You can use these questions to help kick off this discussion thread:
- How can we ensure that this effort will carry on?
- What is the background and context in which you work? What are your challenges in reaching the next generation of language-speakers?
- What do children and teenagers really like to do online?
- How can we develop games that engage young people and either teach them their heritage language or encourage its use (multi-player games, Second Life, etc.)?
- It’s easier to translate a game from English into indigenous languages than it is to develop a game from scratch in the language, one which respects the traditional culture. What are the tradeoffs? Which is preferable? The same goes for other language learning materials for children (e.g. recent dubbing of Berenstain Bears into Lakota).
Share your experiences, thoughts, ideas and questions by adding a comment below or replying to an existing comment!
I am a school teacher in a remote aboriginal community in The Northern Territory, Australia. I teach a class of just ten students. The age range is 8 to 12. Each student has their own laptop, ipad and digital camera. This kind of investment in a classroom is a very rare thing.
Remote aboriginal communities have the lowest literacy and numeracy outcomes in the country. It is an ongoing challenge that is under constant scrutiny. Hence why funds can be made available when a new idea for 'closing the gap' is born. My classroom of ten 'champions' is one of many ideas.
My experience as a teacher has shown me that children love to be represented in all different kinds of media. From the common photo opportunity to uploading their film to youtube. Once they've gained some of the basic skills and knowledge then they are usually only limited by their own creativity. It amazes me how user friendly alot of these digital playgrounds are.
The key to their engagement is ownership. My job as a teacher is to ensure their interaction is guided and productive but ultimately I want them to create something that they're proud of and achieves its purpose.
The children in my class were given an opportunity. They have run with it. They are so proud of their little digital projects. However, the skills to facilitate the digital projects like the ones in the 'Champions Class', are not always present in the teachers available to do the job. Attracting staff with reasonably up to date technology awareness is another one of the many challenges faced in the remote aboriginal education dilemma.
This is a particular problem with computers in schools, the place where we have a big change to get the next generation to use what's out there in their own language. In a way, once a user in language X, always a user in language X is a reality and what we need to establish is a pattern of "once a user of MS/LibreOffice/Firefox etc in your language, always a user of [ ] in your language".
This is of course NOT helped by the fact that IT is usually outsourced to some 3rd party company these days but we really need to make an effort that if there is a school which teaches in, say, Irish, that they have *all* the available software on the school computers. If we can get them to like Firefox in Irish when they're 6, then we have a chance of them still liking it when they're 26 and have their own kids. All the terminology stuff is so much easier anyway when you're 6, you just accept that "that thing" is a "priob-uinneag/preab-fuinneog" rather than a "popup window" without a second thought. I'm reminded of generations of native German speaking kids who just fumble their way into English games and programming languages.
Assumptions abound about the ways in which the younger generation relates to local languages. This is the "vulnerable" or unpredictable link, so to speak, eager to pick up some lean version of some international idiom – "Globish" and its suspect company. Of course, the caricature is obvious. About ten years ago, I was at the starting point, asking myself how the students would react to the systematic introduction of "national" (that's our label) languages in the Malian school system. I went about interviewing teachers and school administrators in northern Mali – not students. I could report genuine enthusiasm at the beginning around 2000 to 2002. Much less in 2005 when I conducted another round of interviews and a fairly hostile front in 2008. It will take me a while to develop this evolution, but for me it is important to factor in the attitudes of parents and teachers in the way the younger generation relates to the language. The adults have a certain idea(l) of what their young people will grow up to be. The language(s) they "happen" to speak at home are one thing, the language(s) which open the doors to colleges, conference rooms, offices and boardrooms are another. Especially, when the introduction of local languages after almost 40 years of reform still looks like endless improvisation, with little training for the teachers, stagnant or declining production of teaching material and primary-school classes of over 80 pupils even in remote rural areas.
Pushing the question of what generates resistance, beyond these sufficiently obvious conditions, led me to the localization of software. It could be the wrong deduction from explanations that I misunterstood/misinterpreted. In any case, I came to the conclusion that the next generation needs to see its language in the tools and content that it interacts with. Much has already been said about this point, which illustrates the high level of awareness about it, especially, with regard to mobile devices and the role they are supposed to play in the near future.
Of course, this meant for me localizing in Songhay, a language spoken in a region that is by and large offline. It's like "if you build it, they will come." Though it doesn't work this way. Still the Malian government has recently announced a 10-month project to link northern Mali with fiber optic cables to the borders with Algeria and Niger. To be sure, we've had no influence on this good turn of the wind, but if it happens, by this date next year, we could have another conversation altogether, for example, with cultural associations and regional leaders to facilitate basic connection to a few schools and public spaces, where people can use all the tools available, including the ones localized in Songhay.
Thank you for sharing your perspective on what more can be done to promote the Songhay language. These are very interesting points! I wanted to highlight two important points you raised to find out if others have seen a similar trend/attitude in their communities:
You raise some important challenges that practitioners face in keeping these languages alive and strong!
Are others facing this kind of resistance from parents and teachers in their community? In what ways have you worked to engage these parents and teachers that resist teaching students local languages?
Are you aware of any resources for teachers that are interested in teaching students local languages?
This is a big issue in language maintenance and language revitalization work, obviously. There is always tension between the needs of a marginalized community (the need to have a good job, not be scolded in school, etc) and the language maintenance agenda.
For us in Guatemala, it has been helpful at least to admit this openly and honestly. Our rural, impoverished, indigenous communities are not interested in language maintenance efforts per se because these things are relatively low on a long list of priorities that include poor access to health care, education, and economic advancement efforts.
We have had a lot of success turning the usual question around and pointing it back at the language revitalization/maintenance community. In other words, we do not ask, "Although communities do not see language maintenance as a useful activity, how can we convince them that it is so?" Rather, we have asked, "Since language maintenance is not a useful activity (from the standpoint of most of our supposed audience), how can we in the endangered languages community do something that is useful?"
We feel quite strongly that the language maintenance agenda has got to become married to the development agenda. Language maintenance will not lift communities out of poverty or provide them with health care. However, organizations that do focus on health care, or poverty alleviation, could, in principal, develop a strong language maintenance ideology and, in this way, get language maintenance back on the agenda, as it were, through the back door.
At Wuqu' Kawoq we have programmatically and aggressively integrated a language maintenance ideology into all of our development programs, and this has been very successful. To give just one example, our medical programs all operate in Mayan languages - and a lot of really interesting intergenerational transmission is happening in the medical consultation room. To say nothing of the fact that such an environment serves as the best possible laboratory for field testing, say, neologisms for medical terminology - all while doing something which the community perceives as "actually useful."
Thanks for sharing this example, Peter! I am eager to learn of other ways that communities are integrating a language maintenance ideology into development programs (and other programs)!
I am very happy for the example given by Mr Mhoussouba for the language Songhay and all the contributions about. Today, thanks to the effort of the Malian government for the development and the promotion of national languages, through the educational system, almost 11 or 13 national languages of Mali are taught at school and in the centers of alphabétison through the country.
This initiative didn’t begin today because I’m one of these fruits, before continuing with French and English, of this system which consists at first to teach to the child, his/her mother tongue during 5 years, from the 1st to the 5th grade. That means, besides having learnt it in the family, I learnt at tschool, the language bambara, my mother tongue, during 5 years.
For that purpose, the teachers are formed and equipped consequently to be indeed able toachieve this task which is assigned to them. Efforts are always being done to produce appropriate educational documents and the in-service training of teachers which will make maybe that it would not be the same case as in 2000-2002 if Mr Mhoussouba would pass today.
It is always in the same concern to facilitate to the teachers, the teaching of national languages that the Malian government is building teachers’ training Institutes by linguistic area. So, every part of the country will have teachers able to teach the languages of the locality.
The government of Mali, through the Ministry of Education, Alphabetisation and National languages, is, little by little, taking into account, these languages in the field of ICT. So, we can find on line, today, the national hymn of Mali in several languages: Xaasongaxanŋo, Syenara, Soninké, Mamara, Fulfufde, Dɔgɔsɔ, BOZO, Bomu, Bamanankan
Publishing the hymn in these languages allowed centers of Educational animation and many persons to reach them easily.
On the same Web site, we can find the speeches of the Minister of Education, some posts in bambara published by myself, like here.
I think this a precious advance in the favor of our languages on line.
Je pense que cela est une avancée précieuse en faveur de nos langues en ligne.
Boukary points to an important aspect of language promotion – official policy statements. In Mali, the school reform of October 1962 remains a historic reference. As policy paper, it was visionary, even revolutionary, coming out in the second year of independence. But for the rest, we probably belong to different generations altogether. I studied in French on my first day of school in the early 1970s, only spent a quarter on the transcription of Bambara, Fulah (Peul), Songhay and Tamashek (Tuareg) in my last year of high school, in a linguistics course. That was the mid-1980s. In my college years, I could take free language courses, both off campus – Russian then offered by the Soviet cultural center and Bambara, by a group of language activists. My high school crash course helped me mostly with the languages I was already familiar with: Tamashek, which I spoke in my childhood, and Songhay, my mother tongue. I was able to keep doing what interested me, that is transcribing tales and writing poems in Songhay.
Back to the policy, it was set back in 1968, when the socialist government that initiated it was overthrown (no original story for the time) and the military regime that followed neither cancelled nor pursued it actively. Only in the late 1980s would there be a significant implementation in experimental schools in the cotton producing regions. Encouraging results, but also the pressure of history again. A revolution that led to the end of the 23-year old regime, the active implementation by a democratically elected government which claimed at least part of the political culture of the socialists of the 1960s. Still the first attempt in 1992-94 under the name "New Basic School" was shortlived, the restart in 1998 actually happened in 2000. Voilà, so in 2000, I started my research with the premise Boukary describes: every child was going to study in his or her mother tongue for at least 6 years. French came along in the fourth year; it would creep in earlier and earlier in many cases. In Bamako, my interviews of 2010 also showed that if parents chose private schools as more reliable providers of education, some well-to-do parents preferred private schools without national language education. The fees are quite high for the purchasing power of the ordinary resident of the Malian capital. So far, there is no policy to enforce national language instruction in these institutions. My research looks at such discrepancies on a continuum with marked phases: 2000-2002, 2003-2005, 2008-2010. I just want to make its context clear.
As far as teacher training goes, I didn't intend to generalize about the whole country. I have to say that I was confronted with a rather dystopic situation around Gao. Teacher training in bilingual instruction went from meager to irrelevant to nonexistent, even after the creation of a teachers' training institute (institut de formation des maîtres - IFM) in Gao. In 2008, some teachers did not undergo the scantest training, even as the curriculum had been reshuffled, and one started teaching in French "en attendant". Until she could do the 40-day course.
I am also watching out for traces of ICT promotion in our national language policy. I haven't detected much beyond the well-publicized computer and Internet meetings. Probably more of a "hackfest" (budding local techies) and a windfall for the computer service branch. I know of computer donations to classrooms by public offices and associations, drives to create high-school websites by a Californian computer science professor. Associations pull together to buy computers for schools. How many of these have a single software program in a national language? How many are set up to be easily used to type or display the writing system of a national language? To my knowledge, more has been done in national languages by individuals tinkering in their corners, combining their interest in open source software with local language application. I am open to any other development since I am going to pursue several tracks on the field this coming December.
I would say that the implementation of the reform (shift from French to national languages in primary school) itself triggers a lot of anxiety, insecurity and a loss of perspective. For teachers, resistance comes from the fact of giving up the familiar way of doing things. Of having either material that is both elaborate and scarce (without the equipment to duplicate it). Or being forced to translate from French into Songhay on a daily basis. It's a sense of regression when instead of teacher and students having their copies of the textbook, now they are copying by hand, hanging up sheets to the board or wall. It's when the months devoted to the teacher's further training for Songhay are scaled back each new year, down to 40 days, to the point that at the school I was observing in 2008, the new teacher did not undergo even the 40-day training and started the schoolyear reverting to French. So, you see that it gets quite messy and demobilizing.
In reality, many teachers and parents in Gao showed a great deal of enthusiasm in 2000. They just got more skeptical by the way things turned out. The disparities between the training requirements and material backup of the experimental schools that gave great results (with higher grades even in French composition) and the situation of the mass implementation just blew into the face. This has nothing to do with the general admission that students could perform a lot better in composition and calculus when they started out in their home languages.
As for resources, there are great ones done in Mali. They are not well distributed or used. All these issues are related. On our side, we localized a creativity program for a start (Tux Paint, released in 2009) and now have 5 software programs in the One Laptop per Child Program to offer alternative creative tools for teachers and students. When the region becomes effectively connected, there will be a broad range of programs up and running. So, resistance is not a permanent negative attitude toward the Songhay language. It is a reaction to pedagogical shortcomings as well as institutional and administrative insufficiencies.
Peter Rohloff wrote:
At Wuqu' Kawoq we have programmatically and aggressively integrated a language maintenance
ideology into all of our development programs, and this has been very successful.
I wished I could say this about my language, except that in my country, development is
inextricably intertwined by the Manila government with the use of Tagalog. There is a positive
development recently, the use of the mother tongue in early education, something that was
done in the past, but was scrapped around 1972 by the martial law government, which
adopted the Tagalog slogan "Isang Bansa, Isang Diwa," or "One Nation, One Spirit" (ironically,
by a President who was not Tagalog, but that is a different matter) - which, you
might notice, is similar to the Hitlerian "Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer," so some
are now referring to it and to its supporters as neo-Nazis.
Our only hope now to ensure that our languages be used in school under the
Mother Tongue Based Multilingual Education (MLE) program. Fanatical supporters of Tagalog are seeking to deny non-Tagalog languages this small window of survival, so it is still an uphill battle. Right now, all of the resources of the government is still devoted
to the teaching of Tagalog, and MLE supporters have to scrounge for funds to sustain
their cause, and to contend with continuing Tagalista efforts to extinguish the program.
We have to make maximal use of online tools such as the Kapampangan Wikipedia, and to do something about the continuing stranglehold of Tagalog on the Internet in the Philippines on Google, Blogspot, Blogger, Facebook, and so on, and on language translators, in which again, only Tagalog is represented.
Our success in language programming is closely related to the fact that we operate as a non-governmental organization. This gives us a lot of flexibility and freedom that is typically denied to people working,for example, within a national ministry of education infrastructure.
I do agree that when development becomes entangled with a majority language, this can be a serious problem for a minority language. In Guatemala we see this even among minority languages - for example language shift in Uspanteko, a small Mayan language, is towards K'ichee', a larger Mayan language, and not Spanish. K'ichee' is one of the larger languages and has been able to mobilize a lot of resources for K'ichee' focused cultural and development projects. Uspanteko speakers, especially the young, want to get in on this good stuff, and the result is a shift towards K'ichee'.
A larger point here, though, is that in this context the financial and social incentives for the language shift are driven by private sector development dollars, not government policy. In fact, in Guatemala the government is in the business of getting out of rural areas as quickly as possible, and so increasingly more and more infrastructure and social service work is managed by NGOs.
This means, first, that NGOs in Guatemala are now driving language shift, not the government. I think this is good and bad. Bad - because they don't seem to realize the role they are playing. Good - because if we could convince the private sector here to take a more active interest in language maintenance projects, including all of the technology projects that we are talking about in this forum, we could conceivably get a lot of things done quickly and efficiently, without having to wade through government.
One thing that has come up in many comments is resistance by some (policy makers, educators, educated computer users, etc) to the notion that ICT can and should be used in languages other than the dominant ones. This is especially prevalent in much of Africa, where many elites see indigenous languages as regressive - symbols of old times and backwards thinking that prevent people from engaging with the dynamic forces of global prosperity. The logic is: I speak English/ French, and have become successful, and all my other successful colleagues also speak English/French, therefore English/French are the keys to success. Added to this is a story that English speakers constantly tell themselves, that everyone speaks English, or is learning English, or will learn English, or will have their children learn English. These two myths - English/French as the languages of success, and English as the language of the future - are largely responsible for much official hostility and/or ambivalence to efforts to promote indigenous languages in education and technology.
On the notion of English/French as the key to success, obviously there are good reasons why students should learn international languages and why doing so might increase their lifetime prosperity. Anyone who wants to work for an international company, or participate in an international field (medical research, for example), should be able to communicate with colleagues internationally, and English is usually the common interface language for doing so.
However, in my experiences living in Switzerland and Tanzania, I've seen that English is largely irrelevant for most people most of the time. In Switzerland, learning English is like learning accounting - it is extremely useful if your profession demands it, somewhat useful if you need it from time to time (watching a Hollywood movie, or using it as an interface language when going on vacation), but not at all essential to daily life. Not only is it remarkable how low the level of English is in Switzerland, but it is also remarkable how low the level of French is in the German part of the country, and how low the level of German is in the French part, and how low the level of both German and French are in the Italian part. Somehow the country functions perfectly well, and is one of the richest in the world, with each person speaking their mother tongue from infancy to death, and some people also learning one or both of the other national languages, and some people also learning English or other foreign tongues. Nobody tells the country's millions of German speakers that they would be better off speaking English and therefore technology and secondary education will only be available to them in English - which is exactly the opposite of what occurs for, for example, the tens of millions of speakers of Yoruba and Igbo and Hausa in Nigeria.
A big difference between Switzerland and Nigeria is that everything is available to a Swiss in his/her native tongue (excluding the minority indigenous language Romansh), and I mean everything. Every bottle of milk in every grocery store is labelled in German, French, and Italian. Every road sign is in the local language. Every policy from the local government is in the local language, and national legislation is translated to all three. Every store with a website makes sure that it is localized into the languages of its customers. Every student studies in their own language, not just in primary school, not just in secondary school, but all the way through their first university degree. People read books in their own language. They watch TV in their own language. If they want to see a movie in the "original version" (not necessarily English), they have to go to designated screenings at the cinema, otherwise they see every film dubbed into their own language. This is not considered remarkable here. It is just the way it is.
From this vantage point, is English becoming the language that everyone will speak in 100 years? Hardly. It is the language that many prefer to learn as a second language, or a third one, when given the choice in secondary school. This means that many people gain a working knowledge of the language, at least to the extent that they can make their way through an airport when they travel. It does not mean that they spend their days engaging others in the language. And much less does it mean that they pass it along to their children. If their children are going to learn English, they will do so with just as much effort, and will end up with similarly limited capabilities (unless their particular children go into professions in which they find English particularly useful). English will continue its march forward as the convenient interface language - the language a Hausa speaker uses to communicate with a Chinese speaker - but for most people it will require effort to relearn it as a school subject, one generation after the next.
Meanwhile, technology will make it easier and easier for people to access the keys to prosperity in their own language. What we are talking about on this forum, in terms of web browsers and mobile phones and all the other ICT tools localized into indigenous languages, is already part of the fabric of life for everyone in Switzerland, and for people who live their lives in Russian or Chinese or Danish. It should not be so surprising that the technology can be similarly available in Swahili or Maori or Northerrn Sami. What is necessary is the effort to create an environment that is friendly to these languages - both a technology environment, which is straightforward if not simple, and a policy environment. The policy environment is in many ways harder, having been soured by the myths above.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this issue. In my home country (Tonga), English is seen as the language of power and status. Many of the high schools are covered with signs that say "Speak English." Corporations in Tonga, such as Digicel Tonga, market most of their products to the youth in English. If you visit the Digicel Tonga website you'll find everything in the English language and nothing in the Tongan language. Check out the Digicel Tonga website. We are fighting an uphill battle in Tonga to maintain the Tongan language.
I have started to use youtube videos to encourage the next generation to value Tongan. I especially like to video record the younger generations who are speaking/singing in Tongan and post it online. Here is an example of a youtube video of young Tongan children singing in Tongan. I recorded this video during our Global Tongan Language Week this year. This youtube video went viral within the online Tongan community. I think it allowed the younger Tongan generations to experience the power of the Tongan language.
Unfortunately the notion of the colonial language being a status symbol is a hard one to shake. However, the YouTube videos are a great idea. Especially young people talking and singing. Singing seems to be a big one in a lot of tribes here in America. Not only traditional music but popular music in our Algonquian is more than a hit.
I would like to pose a question to all of you about how you achieve gender equity in your on line language efforts.
In Guatemala, we have had major problems recruiting women to work on projects. "Linguistics" is perceived culturally as the work of young men. Also, there are major gender disparities in terms of access to and comfort with computer technology.
For the Anishinaabe I would say there is equal participation from men and women in our language revitalization efforts. I am not sure why that is the case but it is interesting to note that our language is gender neutral.
Powhatan (Virginia Algonquian) seems to have equal participation as well. Since Anishinaabe is also Algonquian, we too are gender neutral. (Definitely more participation among the “animate” haha)
In this area, we've seen a major shift in northern Mali. More women are teaching courses in national languages and, for the most part, they are mostly teaching other women (course participants). To be sure, teaching is a less attractive career than it used to be, even with better pay. Its social prestige has constantly declined since the 1980s. The classroom has been greatly feminized whereas it used to be exclusively male outside of urban centers. Now, even in the countryside, women tend to make up the larger contingents of schoolteachers. They are also instructors in the literacy courses that have gained greater legitimacy since the 1990s. Through interviews with women teaching Songhay literacy courses in their own villages, I learned last year that over the last decade women under 50 have largely acquired basic literacy in some areas. Many had once dropped out of the French-speaking public school. But also those who never attended school in the past were able to learn how to read and write over time. This is not the case for men, even though larger numbers of men are turning up at literacy courses. Sometimes, all the adults of the same family (those who have either missed getting any schooling or dropped out of school) would sign up. Not a small problem either for course organizers. In the past, it was usually individual participants that used to volunteer for such courses. Usually one per family. Such reports need further investigation, but I am getting the impression that the time has come when people take literacy seriously, be it in Bambara, Arabic, Songhay, Tamashek, French, etc. It's better to read with one's own eyes. For many who aspire to read "it" black on white, the letter and number still bear their magic.
Mohomodou mentions that the Malian classroom has been "greatly feminized" in recent years. I won't claim huge knowledge on the topic, but a few observations from the trenches:
1) In Senegal, the Wolof language (the main indigenous language) has dim support at the government level. As far as most policy makers are concerned, educated and successful people speak French. Wolof is the language of the people at the margins - that is, the people in the villages, the urban poor, and women. Girls are less likely to make it into the higher echelons of education, which happen in French. However, it is my understanding that some do have opportunities to advance in Wolof, at least to the point where they can become primary school teachers working in their mother tongue. By having the majority language relegated as the domain of the marginalized gender, opportunities are at least in theory open to focus on female practitioners to advance its teaching, preservation, and development.
2) In Tanzania, many men leave their villages to go to the cities or plantations for work. Many women do too, but at least in the villages I've worked in, the phenomenon is much more male. In fact, except when everyone comes home to help with the harvest, I've seen villages where women outnumber men by about two to one. Everyone has good Swahili, but the "little languages" (to translate the Swahili term) remain a primary mode of communication in areas where most people are from the main local ethnic group. So women stay home and spend most of their days speaking their mother tongues and passing their language along to their children, while men go to areas where ethnicities mix and everyone reverts to Swahili as the common language. To some extent, then, the perpetuation of the ~120 languages of Tanzania that are not Swahili is an increasingly female realm.
3) We are about to work with a university in Burundi on a project regarding the Kirundi language. The university educates a variety of students, including students from a few different religious training programs. Part of the university experience involves a service component where the students pay back their tuition through involvement in projects. They have found that many male students leave early, taking their university degree into the job market and jumping on the first appealing offer they get outside of their country - classic brain drain. However, the nuns among the student body are under no pressure to leave, and are the most devoted about delving into their internship projects. The larger lesson here is that, because women are often less likely to be mobile, there are good practical reasons to concentrate on working with them as developers of language projects, where continuity of personnel is important.
4) Having said that, it is important to note that an outsized proportion of current language practitioners in Africa are male, for one simple reason: an outsized proportion of males have received educational advancement to the point that they are able to be language practitioners. This is an imbalance that cannot be easily rectified in the short term, though it can be recognized. And if the question is, where are the women?, the answer might be, not in university linguistics departments (with some notable exceptions!), maybe not even in secondary schools as teachers or students. But certainly, the women are in many cases the people who are speaking, learning in, and handing on the languages with the least official support.
Martin's observations show different but all relevant facets of the issue.
Back to the female teachers, when I went to school, there were only male teachers. I am hesitant to generalize over all of Mali though I think the situation is comparable overall. In 2008, 4 out of 6 teachers were women at my village primary school. There were two male teachers, including the director. But I cannot stress enough the loss of social and professional prestige for teaching in general. So, this also means women area eking out a living on difficult jobs without great career perspectives. Instead of the 25 pupils in average up to the 1990s, now they have 80-90 children per class. Women teaching adult literacy courses fare even worse. I've seen some teach a course over 30-40 days and wait for months for the meager sum promised by the NGO that hired them. A lot of unsettling ethical issues in this area.
In the past, teachers were poorly paid but still enjoyed greater social prestige. Well, how much of this matters in the end?
Typically, Nishnaabe-language classes and language programs in our communities attract older adults, say, 40+ years-old and up. There are exceptions to this, but this is generally the case in our communities, and has been so for decades.
This troubling situation is perhaps due in large part to an unintentional unwillingness on the part of us adults to meet our youth and children where our youth and children are at. For example, according to feedback we've received from many of our young people, particularly from our young mothers, expecting our teenagers to travel to a language course, and sit through the entire class, is unrealistic when our young people can achieve nearly the same result for themselves by clicking the play button on a web-video player, while they're out-and-about. This feedback from our young Nishnaabe people has been one of the catalysts for Barbara Nolan and I to start our company, barbaranolan.com.
Our resistance, as adults, to technology, web-video, smart phone applications, and "all this new stuff," is part of what is preventing us from implementing successful language acquisition strategies that will facilitate the creation of a new generation of Nishnaabe-language speakers. Our children already embrace these new technologies. We adults need to do the same if we are to effectively take part in the continued revitalization of our Nishnaabe language. This is one of our biggest challenges in reaching the next generation of Nishnaabe-language speakers.
For us in Guatemala, getting older adults on line is probably not a realistic goal, since most are illiterate. So we have tried to come up with other ways to generate exciting intergenerational context for language talk. It has been helpful to use to take a step back from the education-based models - in fact in Guatemala school-based approaches are pretty ineffective as sites of language maintenance or transmission (this has a lot to do with the fact that the schools are pretty ineffective, period). Since we are a development organization, and not an educational organization, we've been able to think through alternative spaces for social exchange, like community-based health projects. In each of these settings, the younger members of the project take on the responsibilities for managing the on line aspects each program, where as elders often function more in the roles that they are comfortable with (giving speeches to launch new programs, organizing logistics of meetings and work days such as food and child care, etc).
One of the most difficult challenges for the Welsh language online and in technology is visibility and attention. Some would say that the online activity in Welsh adds up to some success, after all there are roughly 4,000 tweeting in Welsh to some extent. However, it seems to me that much of this is invisible to those who are most important to the next generation : those who are learning Welsh at school but do not use it on a day to day basis, and those who have Welsh but just do not see it or seek it online.
This is a problem not just for independent media and media produced by individuals but also for broadcasters who have marketing budgets and who should be able to reach beyond the people who are already committed to using the language in their daily and online lives. But the pull of majority language internet media is so strong, perhaps even stronger than in the analogue days of broadcasting and print media, that even when there is content produced in a minority language it is impossible to find.
Content platforms like YouTube have an in-built majority language bias, even though they may try to make som inroads in terms of translating captions. Search is not tuned for minority language content, and content is invariably.
I think that aggregation has a large role to play, but this cannot be left to merely enthusiasts who are willing to put the time in. There has to be some coordinated effort and cooperation with large media and internet players to succeed. Indigenous tweets and blogs are great starts, and I've been involved in the Welsh Umap tweet aggregator which does similar work, but we must do a lot more to get ourselves noticed. Can we get Google or Facebook to sponsor ads to Welsh content aggregators if the user is using their platform in Welsh? Can we get some ways of getting geolocated adspace that gives traffic to content in minority languages? The open market is failing minority languages online, so I believe that some kinds of interventions must be devised to level the playing field. Minority language media support models have always been about addressing market failure, in my view the web must be treated in the same way if that is at all possible.
If governments are serious about language promotion then they must also engage with the main online platforms to ensure that minority languages are given breathing space - as they were in many cases in European radio and television in the 1970s and 80s. The internet is often seen as something benign for minority languages from government perspectives - the free space to publish cheaply - whilst in reality there is so much work to be done to make any content that does exist actually reach people. Content is not reaching its maximum potential audience at the moment.
Thanks for having this debate. I know we will all come from different perspectives with languages that may be difficult to compare in terms of so many ways but may be able to pick out some narratives, strategies or ideas that can be of use to each other.
These are good ideas! It would be nice if you could not only view more content in your language, but also have people be *aware* that you're viewing content in your language. I wonder what it would take to get people to take notice & put ads in minority languages? I guess the potential profit for the advertiser would have to outweigh the cost of making the ads, but again, this is just a function of the community and the number of people you can marshall for a cause. Companies would have to perceive that there is a demand for such a thing, and if you have enough people asking for it, it probably would end up making economic sense for them to do it. Geocaching is probably also a cool idea, though it might become complicated: "Oh, I see you're using a computer in Cherokee, North Carolina - here are your Cherokee language ads!" While it would be monumentally cool if that were the assumption people started making, it would take a while before it was actually a sound assumption to make. Although maybe it's a chicken-or-egg problem - maybe if we build it, they will come? It seems like it would be encouraging and vindicating for the youth to see ads in their heritage language...
Here in Bolivia, a local newspaper published an article translated into Quechua and I think it threw everyone off to see Quechua figure so prominently in the city's second largest newspaper. While I would say that the majority of the readers of that newspaper do not read Quechua, it help start a conversation about the role of indigenous languages in the mainstream media.
Now that most newspapers have online sites, it would cost very little (in comparison to physical space in a printed newspaper) to run articles or translations in underrepresented languages.
A good place to start with that idea would be using buying some adspace via Google ads. So if someone searches for "ᏣᎳᎩ" as opposed to "Cherokee" syllabary based ads will come up? I know in Google if you turn your language setttings on to Cherokee to get the localized Cherokee interface, Google recognizes you are "in Cherokee." Perhaps if users that use Google in Cherokee could be served with syllabary ads? I REALLY like this idea. I suppose the question would be: how many people actually use Google with Cherokee as their default language?
Maybe we could could up with a campaign that promotes learning and using our language! Sort of a joint PR campaign between Eastern Band and Cherokee Nation?
My understanding is that Google treats usage statistics of different localizations as proprietary info and won't share them (not even with the volunteer translators themselves!). I think we have some Google translators participating in the dialogue - I'd be curious to know if any of them have statistics.
One bit of good news along these lines: I've seen some Irish ads on Facebook recently, from a t-shirt company, spailpin.com!
I know this isn't a link posting exercise, but just before hitting bed, I came across this on BBC News about ciShanjo in Zambia being written for the first time and what it means to the speakers and the impact on attitudes, so since we're nearing the end of this debate, I thought it would be a fitting piece of uplifting news. Yes we can, I guess :)