Language ExtinctionEndangered languages are classified by the Endangered Language Project as languages that are not spoken by many or any young people and whose native speakers are elderly or have passed away. When older speakers of a language do not or cannot teach that language to their children, that language eventually ceases to exist. The loss of language education and the loss or destruction of written records can endanger languages. Some languages have an ‘afterlife,’ like Latin, which is teachers teach in schools but people do not speak casually. Most dead languages, however, disappear without the possibility of an afterlife. Language extinction and poverty may seem completely unrelated, but this is not the case.

Language and Ethnicity

Professor Peter L. Patrick of the University of Essex writes in “Linguistic Human Rights: A Sociolinguistic Introduction” that linguistic human rights “[do] not at first blush appear to be the most pressing area of human rights to think about.” He’s right; threats to healthcare, voting rights, freedom of speech, gender equality and economic stability require more immediate attention. However, Patrick also correctly asserts that “the complex relations between language socialization, linguistic competence, and ethnic group membership” are relevant to human rights and therefore, global poverty.

Herman M. Batibo writes in “Language and Poverty” that the intersectionality between language and poverty has “long been recognized.” Poverty affects language survival, and language often helps determine economic status. Small communities that seek to preserve dying languages face obstacles directly relevant to poverty. Without the proper economic stability to train teachers, establish schools and publish books in the endangered language, communities must witness their native languages die. In 2013, it was estimated that a language dies about every two weeks and is then replaced with a major language. The death of a language is more than the loss of its words. Native speakers watch their songs, stories and poems disappear as well. There is music and beauty in every language, signed or spoken, that one cannot replicate through translation. Language extinction causes the world to lose a unique perspective.

Language Extinction

Professor Emily Manetta teaches Introduction to Syntax, Semantics, Linguistic Anthropology and Advanced Topics in Linguistics at the University of Vermont. In Linguistic Anthropology, Professor Manetta explores the concepts of language extinction and endangerment. When asked about how poverty restricts language development and preservation, Professor Manetta writes that it is important to “see language pressure and language endangerment in the context of a wider pattern of oppression of speakers and deprivations that are likely systemic.”

Impoverished communities, often facing extreme inequalities compared to dominant societies, are more likely to experience language loss for several reasons. Impoverished people often choose to move from rural settings to urban settings to improve their quality of life. Their new communities are more likely to speak dominant languages. With little use for their native languages, these individuals may abandon them completely and raise their children using only the language spoken by the majority. After just a generation or two, their native tongue dies. While this is not always the case, Manetta finds that this is “one possible way” in which poverty “create conditions in which language loss is accelerated.”

In discussing the consequences of language death, Manetta writes that it is “hard to say” for certain. She does note that the consequences of “human suffering, of profound inequality, of poverty and lack of opportunity, of racism and colonialism” are all related to language loss. She asserts that it is difficult to distinguish between the consequences of systematic oppression and the consequences of language loss. This is because oppressed communities are the most likely to experience language loss. Language loss, while tragic, does not compare to the “greater losses that accompany language loss.”

Saving Languages

How can people help prevent language extinction? Manetta writes that tackling systematic social problems like racism and other forms of oppression is the most important goal. Dismantling forms of oppression will allow communities to have the resources to educate their children about their native languages. This may seem like an overwhelming task; fortunately, there are smaller tasks that can also help save languages. Honoring and remembering dying languages can extend their lifespans. One can also encourage the use of non-dominant languages in legal, educational and institutional settings. Manetta does not advocate for the intrusion of small communities by larger communities. Rather, it is imperative to give members of small communities the resources to become educators, linguists and researchers to allow them to “preserve the language from within.”

Just as poverty relates to race, gender, sexuality, religion, status and education, poverty relates to language as well. Communities without the resources to preserve their languages often see them die as dominant languages crowd them out. While it is smart to learn more popular languages, they should not replace less-common languages altogether. It is important to remember that all languages connect people and preserve tradition, value and culture. To combat poverty is to combat the erasure of language, the beautiful code that allows human beings to connect with each other.

Levi Reyes
Photo: Unsplash

duolingo helps refugees“Language is what ties us all together in our cultures, in our own countries. Being able to communicate is a vital part of the human experience.” – Photojournalist Justin Merriman

Duolingo is a popular language-learning platform available on desktop and mobile phones serving to boost the language skills of people around the world. Known for its iconic green owl mascot, Duolingo offers free courses in 38 different languages. These include widely spoken languages like English and Spanish, as well as endangered languages such as Navajo and Hawaiian. It even offers courses in fictional languages like Klingon from Star Trek and High Valyrian from Game of Thrones.

While not specifically an original intent of the platform, Duolingo has grown in popularity among immigrants and refugees who seek to learn the language of their new homes. Recently, the company even made a documentary film about how Duolingo helps refugees.

The Importance of Communication

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that there were 79.5 million forcibly displaced people worldwide at the end of 2019. Among the world’s displaced people, 20 million are refugees or asylum-seekers who have crossed borders into another country. Most refugees come from Syria, who have seen 6.6 million displaced people.

Language is extremely important to everyday life. In unfamiliar situations, language can act as a barrier to interactions and opportunities among those who can’t understand each other. For impoverished refugees, learning the local language is both vital and extremely challenging. The resources refugees need to learn a new language are often unavailable or not easily accessible.

Duolingo’s Role

In 2018, Duolingo’s creators noticed an intriguing pattern in their 300 million person user base. The most popular languages being learned in many countries were actually the native language of the area. In Miami, most Duolingo users were learning English and in Sweden, most users were learning Swedish. They found that most of these users were immigrants and refugees learning to speak the language of their new home.

Duolingo helps refugees by making language learning accessible and convenient. Available to anyone with access to an electronic device, the learning platform teaches basic conversational skills in a fun and easy way. It teaches reading, writing, listening and speaking through conversational situations where users simultaneously learn vocabulary and grammar. After receiving thousands of thank you letters from global users who benefitted from the app, Duolingo decided to create a documentary film following real refugee users as they learned new languages and navigated their new environments.

Something Like Home

“Something Like Home” highlights the stories of four refugees. Photojournalist Justin Merriman went to Turkey and Jordan to interview these refugees and create the film, which is available for free on Youtube or at duolingomovie.com. Merriman states that “It wasn’t really, in the beginning, about Syria and displaced refugees. It was about people using language to change their lives.”

One of the featured refugees, Noor, is a Syrian refugee who fled to Iraq, Dubai and finally to Turkey. Noor was the only refugee from the film able to attend its premiere at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater in Pittsburgh, as her Iraqi citizenship allowed her to obtain a travel visa over the others who are Syrian citizens. She now works as a computer programmer and software engineer in Turkey, speaking five languages.

Another featured refugee, Ahmed, also fled Syria for Turkey where he now works as an engineer overseeing water and sanitation programs for internally displaced Syrians. Ahmed, formerly an engineer in Syria, was only able to find employment in Turkey after using Duolingo to learn the language and communicate his skills to employers. He is a prime example of how Duolingo helps refugees in these critical situations

Noor and Ahmed are just two examples of the global refugee experience—being violently torn from normal life and forced to start over somewhere completely unfamiliar. Duolingo helps refugees by freely offering an opportunity to make the transition into their new lives easier.

Kathy Wei
Photo: Wikimedia

English in Developing Nations
When discussing the development of some of the lower-income nations of the world, the English language has a tricky history. Some countries label English as their national language when a majority of their populations speak something else. There are also organizations, such as the Peace Corps, that teach English in developing nations with the intention of providing the students with more opportunities. However, some have widely debated the effectiveness of teaching English in other nations and its relation to development. This begs the questions: How might English improve a developing nation and what are some past results?

Expectations

The intentions behind teaching English in lower-income areas are usually positive. In 2011, the British Council identified four benefits of the English language including that it improves employability, provides international mobility, is a key for unlocking development opportunities and is a neutral language. Here is a breakdown of each of these points.

  1. Employability: English for the purpose of employability assumes that someone with English skills will be more competitive for a job.
  2. International Mobility: English for the purpose of increasing international mobility assumes that people with English skills are able to travel to other countries more easily, through methods such as studying in international schools or working in other countries.
  3. Development Opportunities: English as a key for unlocking development opportunities assumes that a lot of published information and research is in English and that acquiring English skills can grant access to a lot of that information.
  4. Neutrality: English as a neutral language occurs when an institution or country has several dialects, possibly with complex social connotations attached to them, that hinder easy communication. People can use English as a linking language to unify groups.

These four roles outline how people could ideally use English to help developing nations, but history has proven that it is rarely that simple or effective.

Reality

Now, with the establishment of the theoretical ways that English can help people, here is some evidence to show if reality meets the expectations.

In regards to English’s ability to help employment opportunities, a Sierra Leonean wrote a piece in 2020 in which she discussed this very problem. Sierra Leone’s schools teach English and most government positions speak it, but a majority of the population speaks Krio, a dialect similar to English.

This writer labeled English as a “burden on a majority of citizens aged 18-40.” She stated that children struggle to learn due to its usage in classrooms and that jobs often go to unqualified people because they can speak English. Essentially, they feel that it is unfair that people have labeled English as such an important skill while teachers ineffectively teach it to students. She acknowledged that English can be an opportunity to make citizens more globally competitive, but that there seems to be a disconnect between the education system and the people. In this instance, the mishandling of the execution of teaching English did not measure up to the expectations.

Despite the structural shortcomings, there are some observed benefits for English in developing nations. A 2011 study that the British Council commissioned concluded that learning English in a developing country can increase an individual’s earning power by around 25 percent. The study gathered the data from five countries: Nigeria, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Cameroon and Rwanda. The data revealed that the English speaking countries (Nigeria, Bangladesh and Pakistan) received more investment from other English speaking countries such as the U.S. and U.K. However, the report also shows that urban elites reap most of the benefits of speaking English, as they tend to have access to better schooling and higher-paying jobs.

Another benefit of speaking English is that some countries that outsiders previously did not visit, such as Sierra Leone, Mozambique and Ethiopia, are now growing tourist destinations. Many think that locals’ abilities to communicate with said tourists can increase interaction and commerce. In 2018, Africa accounted for only 1 percent of tourism earnings worldwide. Because of this largely untapped market, a lot of policymakers and business owners are hoping to find ways to appeal to more travelers.

African migrants often move to places such as the U.S. or the U.K. to flee economic hardships and human rights abuses. According to the 2019 census, African languages are the fastest growing in the United States.

However, English skills can greatly affect the success of African migrants entering English speaking countries. The BBC published a story in 2005 on Africans’ success in the U.K. It stated that “African-born immigrants are doing better than many other migrants.” It found that 81 percent of South Africans, 73 percent of Zimbabweans, 61 percent of Nigerians and 12 percent of Simoleans had employment. These figures deduced that English competency plays an important role in an African migrant’s ability to find employment in the U.K. and most likely other English speaking nations.

The Need for Balance

Essentially, what the evidence suggests is that teaching English as a tool for development could be beneficial, but currently there are a lot of obstacles surrounding the actual implementation process. English carries the stigma of colonization in several countries, so people often meet it with resistance. Conversely, in places such as Pakistan, people treat English as superior to native languages, which causes rifts between populations rather than unifying them.

Clearly a balance is necessary and there are specialists and organizations attempting that now. One method that seeks to maintain the integrity of native language while also presenting the opportunity to learn English is “Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education.”

A paper that Tove Skutnabb-Kangas wrote in 2013 cited examples of MLE in practice in Nepal, Sápmi and Ethiopia, and highlighted the positive effects the program had on students.

There are organizations, such as the Asia-Pacific Multilingual Education Working Group, that are currently attempting to utilize this method in places such as Thailand and Cambodia to strike a balance when integrating English in developing nations around the world.

English does seem to be a viable option for development in some instances, but in others, it can lead to added societal tension and obstacles for students. As implementation and teaching programs progress, hopefully, they will work out the negatives so citizens of low-income nations can just focus on creating more opportunities for themselves.

Lindsey Shinkle
Photo: Flickr

Indigenous Minority Languages 

Approximately half of the world’s 7,000 distinct spoken languages are at risk of extinction within this century as a result of market globalization. Generational language loss emerges from the prioritization of dominant languages over minority languages. Yet, online communications technology expands outlets for the promotion and preservation of endangered indigenous minority languages. 

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) recognizes 56 ethnic minority groups, of which 55 have indigenous languages, numbering approximately 130. Indigenous peoples consisting of 1,000 or fewer people speak at least 20 of those languages. Out of 11 million ethnic Manchus, fewer than 100 have conversational fluency, a symptom of Standard Mandarin supplanting the Manchu language. The Hezhen, Tatar and She languages face circumstances like Manchu, while the Jinuo, Nu, Pumi and Yilao languages risk losing their conversational status.  

Historic Policies for Preserving China’s Indigenous Minority Languages

The PRC Ministry of Education has implemented policies for the preservation of indigenous minority languages. These policies rest on the premise of the legal equality of all ethnicities and autonomous governments in the nation. Hence, minority ethnicities have considerable self-government in the form of five autonomous regions, 30 autonomous prefectures, 120 autonomous counties and 1,256 autonomous communities. Autonomous ethnic minority areas comprise 64 percent of China‘s total landmass, governing 75 percent of the ethnic minority population.

The law guarantees the provision of language interpreters for ethnic minority representatives in the PRC’s parliamentary assemblies. Likewise, official bodies translate all laws, regulations and major political documents into indigenous minority languages. Autonomous governments conduct their affairs in these languages. Standard Mandarin and minority languages coexist on autonomous government seals, identity cards and in the commercial sector.  

Plaintiffs may file lawsuits in indigenous minority languages, and defendants without fluency in Standard Mandarin may request translators. Courts may conduct trials in native languages for the sake of convenience and efficiency, while the translation of court documents into many languages occurs in multilingual regions.  

Autonomous regions receive latitude in structuring education in many languages. But such schools must also ensure skill in Standard Mandarin. As of 2012, bilingual education existed in 21 autonomous regions and 13 provinces, encompassing approximately 10,000 schools.

Policies incentivize minority authors and translators to write and publish in their native tongues. No cap exists on the quantity of minority language writings permitted, while the free provision of stripe codes further facilitates publication. State proposals to fund minority language magazines and journals raise questions of integrity and autonomous development.  

Kazakh, Korean, Mongolian, Tibetan, Uyghur, Zhuang and Yi are among the sixteen indigenous minority languages in which CCTV has broadcast since May 22, 1950. The national radio has broadcast in more than 20 minority languages, compared with local radio broadcasting encompassing 30-plus languages.

The Increased Role of Digital Technology in Present-Day Language Preservation Measures

As a supplement to these earlier measures, authorities now explore the opportunities afforded by technology for moving language preservation into a globalized digital world. In 2010, the PRC began developing a vocal database of the nation’s officially-recognized languages and dialects. Xinjiang-based ethnic Kazakh university professor Akbar Majit notes that as of 2010, online communication had already made inroads in minority communities. In 2010, the PRC began developing a vocal database of the nation’s officially-recognized languages and dialects. Majit notes that as of 2010, online communication had already made inroads in minority communities.

An event held in September 2018 in Hunan province showcased technological options, such as the comprehensive recording of endangered languages. Among the advanced technologies discussed as language preservation tools were AI speech recognition and synthesis.

Conclusion

Tibetan monk and software developer Lobsang Monlam notes that even small inroads of digital technology on Tibet make a considerable impact. Internet, word processing and other adaptations of the Tibetan language currently exist. From grammar, character and spell-check programs to optical character recognition, speech-to-text and translation software, digital technology may substantially assist minority language preservation and promotion throughout China. Building upon the policies of the past with the technology of the present and future, justification exists for optimism about the future of China’s minority languages. 

– Philip Daniel Glass
Photo: Everystockphoto

Linguistic Genocide in Colombia
Colombia has the second-largest population in South America and is host to more than 80 indigenous ethnic groups which comprise the country’s most vulnerable demographic. Amidst the tectonic power struggles that have persisted throughout Colombian history, the plight of indigenous peoples remains at the forefront. Ethnic minorities in Colombia are struggling to subsist. This began when the Spanish colonized the Colombian territory in the 16th century and continues presently in the form of cultural erasure, resource wars and forced displacement. Dozens of indigenous leaders have suffered murder in recent years. The historic Peace Accord of 2016 created various power vacuums in the country, allowing guerilla offshoots to invade remote, newly-vacated territories. In October 2019, five indigenous dignitaries from the Tacueyo reservation in southwest Colombia suffered assassination. A challenge is the linguistic genocide in Colombia.

Efforts for cultural preservation, however difficult, have helped quell instances of neo-imperialism and given Afro-Colombian and native indigenous populations teeth. Jonathan E. Bonilla, a researcher and linguistic preservationist from Instituto Caro y Cuervo, is among a small group of advocates working to give these minority communities access and representation to ensure their continuity. The Borgen Project interviewed Bonilla to discuss linguistic genocide in Colombia.

Interview with Jonathan E. Bonilla

TBP: How do efforts for linguistic preservation help alleviate poverty amongst indigenous and Afro-Colombian groups?

Bonilla: All indigenous languages spoken in Colombia are at risk because their speakers are in physical danger. For example, the systematic murder of social leaders, mostly indigenous, who fight for land restitution or are against mining, expansive livestock or illicit crops, has been proven. The rivers—sources of food and water for the communities— are getting poisoned with mercury for the extraction of gold and other precious metals. The indiscriminate felling of forests and the diversion of water resources has expanded the agricultural frontier. Many communities have moved to urban areas where the dominant language is Spanish due to the war and invasion of their territories. All these factors put the physical survival of the people at risk, their languages by default.

TBP: Why is the definition of poverty further complicated in the context of indigeneity?

Bonilla: Poverty is a concept of the West as it has to do with the daily purchasing power of a person or family. In the case of indigenous communities, the majority live from sustainable agriculture, the production and sale of handicrafts, the raising of domestic animals, fishing, hunting and harvesting of seasonal fruits. For this reason, indigenous communities always fight for the respect and expansion of their ancestral territories. The greater the amount of territory without exploitation for economic purposes, the greater food security. Poverty in the communities is evident when they are forced to leave their territories and relocate to unfamiliar ecosystems. To give an example, guerrillas, paramilitaries, coca merchants and ranchers displaced the Nukak, a hunter-gatherer people who currently suffer from extreme poverty.

Another reason that leads to indigenous poverty is the reduction or overexploitation of their territories. For example, the Wayuu have suffered the diversion of their rivers. Therefore, their lands have dried up and now they have no way to feed their children or raise animals for food. The problem of water scarcity in the deserts of La Guajira has led to malnutrition and the death of indigenous children.

Finally, I want to highlight a form of poverty that occurs due to changes in agriculture’s activities. With bonanzas of exploitation of resources, such as oil, cocoa or marijuana, many indigenous people abandon their crops. Individuals gain purchasing power thanks to the money they earn as day laborers, so they prefer to buy food. When these bonanzas disappear, young people do not want to re-sow land or do not know how to do it because they never had the opportunity to learn. This creates unstable food systems and situations of poverty.

TBP: Is it possible to recover lost languages on the brink of extinction? Is there any state-sponsored or private initiatives in Colombia that are working to do just that?

Bonilla: It’s possible, but requires the commitment of the community and the accompaniment of linguistic experts and pedagogues. For example, at the Caro y Cuervo Institute—a government entity attached to the Ministry of Culture—we are carrying out projects to document, revitalize and strengthen languages based on that of Native Languages (Law 138, 2010).

We are currently working on documenting the Kawiyari language which is at high risk of extinction and has less than 30 speakers in Vaupés. After documenting, the entire process of design and development for language teaching and teacher training will begin. I mentioned that Spanish (as the dominant language) poses a threat to indigenous languages. This year, we will offer certification classes in teaching Spanish as a second language in intercultural contexts. Training indigenous people to teach Spanish creates a precedent of additive bilingualism. That is, Spanish will no longer impose itself in a strange, hegemonic way, but rather, will be taught contextually and be used to strengthen the cultural aspects of the community. International private aids are usually only concerned with documentation and data collection. For example, ELDP from the University of London is a fund to collect audio samples of disappearing languages but is not involved in revitalization or recovery projects.

TBP: What is the relationship between indigenous languages and peacekeeping in postwar Colombia?

Bonilla: Many indigenous communities have oral formulas inbuilt in their ancestral knowledge, such as prayers, songs, declarations to attract good, to be happy, to achieve tranquility and to ward off evil. In these post-war times, it would be important for the government to give the floor to elders. For example, among the Sikuani, there are songs so that objects, such as bullets, do not cause damage. The Karijona and Uitoto have dances to forgive and receive enemies with open arms. Indigenous languages are full of strategies that have allowed indigenous peoples to survive endless threats since the colonial period and that can serve as models to bring us closer to collective peace in our country.

FEM (Fundación por la Educación Multidimensional) is a Colombian nonprofit organization working to aid Colombia’s post-conflict rehabilitation efforts. It follows a bottom-up model, empowering marginal indigenous communities through sustainable development projects and horizontal dialogues between local leaders, stakeholders and government actors. Ethnic education is a large part of FEM’s mission statement; FEM is concerned with advancing Colombia’s immaterial heritage—such as songs, dances and the trades—that the conflict has jeopardized, which should help combat the linguistic genocide in Colombia. For more information on how to donate or get involved, visit http://www.femcolombia.com/.

Elena Robidoux
Photo: Flickr

Traditional Cham Script
Vietnam is a multiethnic state, home to a myriad of indigenous peoples in addition to the dominant Vietnamese (or Kinh) ethnic group. Centuries of conflict and cooperation, from Han Chinese domination, Vietnamese southward imperial expansion, Mongol invasions, French conquest and American intervention, molded the complex dynamics between these various groups. The Cham, inheritors of an ancient civilization with a culture and language all their own, are one of the unique groups of people within Vietnam.

The Marginalization of a Culture

Now diminished to a small minority in their central Vietnamese homeland, with much of the population diasporic, the Cham people seek preservation of their unique culture. Their cultural heritage includes their traditional script, an integral aspect of their cultural heritage and their link to the wider Indian Ocean sphere. The Eastern Cham, residing along the coast of present-day central Vietnam, preserved the traditional Brahmic alphasyllabary-based Cham script despite centuries of foreign domination. Unfortunately, decades of pedagogy neglected the classic script in favor of a simplified but less logical, modified one. However, efforts are underway to ensure the predominance of the traditional Cham script through digital means.

While the annexation of the northern Cham lands by Nguyen Vietnam in 1471 diminished Champa’s sovereignty, Cham culture persisted in the still unconquered regions to the south. Po Rome, a 17th century King of Champa, established a uniform version of Cham script. Originally developed for bureaucratic communications, the traditional script came into regular use in the everyday lives of the Cham people, particularly the Western Cham of present-day Vietnam.

Opponents of a Modified Script

Now, modified Cham script in educational institutions threatens the survival of the former script. Though both traditional and modified Cham scripts derive from the Brahmic alphasyllabary, the modified form introduces characters not present in the traditional script, creating substantial differences between the two. The Cham Textbook Compiling Committee, the organization responsible for developing the modified Cham script, seeks to improve primary school education through the use of the script, but in doing so precipitates pedagogical neglect of the traditional Cham script. Standing athwart the Cham Textbook Compiling Committee’s preference for the modified Cham script is a cross-section of the Western Cham, ranging from elders to students and intellectuals.

Opponents of the modified script’s ascendancy over the traditional script insist that favoring the former and marginalizing the latter will hinder the transmission of Cham customs and values from the older to younger generations. In turn, assimilation of the Cham minority into the hegemonic Vietnamese majority will accelerate. Defenders of the traditional script fear that loss of the traditional script may lead to the physical destruction of precious historical documents, as functional illiteracy will plague students taught the modified script. Moreover, traditional script proponents emphasize that the traditional script is more stable when one compares it to the less rule-bound character of the modified script. Continued relegation of the traditional script will compromise the Cham cultural identity and sever the people’s links with its history, all while replacing a rational system with an arbitrary one. Yet cause for optimism exists, thanks to multinational initiatives aimed at restoring the traditional Cham script’s predominance through the script’s integration into digital interfaces.

Digitizing the Traditional Cham Script

The USAID-backed SPICE program, with the company BREOGAN, made significant strides in promoting the use of the traditional Cham script in Cambodia through the development of digital technology. This initiative emerged from a policy seeking to secure at-risk languages by providing an easily-accessible online communications medium. In the case of Eastern Cham, the SPICE program designed a downloadable keyboard based on the traditional script, resolving the failure of earlier systems to reproduce all Cham phonemes with success.

With the increasing prevalence of online communication, even in more remote parts of the world, the creation of a digital access medium in an accurate rendering of the traditional Cham script will, through continual use, encourage greater use of it. The language’s classic script could undergo a revival and replace the modified script that dominates Cham schools in Vietnam. An open-access license for the font and keyboard further facilitates the SPICE program’s mission to revive the traditional script.

USAID is not alone in its efforts to restore the use of traditional script to daily Cham life. In 2015, the Faculty of Education of the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, designed a process to convert Cham in Latin script to traditional Cham script with minimal errors. Although traditional script fonts already exist in Vietnam, flaws beset these fonts. Moreover, before the completion of this study, no process existed in Vietnam to convert Cham Latin font to traditional Cham script font. The digital font conversion that the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia team developed accounts for the intricacies of vocabulary, grammar and semantics in traditional Cham script. Testing the accuracy of the process by converting the fonts of three poems, the study’s authors found 100 percent accuracy for two poems and 99.88 percent accuracy for the last. Many expect that the study will vastly improve the odds of traditional script preservation.

Developing methods that facilitate accurate online communication in the traditional Cham script promises to undo decades of the script’s marginalization. The future of the Cham people and their culture lies with their ability to communicate across the diaspora in their ancestral language. Before, the use of a modified script limited the exposure of the Cham youth to their written language. Now more opportunities exist for the younger generations to internalize the traditional written language. This progress will ensure that the link to their ancient cultural heritage lives on.

– Philip Daniel Glass
Photo: Flickr

United Nations

The United Nations is an international organization that was founded in 1945. At the end of the Second World War, many countries came together to focus on global peace, climate change, humanitarian emergencies and country development. The organization has become a forum for countries to negotiate and solve problems together in a regulated environment. Below are 10 cool facts about the United Nations.

10 Cool Facts About the United Nations

    1. The U.N. Has Almost 200 Member States
      There are currently 196 member states in the United Nations. These individual states are all recognized by the United Nations as members of the international organization. There are only four countries that are non-members of the U.N. They are Kosovo, Palestine, Taiwan and Vatican City. These countries have received invitations to join the U.N., but have yet to accept.
    2. Branches and Programs of the U.N. Received the Nobel Peace Prize 11 Times
      Over the last 70 years, the United Nations has been given 11 Nobel Peace prizes awarded to various agencies, specialized programs and initiatives. This prize was inspired by the last will of Alfred Nobel in 1895. Upon his death, he left most of his fortune to those who made advancements for the betterment of humanity in the areas of physics, chemistry, physiology, medicine, literature and peace.
    3. The United Nations Was Proposed in 1942
      United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt coined the term the “United Nations” on January 1, 1942. Representatives of 26 nations came together at that time in order to fight the Axis Powers during World War II. However, the U.N. did not officially create a charter until 1945. The organization was officially formed in October 1945 when 51 member states ratified its charter. This day is now celebrated as United Nations Day.
    4. The U.N. Has Six Official Languages
      In 1946, the U.N. established six official languages for its meetings and distributed documentation. The languages are Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. During meetings delegates and representatives must utilize one of these languages or provide a written interpretation in one of them. Each language is recognized on a specific day of the year to celebrate cultural diversity and multilingualism.
    5. The U.N. Has Its Own News Site
      In order to keep the world updated on pertinent international issues and achievements, the United Nations has a news site. The site separates stories by world regions, topics and timeliness. The site is available in the official languages of the U.N. and has both a written and audio option.
    6. It Prioritizes Specific Global Issues
      Conflict resolution and peacekeeping are the main efforts of the United Nations, but the organization has many other branches of foreign assistance. Through specialized programs, the U.N. also addresses global issues such as decolonization, climate change, ending world poverty, children’s rights and international law. The website also outlines fast facts to engage readers about various topics.
    7. The U.N. Hosts International Court Hearings
      The main body of the United Nations judicial system is the International Court of Justice. It is composed of 15 judges who each serve nine-year terms and are elected by the U.N. General Assembly and Security Council. This court provides legal advising and settles disputes between member states. It also regulates global commons, such as environmental conservation, international waters, outer space and global trade, and ensures that human rights violations are prosecuted.
    8. The U.N. Has 36 Specialized Agencies, Programs and Partnerships
      There are 36 agencies and programs known as the “U.N. Family.” The programs are funded through voluntary contributions and are considered independent international organizations. The agencies and programs specialize on different issues. For example, UNICEF is the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund and focuses on ensuring the proper treatment of children worldwide and the protection of children’s rights.
    9. The Official Emblem Hasn’t Changed Since 1946
      The United Nations flag and symbol are blue and white. The design team created the logo in 1945, and it was officially adopted by the organization in 1946. The emblem is “a map of the world representing an azimuthal equidistant projection centered on the North Pole, inscribed in a wreath consisting of crossed conventionalized branches of the olive tree, in gold on a field of smoke-blue with all water areas in white,” according to the original description.
    10. The U.N. Has the First Recorded Definition of Human Rights
      In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly drafted the first Universal Definition of Human Rights (General Assembly resolution 217 A). It was drafted by representatives from different legal and cultural backgrounds to make it more comprehensive. It sets out fundamental human rights that should be protected; condemning slavery, torture, imprisonment without trial and prejudice. It has been translated into more than 500 languages.

The United Nations has worked for decades to protect human rights around the world. These 10 cool facts about the United Nations shed some light on the history of the organization as well as some of its policies.

Emily Triolet
Photo: Flickr

China
Poverty in China today primarily refers to the rural poor, as the country’s economic growth over the past few decades has led to the majority of urban poverty being eradicated. But while local Chinese governments have implemented many programs and policies in an effort to aid China’s poorest regions, there is still one major factor that researchers say China is forgetting about: language. In a lot of ways, language and its variations affect poverty in China.

Language Statistics in China

Geography plays a huge role in analyzing the relationship between spoken Chinese languages and poverty. China’s last national census reported that the nation has more than 1.38 billion inhabitants, many of whom are located in the urban areas of Eastern China. Studies of China’s urbanization trends also reveal a migration of the nation’s various ethnic groups. The main language of the most urbanized cities is determined by the ethnic group that populates that area the most. With 91.51 percent of the Chinese population being Han Chinese, standardized Mandarin is the most commonly spoken language across the nation.

The remaining 8.41 percent of the Chinese population is made up of 55 other ethnic groups. This part of the population, though a minority in terms of the general population makeup, accounts for the majority of those who are located in rural Chinese areas. The Chinese central government has identified 14 of these rural provinces as areas of concentrated poverty. These areas have their own distinct languages and cultures, speaking one of 200 dialects from five main dialectical groups, out of which Mandarin Chinese is only one. Furthermore, around 30 percent of these ethnic minorities are illiterate and unable to speak Mandarin, the main language in the country. As such, many of these ethnic minorities remain isolated from provincial opportunities that may help them rise out of poverty.

Government’s Work

There has been an increase in attention from regional and local Chinese governments in terms of addressing the education gap between urban and rural communities. One expert, Zhu Weiqun, even states that the Chinese government needs to do more to teach these ethnic groups standardized Mandarin, as this has been a primary influencer in the development and urbanization of cities like Beijing. This type of education will provide these ethnic minorities with the lasting ability to access other jobs apart from farming, that will enable them to earn enough money to feed and clothe themselves without such a strong dependency on governmental programs.

Challenges

Understandably, there is also the problem of resistance from certain ethnic minority groups, particularly Muslims, who feel that their language is integral to their cultural identity. As such, the government is tasked with encouraging the standardization of its most commonly spoken dialect in a way that does not simultaneously alienate any one ethnic group. This cycle of promotion and rejection is integral to the way that language continues to affect poverty in China.

– Jordan Washington

Photo: Unsplash

The Importance of Native-Language InstructionIn schools across the world, students find themselves at an inherent disadvantage because their classes are not taught in their native language. Native-language instruction is crucial to optimize a student’s success, for many reasons.

Development of a student’s first language facilitates development in a second language. In other words, it is far easier to learn a second language when students already have a strong foundation in their first language. Knowledge and skills are also completely transferable from one language to another.

Native-language instruction also benefits a student’s overall well-being. Students enjoy school and are happier and more successful when they are taught in their own language. Conversely, students who are taught in a language other than their first language are more likely to fail early grades or drop out of school completely.

Girls are more likely to go to school and stay in school when the language of instruction is their first language, and parents are more likely to be involved in their children’s schooling. On a larger scale, native-language instruction emphasizes the importance of that language and its culture, and preserves the language for future generations.

Schools are typically taught in one of the national languages of a country. For example, Burundi recently declared that English was one of its national languages, so an increasing number of schools are now taught in English. This privileges urban students over rural ones. Urban students are more likely to already speak the national language or at least to have been exposed to it. Rural students are far more isolated and often enter school knowing only the language spoken at home.

In countries with large indigenous populations and a multitude of languages, the lack of resources is a barrier to adequate native-language instruction. It costs money to employ teachers who are fluent in each of the native languages, and to provide textbooks that are in those languages and are culturally appropriate.

In Mongolia, the Kazakhs are the largest minority. Until 2005, teachers were only given textbooks written in Mongolian, even when they were teaching in Kazakh. In Botswana, schools teach exclusively in English and Setswana, the national languages and the languages of the ethnic majorities. These languages are also core subjects in the national curriculum, and thus students are required to take and pass exams in those languages. This disadvantages indigenous children who enter school with no prior knowledge of English or Setswana.

There are many programs targeted at addressing bilingual students and bridging language gaps. In the Bronx, there are schools which alternate teaching in English and Spanish every other week, meeting the needs of students who are fluent in both languages and enhancing their bilingualism.

In the U.S. alone, 175 indigenous languages are still spoken. All but 50 of these are projected to be extinct by 2024. Project SEED (Scholarships for Economic and Educational Development) and AILDI (American Indian Language Development Institute) develop curriculum in, teach and work to preserve native languages. In Cameroon, indigenous peoples have created a culturally sensitive education policy called ORA (Observe, Reflect, Act) which is tailored specifically toward young Baka children.

For curriculum to be most effective, especially for disadvantaged and marginalized students, it should be in their language, culturally sensitive and incorporate indigenous culture and traditions.

Olivia Bradley

Photo: Flickr

Education in Malaysia
Whether in textbooks or spoken in lectures, language is crucial in effective education. Without a common means of communication, many students will be left behind. While education in Malaysia has predominantly used Malay, the country’s official language, in its classrooms, some Malaysian schools also include more English, Chinese and Tamil cultures into their curricula.

In most instances, immense diversity is a privilege to instill greater global awareness, but, in the Malaysian education system, it has hindered progress, especially in keeping up with other countries’ educational opportunities. To keep up in an ever-changing economy and job market, education in Malaysia needs to establish a common language for all schools.

Despite its linguistic differences, Malaysian education is goal-driven and focused on improving itself. The government released an ambitious Malaysia Education Blueprint in 2013. The detailed plan hopes to achieve universal access and full enrollment of all children from preschool to upper secondary school, improved student test scores, and reduced urban-rural, socio-economic and gender achievement gaps, all by 2020.

To meet such high standards, however, promoting a mother tongue language for education in Malaysia is key. The benefits of doing so include higher enrollment and success rates, especially for girls and rural-based students, and greater parent-teacher communication. The students that tend to feel the most marginalized, those from poorer households, are more likely to attend school, retain information, and participate in their learning.

Other countries in the region with similar struggles serve as examples of how to overcome potential language barriers. Laos has dozens of diverse languages that are mainly spoken in rural, impoverished communities. However, with education requiring fluency in Lao, the official language, children from different ethnic backgrounds were left out. With UNICEF’s support, the government took a “Schools of Quality” approach that starts children in their native language and slowly transitions them into Lao. The change has been a successful way to boost student morale and attendance.

Such benefits of a mother-tongue-based education will propel Malaysia to become a world leader in a digital economy. Students who face language barriers in their education have limited opportunities to reach their full potential. If students fall behind in understanding their studies, they will also fall behind when facing an increasingly technical-based economy. Acquiring skills in technology and STEM-related fields requires a quality, forward-thinking education as a foundation. That education appropriately requires a cohesive language to teach and learn.

Education should be an accessible service to every person, regardless of their language, ethnicity or socioeconomic status. Education in Malaysia is on the right path to improving its system, but an important step forward will involve overcoming language barriers. Other countries in the region serve as testaments to the positive growth in preserving the mother tongue, and, with continued support, Malaysia too can experience this progress.

Allie Knofczynski

Photo: Flickr