020-2030 (IDIL). In this post, I’ll share at what information I have found about the latter, and relate it to a similar, but now almost forgotten, proposal for a Decade following the International Year of Languages (IYL2008).

The proposal for an IDIL may have originated with Wilton “Willie” Littlechild, Grand Chief, Maskwacis. He, in turn, indicated in an April 2019 meeting of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) that the Assembly of First Nations (Canada) had in December 2018 passed a resolution advocating an IDIL. That meeting of the UNPFII also issued a call for an IDIL.

In January 2019, the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, (EMRIP)a subsidiary body of the UN Human Rights Council, released a “Statement on the International Year of Indigenous Languages, 2019.” It included this paragraph, which seems like a good summary of the rationale for IDIL:

We strongly support the States that have encouraged the United Nations to Declare 2020-2030 the Decade of Indigenous Languages. This initial year is important to raise awareness among states and convene stakeholders, including universities, civil society, private sector, and other actors, in the movement for indigenous language revitalization. Yet it will take more time to reverse the dire situation of indigenous peoples’ language loss. Over the course of a decade, however, it would be possible to truly transform the situation of indigenous peoples’ languages, such that these languages could fully recover and flourish in the lives of indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples must play a leading role and be fully consulted while these initiatives are being discussed.

I do not currently have information on which countries actively back the IDIL proposal.

The EMRIP, in its July meeting celebrating IYIL2019, reaffirmed its support for declaration of an IDIL.

And on the recent International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, August 9, several UN human rights experts called for “a decade of action to protect and promote the use of indigenous languages, many of which are endangered.”

UN Decades

UN International Decades, like the Years, are typically established by resolution of the UN General Assembly (UNGA). As I understand the process, a resolution would need to be proposed by member states, then go through a normal process of debate and revision before a vote.

It may be possible for UNESCO, the agency facilitating IYIL2019, to declare a Decade and then seek UNGA adoption. In any event, the process for something so significant is not quick (note the attempts by India, beginning with appeal to FAO in 2017, to establish a Year of Millets – which may finally happen in 2023).

IYL2008 & the Decade of Languages

Towards the end of IYL2008, I speculated on this blog about a possible International Decade of Languages and what it might do.

It was probably inevitable that someone in official circles would at least float a proposal along these lines, and indeed that was what happened in 2009. Details were hard to come by, but apparently Hungary made a proposal at UNESCO that was supported by Austria. And Venezuela, Chile, and Ethiopia also backed the idea, which evidently was given the title “International Decade of Languages and Multilingualism.”

This proposal never seemed to gather the kind of constituency and support that IDIL has today.  So it will be interesting to see how the latter fares.

Indigenous & endangered languages?

IDIL would address vitally important issues just as IYIL2019 does, and it is a proposal with merit. Given the frequent mention of endangered languages in the context of discussing indigenous languages – since many of the latter are among the former – I’m personally wondering if the proposal wouldn’t be strengthened by joining the two categories.

Could an International Decade of Indigenous and Endangered Languages gain wider support and ultimately achieve more, while not diluting attention to languages of indigenous peoples?

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail