“The Linguists” and Dr. K. David Harrison at Loudoun Campus

The Loudoun Campus will host, “Talk of the Town: A Film Screening of ‘The Linguists’ and Keynote Speaker Dr. K. David Harrison.” The Linguists is an Emmy-nominated documentary produced in 2008 by Ironbound Films.

Event details
Monday, April 14th, 2014.   7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Loudoun Campus, Northern Virginia Community College (1000 Harry Flood Byrd Hwy, Sterling, VA 20164)
Waddell Theatre

This event is free and open to the public (more details here). There will be a question and answer session, book signing, and an Honors Program potluck to follow on the third floor in the LR lobby.

Screened at the Sundance Film Festival, “The Linguists” is a fascinating and compelling look at language extinction and documentation. It follows two linguists, Greg Anderson of the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages, and Dr. K David Harrison of Swarthmore College as they travel from the Andes Mountains in South America to villages in Siberia, and from English-Hindi boarding schools in Orissa, India, to an American Indian reservation in Arizona.

The film addresses such issues as the spread of major global languages and how they contribute to language extinction, political and social reasons that some languages have been repressed, and reasons that language revitalization and language documentation are important.

In addition to being an anthropologist, Harrison is a National Geographic Fellow and a co-director of the Society’s Enduring Voices Project which documents endangered languages and cultures around the world. He has done extensive fieldwork with indigenous communities from Siberia and Mongolia to Peru, Colombia, India, Nepal and Australia. His work has been featured in numerous publications including The New York Times, USA Today and Science and on “The Colbert Report”. He received his doctorate from Yale University and is currently an associate professor at Swarthmore College near Philadelphia.

ImageAnthony Degio (left) listens to playback of a Koro language story, with K. David Harrison, Takpa Yame and Greg Anderson. Photo by Jeremy Fahringer

Le 10 cose principali da sapere sulle lingue in pericolo

di Anna Luisa Daigneault | Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages

tradotto da Martino Dellavedova

In occasione della “Giornata Internazionale della Lingua Madre” dell’UNESCO (21 febbraio) vorrei richiamare l’attenzione su alcune questioni-chiave relative alla scomparsa delle lingue. Con la crescita mondiale del movimento per la salvaguardia e la rivitalizzazione linguistiche si è data una sempre maggiore attenzione mediatica alle lingue in pericolo, e questo è un grande passo in avanti per gli attivisti delle lingue indigene che richiedono un maggiore rispetto e riconoscimento di esse. Ma ci sono ancora molte sfide aperte che gli attivisti devono affrontare. Voglio condividere il presente elenco per aiutare un pubblico più vasto a capire gli sforzi che la rivitalizzazione linguistica richiede, e magari sfatare alcuni miti sorti attorno alle lingue in via d’estinzione, con la speranza di aiutare la gente a capire che cosa significhi la scomparsa di una lingua. Senza aggiungere altro, ecco le dieci cose principali da sapere sulle lingue in pericolo:

10. Dall’inizio del 20esimo secolo le lingue minoritarie hanno ceduto a quelle dominanti ad un ritmo crescente e senza precedenti.

Ciò accade rapidamente soprattutto negli ex-insediamenti coloniali. Tale rapido processo di cambiamento linguistico è collegato agli effetti tuttora in corso della colonizzazione, dell’assimilazione culturale, dell’urbanizzazione e della globalizzazione. Quando si ha una riduzione della varietà locale, ciò provoca l’erosione culturale, la perdita delle lingue minori, e col tempo può portare persino alla perdita dell’identità culturale.

9. Fino a metà delle 7105 lingue esistenti al mondo potrebbero rischiare di estinguersi.

Svariate migliaia di lingue sperimentano attualmente qualche grado di minaccia. E va notato che non sono in pericolo solo molte singole lingue, ma intere famiglie linguistiche rischiano di estinguersi, cosa che sarebbe una perdita incolmabile per l’umanità.

Nell’analizzare il grado di pericolo in cui si trova una lingua, per definirla “salva” non basta basarsi sul numero di parlanti. A volte si trova una lingua che ha un’ampia comunità di parlanti, ma, se la loro età media supera i 50, questo indica che non si tramanda quella lingua ai bambini. È dunque una lingua instabile, e il numero di quelli che la parlano correntemente calerà presto. La lingua potrebbe estinguersi nel giro di una sola generazione o due. In altri casi, invece, il numero di parlanti può anche essere minimo, ma se vi sono abbastanza parlanti per ogni fascia d’età, allora evidentemente la lingua viene trasmessa ai più giovani della comunità e quindi può sopravvivere per più generazioni a venire.

8. Molte delle lingue a rischio non sono mai state registrate né messe per iscritto.

É così. Esistono molte lingue di cui non abbiamo registrazioni audio. Le registrazioni audio ad alta qualità di parole e frasi di una lingua sono uno strumento essenziale per una comunità che non ha molti parlanti “fluenti” rimasti, e che spera di mantenere la pronuncia corretta della lingua anche dopo la scomparsa degli ultimi parlanti, se questo è l’eventuale esito del processo di mutamento in corso in quella comunità. I prossimi decenni saranno un periodo cruciale per la registrazione degli ultimi parlanti delle lingue che si trovano nelle situazioni più critiche, e per supportare i locali attivisti linguistici indigeni che svolgono il grande lavoro di rivitalizzare nelle proprie comunità lingue relativamente meno a rischio e minacciate. Ottime registrazioni audio sono anche essenziali per i linguisti che desiderano analizzare i suoni e l’assetto di una lingua e assistere le comunità nello sviluppo di materiali adatti per la trasmissione di essa.

Inoltre, molte culture hanno tramandato il loro patrimonio per vie orali, senza usare sistemi di scrittura per la trasmissione della conoscenza. Ma il bisogno di un’ortografia adatta nasce comunque, una volta che i parlanti abbiano espresso la volontà che la loro lingua sia insegnata nelle scuole, sia presente nei media e sia riconosciuta a livello statale. In alcuni casi, se il sistema di scrittura viene creato troppo in fretta può non cogliere accuratamente la complessità dei suoni della lingua. I migliori sistemi di scrittura nascono quando collaborano tra loro parlanti fluenti, educatori fluenti e altri specialisti, che impegnano il proprio tempo per trovare un sistema di scrittura ben rispondente ai bisogni della comunità e facilmente trasferibile alle moderne interfacce informatiche. La creazione di buoni sistemi di scrittura, e la tecnologia di supporto che appronti caratteri speciali, richiedono tempo, applicazione, pazienza, coordinazione e denaro per pagare coloro che lavorano a questi progetti.

7. La perdita linguistica accade in quasi ogni paese del mondo.

Sta succedendo accanto a te. Con l’eccezione di paesi monolingue come l’Uruguay (dove molte lingue indigene furono sradicate), la Corea e una manciata di altri, si possono osservare perdite linguistiche nella maggior parte dei paesi del mondo. Chi vive in Canada, negli Stati Uniti o in Australia sarà sorpreso nello scoprire che la perdita linguistica non è solo un fenomeno esotico ma anche locale. Molte lingue delle Prime Nazioni del Canada, dei nativi americani ed aborigene, di cui si è sentito tanto parlare, sono a rischio, a meno che i parlanti abbiano i mezzi e le risorse necessarie per mantenere vive le proprie lingue. Anche nel caso dell’Europa ci sono molte lingue locali minoritarie di varie regioni che rischiano di scomparire.

Pur essendoci lingue a rischio quasi in ogni paese, va notato che il cambiamento linguistico non è distribuito equamente nel mondo, e si possono individuare dei “punti critici linguistici” (Language Hotspots), vale a dire le dense aree del pianeta che hanno il livello più alto di diversità linguistica, i gradi più alti di pericolo e le lingue meno studiate. Tali “punti critici” sono i luoghi in cui una documentazione linguistica è più urgentemente richiesta nell’epoca attuale.

6. Le lingue minoritarie sono una componente importante del patrimonio culturale immateriale dell’umanità.

Nel nostro mondo vario e multilingue, le lingue sono una fonte di ricchezza culturale. Formate dai luoghi in cui si sono radicate, le lingue minoritarie del mondo incorporano validi sistemi di conoscenza relativi all’adattamento culturale del popolo al suo ambiente. Strettamente connesse alla diversità ecologica, queste diverse lingue locali sono enciclopedie di tassonomie e di conoscenza ambientale accumulatesi per generazioni. L’estinzione delle lingue può portare anche alla scomparsa di antiche tradizioni spirituali. Le pratiche un tempo riflesse nella lingua potrebbero non esistere più allo stesso modo di prima; quindi conservare una lingua serve anche a mantenere intatte le tradizioni spirituali.

5. Gli attivisti per le lingue indigene e i collaboratori professionisti delle lingue lavorano duramente nell’anonimato, pagati poco o nulla.

Gli attivisti per le lingue indigene sono parlanti madrelingua che guidano gli sforzi locali per conservare le proprie lingue. Possono impegnarsi nell’insegnare la lingua a bambini ed adulti, nel registrare la conoscenza degli anziani, nell’organizzare attività, eventi culturali ecc. Ma spesso sono sottostimati dalla loro comunità, e guadagnano poco o nulla secondo i casi. Ovviamente ci sono anche comunità in cui gli attivisti e gli educatori sono ben ricompensati per i loro sforzi, per cui tutto dipende effettivamente dalla situazione locale. L’attivismo linguistico è un lavoro a tempo pieno. Se gli attivisti lavorano duramente senza stipendio, meriterebbero di essere retribuiti.

I collaboratori professionisti della lingua sono di solito ricercatori, linguisti e altri professionisti di media o di ONG che utilizzano le proprie abilità e conoscenze per assistere gli attivisti nel conservare le loro lingue. In molti casi queste persone sono a loro volta volontari, e non vengono pagate per il tempo che dedicano a questi progetti. Assicurare fondi per progetti di documentazione linguistica è molto difficile e può essere problematico, poiché non può essere garantito anno per anno.

4. La documentazione linguistica è un lavoro faticoso ma affascinante.

La vera documentazione scientifica di una lingua richiede molti anni per essere compiuta, e i migliori progetti di documentazione comportano una stretta collaborazione tra i madrelingua e gli altri membri della comunità interessati. Il lavoro è sempre più proficuo quando si ha la partecipazione di più linguisti qualificati che contribuiscono ognuno con la propria specializzazione.

3. I programmi di rivitalizzazione linguistica sono progetti di lunga durata.

Svolgere un progetto di rivitalizzazione linguistica non è come fare un tirocinio estivo. Una vera rivitalizzazione è possibile solo con un impegno a lungo termine di parlanti, educatori ed attivisti linguistici entro la comunità. I linguisti non possono salvare o conservare le lingue indigene, e per le comunità il cammino verso la rivitalizzazione non è facile.

2. La colpa non è di Internet.

C’è la diffusa quanto errata convinzione che Internet, in quanto potente tentacolo della globalizzazione, contribuisca alla rovina delle lingue minoritarie. In realtà è vero il contrario. Internet costituisce un’opportunità senza precedenti delle voci minoritarie per farsi sentire, grazie ai media civili. Inoltre, i mezzi d’apprendimento linguistico online, non solo aiutano a dare visibilità alle lingue minoritarie nella rete, ma aiutano anche i madrelingua a condividere le loro conoscenze e a mantenere contatti a grande distanza.

1. La tecnologia digitale non rimpiazzerà mai una viva comunità di parlanti, ma può aiutare a conservare e insegnare le lingue, come a tenere i contatti tra i parlanti.

Le innovazioni nelle tecnologie audio e video aiutano a conservare le registrazioni, possono servire come strumento d’insegnamento e per connettere delle persone ad altri parlanti della stessa lingua che non vivono nella stessa zona. Ora le comunità linguistiche a rischio possono creare spazi virtuali in cui i parlanti possono andare ad ascoltare la propria lingua, in qualsiasi parte del mondo si trovino. Applicazioni, social network, blog e forum linguistici sono un grande strumento per migliorare e facilitare la comunicazione, ma non possono certo sostituire i parlanti stessi.

Grazie per la lettura. Condividete l’articolo se vi è piaciuto!

Date un’occhiata alla nostra pagina sulle Risorse per le Lingue a Rischio, che elenca tutti gli sforzi di documentazione in corso nel mondo. Sulla pagina l’informazione è organizzata secondo i cosiddetti Language Hotspots (“punti linguistici critici”), cioè quelle dense regioni del mondo con il più alto tasso di varietà linguistica, i più alti gradi di pericolo e le lingue meno studiate.

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Anna Luisa Daigneault è Development Officer & Latin America Projects Coordinator presso il Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages.

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International conference in Wilamowice, Poland, June 11-13

ImageWe would like to help our colleagues at Revitalizing Endangered Languages spread the word out about their upcoming conference. The event takes place in Wilamowice, Poland, from June 11th to 13th, 2014. The focus of the conference is the following languages: Nahuatl, spoken in Mexico; and Lemko and Wymysorys, spoken in Poland.

Conference Title:

ENDANGERED LANGUAGES: COMPREHENSIVE MODELS FOR RESEARCH AND REVITALIZATION

Description:

The conference seeks to explore new approaches to language revitalization, such as the development of research models based on close collaboration between scholars and the native speakers of endangered languages as well as their communities. We plan to bring together and foster vital networking among field researchers in language revitalization and documentation, language activists and members of speech communities. We believe that the revitalization of a language cannot be accomplished unless its speakers’ voices are heard within the context of a global cultural heritage. Therefore attempts should be made to overcome the isolation of groups that struggle to preserve their languages. We are also convinced that cross-cultural contact and multilingualism, as well as the preservation and development of minority languages are sources of profound and long-lasting social benefits and innovations. The unique perspective that is coded within each language provides a distinct and unique set of critical and creative tools that are available to both native and non-native speakers.

The conference will provide a space for native speakers, community members and scholars to exchange and discuss common experiences as well as to present and discuss contributions to scientific knowledge about studied languages. It will be carried out within the framework of the project “Endangered languages: Comprehensive models for research and revitalization” carried out at the University of Warsaw, in collaboration with the Instituto de Docencia e Investigación Etnológica de Zacatecas (IDIEZ), Adam Mickiewicz University and the Pedagogical University of Cracow.

Our project focuses on three endangered languages in two countries: Nahuatl in Mexico; and Lemko and Wymysorys in Poland. The conference will be held in Wilamowice, southern Poland, where Wymysorys—a severely threatened ethnolect and the only remnant of a former Middle High German language exclave —is spoken, and where a number of revitalization initiatives have been taking place in recent years. Topics covered in the conference will be:

• Language, identity and culture

• Interdisciplinary approaches to endangered language maintenance and extension

• Bottom-up solutions and grassroots initiatives in language revitalization: strategies, success stories, theory and practice

• Importance of academic research and language documentation for revitalization programs

• Importance of historical identity and traditional knowledge in revitalization

• Recreating and strengthening literary culture in minority/indigenous groups

• Cognitive potential of indigenous/minority languages: implications derived from linguistic and psycholinguistic research

• Multi/bilingual language education

 

Submit questions about the conference to: revitalization@al.uw.edu.pl

Visit the host organization’s website: http://www.revitalization.al.uw.edu.pl/

Practical information about the Conference is located here.

Thanks for reading!

Top 10 Things You Need To Know About Endangered Languages

By Anna Luisa Daigneault
Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages

This blog post is available in Italian, translated by Martino Dellavedova. It was also translated into Spanish by Antuel D’Adam via Global Voices Español, and it was translated into French by Adboulaye Bah via Global Voices Français.

In honor of UNESCO International Mother Language Day (Feb. 21), I would like to bring attention to some key issues related to language loss. As the language preservation and revitalization movement grows around the world, more and more positive media attention has been given to endangered languages, which is a great step for indigenous language activists who want their languages to gain more respect and recognition. The best way to protect a language is to respect and protect its people. However, there are still many ongoing challenges that language activists face. I want to share this list in an effort to help the broader public become aware of the struggles involved in language revitalization, maybe dispel some of the myths surrounding endangered languages, and hopefully help people understand what is at stake when a language is lost. Without further ado, here are the top ten things you need to know about endangered languages:

10. Since the beginning of the 20th century, minority languages have been shifting to dominant languages at an accelerated and unprecedented pace.

It’s happening fast, especially in former settlement colonies. Language shift is happening rapidly, and the process is related to the ongoing impacts of colonization, cultural assimilation, urbanization and globalization. When there is a contraction of local diversity, it leads to cultural erosion, the loss of minority languages, and can even lead to the loss of cultural identity over time.

9. Up to half of the world’s 7105 languages may be at risk of disappearing.

Several thousand languages are currently experiencing some level of threat. It is important to note that not only are many individual languages at risk, but entire languages families are also going extinct, which is an incomparable loss for humanity.

In terms of assessing individual language endangerment, you can’t always tell if the language is stable based on the number of speakers alone. Sometimes languages still have very large speaker populations, but if the average age of speaker is over 50, that is an indicator that the language is not being passed down to children. The language is therefore not stable, and the number of fluent speakers will soon dwindle. The language might be lost in only a generation or two. In other cases, the numbers of speakers of a language might be low, but if there are enough speakers of all age groups, then the language is still being transmitted to the youngest members of the community, and the language may still survive for many generations to come.

8. Many endangered languages have never been recorded, and have never been written down.

It’s true. There are many languages out there that have no audio recordings. Having high-quality audio recordings of words and phrases in a language are an essential tool for a community that does not have many fluent speakers left, and wishes to preserve the correct pronunciation of the language after the last speakers have passed on, if that is the eventual end to the process of shift their community is experiencing. The next few decades constitute a crucial period for recording the last speakers of the most critically endangered languages, and for supporting local indigenous language activists who are doing great work reviving relatively less endangered, or threatened languages, in their communities. High-quality recordings are also essential for linguists who wish to analyze the sounds and structure of a language, and assist communities in developing language materials suitable for language transmission.

Furthermore, many cultures have passed on their legacy through oral traditions, and did not rely on writing systems for knowledge transmission. However, the need for a suitable orthography arises when speakers wish their languages to be taught in schools, have a presence in the media, and be recognized by state authorities. In some cases, if the writing system is created too hastily, it might not accurately capture the complex sounds found in that language. The best writing systems are created when fluent speakers work with fluent educators and other specialists, and they all take the time to create a writing system that works well for the community’s needs, and can also be readily used on modern computer interfaces. The creation of good writing systems, and the accompanying technology to accommodate special characters, requires time, diligence, patience, coordination and money to pay people to work on the projects.

7. Language loss is happening in nearly every country in the world.

It’s happening near you. With the exception of monolingual countries such as Uruguay (where many indigenous languages were eradicated), Korea, and a handful of other countries, you can observe languages loss in most countries in the world. If you live in Canada, the United States, or Australia, you may be surprised to find out that language loss is not an exotic phenomenon, but also a local one. Many of the First Nations, Native American, and Aboriginal languages that you have heard of are in danger of disappearing, unless the speakers have the necessary resources and infrastructure in place to keep their languages alive. In the case of Europe, there are also many local minority languages in various regions that are at risk of being lost.

While there are threatened languages in almost every country, it is important to note language shift is not evenly distributed across the world, and one can identify Language Hotspots, which are concentrated regions of the world having the highest level of linguistic diversity, the highest levels of endangerment, and the least-studied languages. The Language Hotspots are places in where language documentation is urgently needed in this current generation.

6. Minority languages are an important part of humanity’s intangible cultural heritage.

In our diverse and multilingual world, languages are a source of cultural wealth. Shaped by the places in which they are rooted, the world’s minority languages encode valuable knowledge systems related to people’s cultural adaptation to the local landscapes. Intimately connected to ecological diversity, these diverse local languages are storehouses of taxonomies and environmental knowledge accumulated over generations. Language extinction can also lead to the disappearance of ancient spiritual traditions. Practices once performed in the language might no longer exist the same way as before, and therefore language maintenance is also necessary to keep spiritual traditions intact.

5. Indigenous language activists and professional language allies often toil in obscurity, for little or no pay.

Indigenous language activists are speakers who spearhead local efforts to conserve their languages. They may be involved in teaching children and adults to speak the language, recording the elders’ knowledge, organizing workshops, cultural events, etc. They are often under-recognized by their community, and depending on the circumstances, they work for little to no pay. Of course, there are also many communities out there where the language activists and educators are well compensated for their efforts, so it really depends on the local situation. Language activism is a full-time job. If the activists are toiling with no wages, they deserve to be compensated.

Professional languages allies are usually researchers, linguists and other media or NGO professionals who use their skills and background to assist activists in conserving their languages. In many cases, these people are also volunteering their time, and not being paid for the time they put into the language projects. Securing funding for language documentation projects is very difficult and can be problematic since it can’t be guaranteed from year to year.

4. Language documentation is tedious but fascinating work.

A proper scientific documentation of a language takes many years to accomplish and the best documentation projects involve meaningful collaboration with fluent speakers and other concerned members of the community. The process is always further enhanced when there is participation from multiple trained linguists who each can contribute their expertise.

3. Language revitalization programs are life-long projects.

Doing a language revitalization project is not just a summertime internship project. True revitalization is only possible with long-term commitment from speakers, educators and language activists within the community. Linguists don’t save or maintain indigenous languages, and there is no simple path to revitalization for communities.

2. The Internet is not killing minority languages.

There is a popular misconception that the Internet, as a powerful tentacle of globalization, is contributing to the demise of minority languages. However, the opposite is true. The Internet provides an unprecedented opportunity for minority voices to be heard, thanks to citizen media. Furthermore, online language-learning tools not only help create visibility for minority languages on the Web, but also help speakers share their knowledge and maintain networks over large distances.

1. Digital technology will never replace a living community of speakers, but it can help preserve and teach languages, as well as connect speakers.

Innovations in audio and video recording technology help preserve recordings, can serve as a learning aid, and connect people to other speakers of their language who may not live in the same location. Endangered language communities can now create virtual spaces where speakers can go to listen to their language, no matter where they are in the world. Apps, social networks, blogs and language forums are a great tool for enhancing and facilitating communication, but of course cannot and do not replace the speakers themselves.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to share the article, and re-blog it.

Check out our Endangered Language Resource Page, which lists many ongoing documentation efforts going on around the world. The information on the page is organized according to Language Hotspots, which are concentrated regions of the world having the highest level of linguistic diversity, the highest levels of endangerment, and the least-studied languages.

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Anna Luisa Daigneault is Development Officer & Latin America Projects Coordinator at Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages.
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‘One World, Many Voices’ Photo Gallery Celebrates International Mother Language Day #IMLD14

ImageDear Smithsonian Folklife Festival Friends,

In celebration of International Mother Language Day on February 21, the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage has posted a new “Festival Photo Gallery” showcasing the many cultural experts who so generously shared their language revitalization efforts and cultural traditions as part of the One World, Many Voices:  Endangered Languages and Cultural Heritage program at the 2013 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Visit the Festival Photo Galleries and explore the many other resources featured on the One World, Many Voices website.

We extend our sincere thanks to everyone who helped to make the One World, Many Voices:  Endangered Languages and Cultural Heritage program possible through their invaluable support, advice, assistance, participation, and research.

With best wishes,

Michael Atwood  Mason, Ph.D.
Director, Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
 
Marjorie Hunt and David Harrison
Co-Curators, One World, Many Voices Program
 
 

Our language tragedy: A report from Pakistan

by Zubair Torwali

There are 69 languages spoken in Pakistan. In addition to Urdu only one language is recognised in each province as the ‘provincial’ language. The non-recognition of the minority languages causes the death of these languages.

A number of the other minority languages are already waning; and the rest are endangered as per Unesco criteria. The cases of Domaaki in Gilgit-Baltistan and of Ushojo in Swat-Kohistan in the north of the Swat valley are just a couple of examples of the threat minority languages face in our country.

The speakers of these minority languages regard their languages to be of no use for them to be able to progress in life. In order to be successful the linguistic minorities think they have to learn Urdu or English – or both. This way they abandon their language in favour of Urdu or any other powerful provincial language.

These languages cannot be saved unless the governments in Pakistan plan pluralistic linguistic policies. However, it is not the priority anywhere as our political parties have their own interests and whims, which they keep in mind when devising policies.

Sociolinguists suggest that language-in-education policies are shaped by people who have political power; and they design polices for economic and political purposes, not necessarily for linguistic or educational reasons. They also identify nationalism as one of the ideologies that influence language attitudes.

Language plays a quintessential role in developing national identities. This role, however, has negative impacts, as well. The use of a particular language for a ‘national’ or ‘provincial’ identity can lead to the formation of policies that suppress other ‘ethnic groups’– linguistic minorities. This is clearly the case with Urdu which has official recognition in Pakistan and has suppressed the other languages.

Similar is the case with the provincial languages which can, in their turn, suppress other linguistic minorities in the provinces. With all its ills the previous government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was linguistically more pluralistic as it had also recognised four other languages – Seraiki, Hindko, Khowar and Indus Kohistani – to be used as the medium of instruction in areas where these languages are spoken as the primary language.

The exclusive status of Urdu as the sole national language in Pakistan had not only triggered violent riots in former East Pakistan, but had also stirred similar attitudes in present-day Pakistan. In Sindh it was the root cause of the unending controversies between the Urdu-speaking Mohajirs and the Sindhis.

This goes back to 1971-72 when there were furious riots in Sindh over the official recognition of Urdu as national language. The riots then caused two deaths and led to scores of others being injured. Sindhis were conscious of the rich Sindhi literary heritage and felt that it would be undermined by the Urdu dominance.

In Pakistan the other ‘linguistic minorities’ are triply disadvantaged. Suzanne Romaine (2001) states “children who do not come to school with the kind of cultural and linguistic background supported in the schools are likely to experience conflict”.

For instance, a Torwali child comes to school with his mother tongue/home language, Torwali. At school he finds the teacher speaking Pashto. Confused he goes ahead and sees the books in Pashto, Urdu and in English. He struggles to decode what the teacher says; and very often the mediocre teacher looks down upon him and laughs at the way the child speaks Pashto with him. Bewildered the poor child finds himself in a world where what he thinks in, or takes value of, does not exist.

Imagine what option would now be left for the child. He will either run away from the school or, if his parents insist, languish there with no quality education at all. If the child is retained at the school anyway the school becomes the most dreaded place for him – killing his happiness and delight – and consequently stops his cognitive development. His personality-growth stops and at the end of education, say at the intermediate level, he becomes more befogged.

Even after getting his masters degree somehow, this young person cannot communicate well in Urdu, English or Pashto. He loses sixteen years without having learnt any of the languages fully. This is a tragedy that every child from a linguistic minority faces.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where about 24 minority languages are spoken, the present government of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has time and again announced that a strategy is underway to adopt a uniform education system in the province. But nobody understands what they mean by ‘uniform education’. It can be one with the abolishment of all elite English medium schools; it can be one through which all schools – public or private – will be forced to adopt Urdu as the only medium of instruction. In both cases the state of education will further deteriorate.

Pakistan is a multilingual country and multilingualism, psychologists suggest, has an extra cognitive advantage. Most of the multilingual countries have by now adopted a language policy in a three-language structure with a distinct function assigned to each language.

In this regard M V Nadkarni (1984) identifies three functions: 1) communication with people of the in-group (the ethnic group); 2) communication with people of the out-group (national); and 3) communication involving specialised information (a world language).

In Pakistan the language of the linguistic group fulfills the first function, Urdu the second; and English the third function. In order to be fully functional in all the functions a Pakistani needs to be multilingual. It becomes the responsibility of the state to provide each individual skills in all three languages.

If a language policy is meant to serve both the individual and the state, the policy should be focused on addressing issues, as social psychologist Herbert Kelman (1971) describes: “how to establish and facilitate patterns of communication – both internally and internationally – that would enable its socio-economic institutions to function most effectively and adequately in meeting the needs and interests of the population; and how to assure that different groups within the society, varying in their linguistic repertories have equal access to the system and opportunities to participate in”.

This supports the mother tongue as medium of instruction at the primary level along with the Urdu and English as compulsory subjects with adequate teaching materials. Beyond that from grade 5 English needs to be the medium of instruction along with Urdu and the mother tongue as compulsory subjects till grade 10. Incorporation of the ‘mother languages’ and recognition of the linguistic rights of each ethnic group will promote linguistic pluralism, which is then sure to promote peace and coexistence.

The International Mother Language Day falls on February 21.

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The writer heads IBT, an independent organisation dealing with education and development in Swat. Email: ztorwali@gmail.com

This piece was originally printed by The News International in Pakistan, and was re-posted here with permission by the author.

Tweet in Your Mother Language on February 21

by Eddie Avila | Director of Rising Voices, a project of Global Voices Online

Over the past couple of years, we have seen a boom in the number of communities around the world that blog, tweet, and share other social media messages in their own native languages. We have featured many of these initiatives on Rising Voices as a way to highlight the inspiring work of others using citizen media to revitalize their languages.

Finding this increased diversity in online content makes it more likely that more people can see their culture and language reflected in online conversations and on digital platforms that they already use on a regular basis. With more young people connecting with others in their native tongues, this participation can also play a major role in building the next generation of speakers of endangered or indigenous languages.

February 21 marks International Mother Language Day (IMLD), providing an ideal opportunity to recognize and encourage those that are using online digital media to revitalize their native languages.

Please join Rising Voices, Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages, The Endangered Languages Project, and Indigenous Tweets to help celebrate IMLD through a Twitter campaign to highlight those already tweeting, and encourage more people to tweet in their mother language.

Here is how you can participate:

1) On Friday, February 21, tweet in your mother language about why it’s important to use your native tongue in citizen media.

2) You may also want to follow that tweet with a translation so that more people following along can read your message.

3) Important: add the following hashtags to your tweet:

  • #imld14 (International Mother Language Day 2014)
  • #(the name of the language you are writing in), for example #cherokee #bambara #xhosa

4) Follow along the hashtag #imld14 to see messages from around the world and retweet to help amplify their messages. You may also wish to follow along the hashtag of your language to connect with others that you may not already know.

5) Help someone else get started on Twitter by assisting them by to sign up here so that they can begin tweeting.

We will be featuring many of these tweets throughout the day at @risingvoices. Please join us!

Thanks for reading.