Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A world without words ? Mother Language Day !


"Linguistic and cultural diversity represent universal values that strengthen the unity and cohesion of societies. The recognition of the importance of linguistic diversity led to UNESCO’s decision to celebrate International Mother Language Day."

Yesterday, February 21 we celebrated the International Mother Language Day 2012

International Mother Language Day has been celebrated every year since February 2000 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. 

This year, the theme of the International Mother Language Day was "Mother tongue instruction and inclusive education"

UNESCO highlights the importance of mother tongue as part of the right to education and is encouraging its member states to promote instruction and education in the mother tongue.

Languages are the most powerful instruments of preserving and developing our tangible and intangible heritage. So, I think it always important to spread this message.

Linguistic diversity is our common heritage. It is fragile heritage. Languages matter, remember my post last year? There, I wrote some important messages about the minority languages.

Of the 7,000 or so languages spoken on Earth in our days, about half are expected to be extinct by the century's end. They are threatened by cultural changes, ethnic shame and government repression.

But in these last times, researchers tell us that technology and internet are allowing many languages to increase audience.

"Globalisation is usually blamed, but some elements of the 'modern world', especially digital technology, are pushing back against the tide." The explosion of the techonologies to make transmission possible is helping.

Dr Colette Grinevald, for example  refers Skype as a technology that makes distance teaching through listening and learning.

Dr Colette Grinevald of the University of Lyon (France) is a pioneer in endangered languages. A Harvard Ph.D. in linguistics and UNESCO expert, she worked as a linguist in the USA for 30 years with many field trips to Latin America to document, defend and promote endangered languages and the people who speak them. She has an interesting interview "Speaking your mother tongue is not a disability! that you can read here

promotes linguistic diversity and multilingualism

Some Questions:

  • Can Digital tools save languages? 

Vanishing languages spoken by only small groups of people around the world, can be saved from extinction by  technology as Skype or social networks as Facebook?

On an interesting article, BBC presents the opinion and research of Dr K David Harrison, an associate professor of Linguistics at  Swarthmore College:

"Facebook, YouTube and even texting will be the salvation of many of the world's endangered languages, scientists believe." Yes, it can be so! 

Technology is allowing many languages to increase audience by establishing a presence on YouTube, social network sites like Facebook, Twitter and text messaging.

"Small languages are using social media, YouTube, text messaging and various technologies to expand their voice and expand their presence."

Globalisation exerts negative pressures on small cultures to assimilate. But there is a positive effect of globalisation: you can have a language that is spoken by only five or 50 people in one remote location, and now through digital technology that language can achieve a global voice and a global audience, he explained.

© Xinhua | UNESCO
A young student learning Tibetan language in a primary school in the District of Dagze, in the Tibet Autonomous Region


"You need to make the language cool for young people."

K David Harrison

No doubt! This is why I used Facebook, Twitter, blogs, text messages in my school curricula. Students used them often and they felt near their way of communicating.

We used text messages to interact about school homeworking when they needed some explanation about grammar, vocabulary, poetry or other subject of the languages curriculum (mother language and foreign language).

All the methods are pedagogical when well understood by students and the results are positive.

Dr Harrison spoke about North American tribes use social media to re-engage their young. See? Why not us?

Please listen the interesting podcast here.

Dr Grinevald also said: "People confuse the written form as being the “true form” - in other words if it's not written it can’t be a language. In fact the natural state of languages is the spoken word. 
Real life is really speaking and listening. We have to face the fact that new technologies can give accessibility to all knowledge."

"Linguists came in and labelled our language moribund, meaning it was heading for the ash heap of history; and our tribal people and our council decided that wasn't going to happen. So we devised a plan to go forward to start teaching our dialect here in the Siletz Valley," 

Dr. Harrison

Dr Harrison says not all languages can survive, and many inevitably will be lost as remaining speakers die off. But he believes the new digital tools do offer a way back from the brink for a lot of languages that seemed doomed just a few years ago.

Ensuring the preservation of languages can improve the quality of education, maintain cultural diversity and support nation-building. However, implementing an educational reform for bilingual education on a national scale can be challenging. 

Helena De Moraes Achcar talks about the example of Bolivia, where an educational reform encouraged intercultural bilingual education in the rural areas, while urban areas were not incorporated into the educational policy.

Speaking one’s mother language is a right that not everyone can take for granted, especially in places where local, mother tongues are threatened by more dominant languages. Today, bilingual education programmes worldwide illustrate how discussions about “mother languages” must include the “other languages”. SOAS Radio, UNESCO’s partner from the University of London’s School of Oriental & African Studies provides global perspectives on the debate.   

Listen in  : Arabic  | English| Mandarin | Portuguese (Brazil)

Some conclusions:

"With today's technology every corner of the world is linked together. The  new generations are globalized."

Technology is allowing many languages to increase audience by establishing a presence on YouTube, social media sites like Facebook and Twitter and text messaging.

Linguists have also unveiled eight new "talking dictionaries" as part of a project to save thousands of ancient tongues from extinction.
The digital dictionaries feature more than 32,000 written words and, 24,000 audio recordings taken from native speakers from remote corners of the world.
The talking dictionaries initiative from National Geographic Society's Enduring Voices project is an attempt to prevent these ancient languages being forgotten.

"What we do with technology is try to connect people," (...) "All of it is to keep the language."
Prof Noori 
"Nelson Mandela once said that “if you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart."
Irina Bokova, Director-general UNESCO


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A world without words ? Mother Language day ! by G-Souto is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.


Colete Grinevald | "Speaking your mother tongue is not a disability!  
Irina Bokova, Message on the ocasion of IMLD 2012

SOS Radio

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