Welcome to Linguis Europae, the EUC's language blog!

Linguis Europae is dedicated to a range of topics involving official state, regional, and minority languages in the EU. Posts are written in five languages by UI students and faculty! Check back regularly for updates!

Bridging the Gap: Language and Community in Action in East Central Illinois

Skye Mclean discusses the East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center (ECRIMAC), which provides services essential to refugee and immigrant resettlement in East-Central Illinois and aids in the exchange and preservation of their respective cultures.

Place and Space: Another Perspective on Crimea

Senior Andrey Starosin offers his perspective on the current events taking place in Crimea.

French Professor Revamps Course on "Language and Minorities in Europe"

Linguis Europae's own Zsuzsanna Fagyal and her course "Languages and Minorities in Europe" were featured in a recent issue of the School of Literatures, Cultures, and Linguistics.

Un'Ode al "Dialàtt Bulgnaiś": An Ode to the Bolgnese Dialect

Kaitlyn Russell muses on her fondness for the Italian dialect, Bolognese.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Inside Hydra

by Eda Derhemi |

Editor: Jessica Nicholas (PhD Candidate in French); photos: Kathryn Nicholas

This is Part Two of a two-part series.  Click here to read Part One!

Bio: Eda Derhemi (PhD in Communication, 2003) is a lecturer in the department of Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese, and an adjunct assistant professor of Communications in the ICR. She completed her undergraduate studies in Linguistics and Literature at the University of Tirana, Albania, and her graduate studies in Illinois. She has extensive teaching and research experience in Italian Language, Linguistics and Media Studies. She worked as a correspondent journalist for Deutsche Welle, and is a regular writer of opinion pieces in the main Albanian media. Her interests are: linguistic endangerment and language death, minority languages and ethnicity in the EU, language of the media and propaganda, Balkan and Mediterranean studies, Arbëresh and Arvanitika.

Breathless, I enter in the main area of Hydra’s port. The tiny village that grows like a healthy plant up the rocks, the white houses and the deep blue sea-sky background shock you like the song of sirens. The tourists usually walk in groups: the American groups the noisiest and the most conspicuous of all. I can feel that being alone is not a normal thing in this island that is finally accustomed to tourism in the age of globalization. The islanders behave carelessly since I am nothing more than a tourist. They do not know that I can construe every single move of their head or eyebrows or smile they give to each other, not at all different from people from the small towns in Albania. And I like it. The beautiful sweet donkeys (or mules… it has been a long time I left my country, so I can no longer tell the difference) are the first villagers to greet everybody that arrives in this little piece of land fallen from paradise. They are tired and resting in the extreme noon heat of a sunny day. Once in a while the tourists load them with their luggage (or with themselves sometimes) and follow the donkeys towards their rented villas in the higher parts of Hydra. The donkeys behave slavishly, without any resistance. At that moment I caught myself wishing to be as peaceful and obedient as they were; my life probably would have been less hectic. Fortunately Hydra is not the most typical touristic village in Greece. Although touristic, it still gives you some space to be alone; it allows you to think, meditate and dream, and not just run crazily to fulfill your plan of activities and picture taking.

Then I decide to do what I do in every Greek village of Arvanitika origin: walk as much as I can, back and forth, to get a feel of the whole place and see whether the language is used in the village, where, by whom etc., and whether signs of pride or shame for the origin are noticeable. This is what had happened in my first hours in the island. And I found absolutely nothing visible: worse than any signs of shame that in fact would be signs of life. Any memory of Arvanitika in Hydra seems to have been wiped out. Not only do you not hear the language anywhere, but the words ‘Arvanitika’ or ‘Arvanites’ are nowhere either. There are many little squares and streets with poetic and patriotic names, and I thought I might find a little square named something like “The Arvanites.” After all, they were well known in Europe and in Greece, as a distinct ethnic group extremely active in the Greek War of Independence. But I find no trace of the name anywhere.

Although Hydra is a very small village, it is lucky enough to have its own historical museum, “The Historical Archives Museum of Hydra,” curated by the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs of Greece. In the streets of Hydra, I could not find Arvanitika, the language that was still spoken in the island till a few decades ago, but I was sure I would find plenty of data about the history of Arvanites inside this museum. The museum is an inviting structure with the architecture of a rich three-story family house with small corridors surrounded by normal-sized rooms, and with wooden stairs. The archives are not shown to the visitors, but the whole history of the Greek revolutionary war is there. Eighty percent of the portraits that are shown in the walls of the museum are famous Arvanites from the island of Hydra, some of whom spoke only Arvanitika at the time of the revolution or even until 50 years ago. I recognize the names of many Arvanites in the museum, because their last names are composites of Albanian words, like Krieziu, Kriekuqi, Kriebardhi or Zogu. The families of Miaulis, Kulurioti, Krieziu, Kundurioti etc, all very famous families of Arvanites, are the center of the museum, together with their well-known ships of the time which were as symbolic of heroism during the Greek War of Independence as their owners were.
I also see the beautiful traditional dresses of women and costumes of men, paintings with groups of women around the village spring, under which it is explained clearly that people in Hydra were known for particular costumes and customs… but nowhere is it mentioned what was “particular” about their costumes and customs. The word “Arvanites” is not written once in any of the rooms that make up this museum. I look into the soft brown eyes of Eleni Krieziu painted by Nikolla Voko (Krieziu in Albanian means “black haired head”), who stares into space from a central portrait, and I see something from my two grandmas: Evangjelia, an Albanian of Christian Orthodox faith, and my other grandma Haxhire, an Albanian of Muslim faith, as can be understood from their names. Why is it so hard to say in a historical museum concentrated in one particular era, that these people that fought so hard against the Turkish control in those days on which the museum narrative is centered, belonged to a special ethnicity that was not Greek? Why does this element need to be erased from history? If the museum was built by a group of school children, I would understand it could be the innocence of ignorance implied in this gap. But this is a serious museum, well curated and maintained by an important state institution.

I spent a few hours and carefully observed every picture, painting and document in every corner of the museum. As I found no trace of the word “Arvanitika” and “Arvanites”, I went around again to make sure I did not miss anything. Then I went back to the entrance of the museum where two young brothers in their early twenties, smart and outspoken, worked in the ticket and research office. Since it was not a busy day, I started talking to them. They were university students whose parents lived in Hydra, who during summer months worked in the museum.

Both had excellent knowledge about the whereabouts of every museum piece. I asked whether there still were any Arvanitika speakers in the village, and they said that nobody today speaks it. I asked whether they were Arvanites, and then added “Arvanites in origin”. The younger brother said: well, in that sense, everybody in Hydra is Arvanites.

“Then, why is it never mentioned in this museum, neither the name of their ethnic group, nor the language that most of the heroes of this museum spoke during all their life?”  I asked.

“Hmm… In fact… it must have been overlooked… they were concentrated in the historical parts,” he answered.

I did not understand the reasoning, but it was obvious that the young man was wondering for the first time about this question, and was trying to rationalize what he had just realized at that moment. I asked them whether it was good or bad to be an Arvanites. One of them, the younger brother, unlike the older one who did not like my questions, was entertained by the conversation. He said “not that good.”

I said: “Isn’t it strange given that they have such a wonderful and eventful history?”

He said that he did not know much why it was so, and why nobody really spoke much about Arvanites. I mentioned the fact that recently there are a few critical programs in the main Greek televisions, and some of the most prominent Greek writers that are trying to break this long tradition of pretending that Greece is built by only Greeks and that you all have been Greeks from the time of Plato. The boy smiled again. I added that I read that even this museum was started by an Arvanitis, Gjikë Kuluri, a ship owner who in 1918 donated his house to the state to become a museum that told the history of his village and of many brave men from there. I asked the man: “Do you think Kuluri himself had wished that the language that he spoke from the day he was born till the day he died not be mentioned in this museum that tells his story?”

Then I asked whether there is anything from Arvanitika language still alive in the island. He said that Arvanitika is not even a minority language in Greece. I said that the fact it has never been recognized as a minority language in Greece, and has never had any institutional care, is one of the reasons the language is dying so fast, but it is not a reason for speakers not to use it. But there were still some expressions used in Arvanitika by all the old locals, he added, “and some that even we use sometimes.” He wrote a list of words and expressions that he and his brother could remember, some of which I immediately recognized as profane dialectal insults, still used in Albania today. The boy said “Some of these are dirty, and I cannot translate them to you.”  I laughed and told him to not worry, because I understood those since I speak Albanian. Then we talked about the rest of the expressions and the situations in which they were used. The boy said that the Arvanites used them when non-Arvanites came to the village, usually to say things they did not want them to understand or to insult them. And I asked “When do you use these expressions today?” The boy answered,  “I guess when tourists or non-locals come to our island.” We laughed again.

I asked him whether he had ever been to Albania. The boy said no, but that he wanted to go some day. I said that he should, since it was only a few hours away, and I joked: “You can even swim from here to Albania.” I also told him that nowhere else in the Balkans had I seen such similarities in traditions, behavior, and the way people looked as between Albanians and Greeks. If, instead of fighting the language of each other, we had only embraced them, we would all be bilinguals now (or probably trilinguals given the widespread use of Italian and English in the region). And probably we would have fought less and been able to communicate much better with each other. We said goodbye laughing, and I told them that I would be back in Hydra as soon as I could in the coming years.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Corsican: Attempting to Make the Minority a Majority

by Alexandra Gecas |
Image source: worldatlas.com
Our world is in a perplexing situation when it comes to linguistics: many more people are becoming fluent in several languages while multiple minority languages are facing an uncertain future. Alexandra Jaffe acknowledged various aspects of any minority language (truly any language) such as the difference between “native”, “partial”, and “learner” as well as the differences between a language learned traditionally and a language taught in school. Her focus was on Corsica and Corsican is influenced both by the French and Italian language. She noted that Corsican, a polynomic language, is no longer the first language acquired and has been replaced by French or English. It is not the mother tongue or the foreign language, but rather “a creative source of identity.” In an effort to preserve the language, Corsican is now offered at all levels of public schooling in Corsica and is seen as a “passport to other romance languages.”

Image source: http://wn.com/french_conquest_of_corsica
A key aspect, as mentioned earlier, of her lecture focused on ways to promote the minority language to younger people. “Fields of Minority Language Activism (Part One)” noted the importance of teaching minority languages in schools as well as promoting the languages through mass media like the radio and television. This article specifically mentioned the successful attempts of these strategies by Corsicans, which resulted in the promotion of Corsican in school systems. I agree that a resource for minority languages is the mass media, but I also believe that this may not be realistic due to the fact that mass media utilizes common languages in order to reach a larger audience. For instance, mass media in America is broadcast in English and mass media in Corsica is typically broadcast in French. Mass media outlets, including the Internet, would not see the benefits of broadcasting in a minority language, even if the intentions were just. Here are two YouTube videos that express the conflict over the Corsican language: NO to the genocide of the Corsican language and The mass in Corsican language.

Although I applaud efforts made thus far to increase the use of minority languages (for example, offering Corsican at all school levels) and I understand the importance of keeping these languages alive, again I am not sure how viable these goals are. I fear that most people see more use in learning English, Spanish, or Mandarin, as they are prominent languages. If Corsican is considered foreign as opposed to a “mother tongue”, I think that further proves how difficult the language is to promulgate. It is evident in young adults today and recent generations of immigrants where the language of the parents is often not spoken at home in the hopes that children will learn the more common language spoken in that country (such as English in America). I believe that it is critical for children to learn languages at a young age, and I support multilingualism. I learned French and Spanish in kindergarten and have continued my Spanish studies because I recognize the utility in today’s society of speaking Spanish. This begs the question: should we try and promote minority languages or chose to learn a language that may make us better suited for society today?

Alexandra Gecas is a senior majoring in Global Studies with minors in Italian and Spanish. She will attend law school at the University of Illinois after graduation and in the future she hopes to work with the European Union in a legal capacity. She is continuing her Italian language studies through the FLAS Fellowship. She is actively involved in Model United Nations and other organizations on campus.

Works Cited: 
Heidemann, Kai. "Fields of Minority Language Activism (Part One)." Mobilizing Ideas. 05 Sept.     2012. Web. <http://mobilizingideas.wordpress.com/2012/09/05/fields-of-minority-language-activism-part-one/>.

¡Renueva tu Facebook! ¡Dar voz a las lenguas minoritarias en los medios sociales!

Escrito por Kevin P. Scannell |

¿Qué pasaría si todo ese tiempo que pasas frente a la pantalla de la computadora usando los medios sociales con tus amigos pudiera utilizarse para destacar algo del Patrimonio Cultural de la Humanidad? El Profesor Kevin P. Scannell del Departamento de Matemáticas e Informática de la Universidad de San Luis está proponiendo un proyecto cuyo objetivo es el de animar a grupos que hablen una lengua indígena a que la usen en los medios sociales. ¡Esta innovadora iniciativa implica la traducción de la interfase en Facebook!

Con el permiso del autor, estamos reproduciendo aquí el acceso al blog del Profesor Scanell desde Alzando las Voces (presiona aquí) titulado: “Facebook en tu Lengua Indígena o en tu Lengua en Peligro de Extinción”.

¡Te einvitamos a que lo leas y te sumes al proyecto!

Nota de Rising Voices: Este artículo es republicado en este espacio en colaboración con Indigenous Tweets. Lea el original aquí [en].

El proyecto Indigenous Tweets sigue fortaleciéndose y el número de idiomas a los que hacemos seguimiento en Twitter continúa creciendo - hemos sumado las 138va y 139va lenguas (Inari y South Saami) [en] al sitio hace un par de semanas. Además, la semana pasada el equipo de Twitter amablemente incluyó a Indigenous Tweets en su sitio “Historias de Twitter” [en]; pueden leer ese artículo aquí [en].

Interfaz multilingüe de Facebook

Desde enero, he pasado mucho tiempo trabajando en otro proyecto que tiene como objetivo incentivar a grupos lingüísticos indígenas a usar su idioma en los medios sociales. Lo que estamos intentando es realizar traducciones de la interfaz de Facebook (menús, navegación, etc.) a tantas lenguas sea posible.

Tal vez estés al tanto de que Facebook tiene un lindo sistema que permite que voluntarios traduzcan el sitio a 100 diferentes lenguas, incluyendo varias que seguimos aquí como el irlandés, cherokee, sami nórdico y aimará. Este es casi el mismo número de equipos lingüísticos que actualmente están traduciendo Mozilla Firefox (105) y un poco menos del número de lenguas en las que la interfaz de búsqueda de Google está disponible (150).

No hay opción para nuevas lenguas

El problema es que ni Facebook ni Google han añadido más lenguas a sus sistemas de traducción desde hace ya bastante tiempo. En el caso de Google, este asunto se aclara en su sección de Preguntas Frecuentes sobre Traducción [en]:

“Por ahora, no tenemos capacidad de manejar más lenguas en GIYL”.

No hemos podido entrar en contacto con alguien en Facebook que vea este tema, pero hemos escuchado de segunda mano que han tenido problemas con traducciones spam y de baja calidad provenientes de grupos de traducción más pequeños. Cualquiera sea la razón, hay cientos de grupos lingüísticos que usan activamente Facebook para comunicarse en su idioma, pero que han sido forzados a navegar el sitio en inglés, español, etc. Esto contradice el propósito declarado de Facebook de ”hacer que el sitio esté disponible en todos los idiomas del mundo”.

Script superpuesto

Para resolver este problema para su propia lengua, el Secwepemctsín [en], el finado Neskie Manuel [en] ideó una solución inteligente que usa una tecnología llamada Greasemonkey [en].  Su código actúa como un tipo de “superposición” o máscara que corre en tu navegador de Internet; mientras navegas en las páginas de Facebook, estas son enviadas a través de la red hacia tí en inglés, pero pueden ser traducidas instantáneamente en tu navegador.

En un nivel es sólo un “hackeo”, e incluso Neskie lo veía como una solución parche temporal [en]: “Sería bueno poder usar la Aplicación de Traducción de Facebook, pero el Secwepemctsín no está en la lista. Hasta entonces, podemos usar este script.”

Personalmente, pienso que su idea es más grande e importante que sólo eso.

Lo que significa es que cualquier grupo lingüístico puede tomar la tarea de traducir sin tener que esperar a que Facebook los apruebe o les de permiso, y la misma mirada aplica en teoría para Google o cualquier otro sitio popular en la red que no esté abierto a traducción. He trabajado en traducción de software de fuente abierta por más de diez años, y he contribuido a las traducciones al irlandés de Mozilla Firefox, LibreOffice, KDE, etc. He apoyado fuertemente [PDF] una propuesta de fuente abierta para los grupos de lenguas indígenas que apenas se están iniciando en la traducción de software, porque significa que la comunidad en sí puede mantener el control y el dominio de su trabajo en lugar de tener que depender de la buena voluntad de una gran corporación con fines de lucro.

El problema que enfrentamos ahora, sin embargo, es que cada vez un mayor número del software que usamos es “software actuando como servicio”: Gmail en lugar de Mozilla Thunderbird, Google Docs en lugar de LibreOffice, etc., y sitios de redes sociales como Twitter y Facebook. Esta tendencia pone el control del “paisaje lingüístico” firmemente de nuevo en las manos de las grandes empresas. El enfoque de Neskie nos da una forma de mantener en alguna medida el control sobre el idioma que escogemos usar en internet.

El tener aunque sea unas pocas palabras clave traducidas, por ejemplo “me gusta”, “ya no me gusta”, “comentar”, y “compartir”.

¿Te gustaría intentar traducir Facebook a tu lengua? Deja un comentario abajo y ¡puedo enviarte instrucciones detalladas!

Esfuerzos comunitarios de traducción

La respuesta a este proyecto ha sido abrumadora. Más de 60 grupos de idiomas diferentes han comenzado traducciones, y tenemos ya más de 30 [en] utilizables. Cerca de dos tercios de estas lenguas están en peligro de acuerdo al Atlas UNESCO de las lenguas del mundo en peligro y en la mayoría de los casos, no conozco esfuerzos anteriores de traducir software en esos idiomas.
Hacer una traducción ”completa” es bastante fácil. Depende de cuánta terminología tiene que inventarse, puede tomar apenas un par de horas de trabajo. Yo he seleccionado cerca de 200 de los mensajes más comunes de Facebook para traducirlos. Claro que esto es sólo una pequeña fracción del sitio entero (lo que sería demasiado para que un pequeño grupo lingüístico lo hiciera), pero al escoger estos 200 mensajes con cuidado, fuimos capaces de lograr una experiencia inclusiva en la lengua objetivo con un mínimo de esfuerzo.

Hay algunos términos técnicos que necesitan traducción (por ejemplo, ”cargas móviles”, “direcciones de correo electrónico”, “apps”, “cookies”), algunos modismos propios del sitio (”me gusta/ya no me gusta”, “dar un toque”, “actualizar estado”), y conceptos occidentales que han sido difíciles de llevar a algunas lenguas indígena (”privacidad”, “publicidad”). Una técnica útil en la creación de terminología es ver cómo otros idiomas han lidiado con el concepto en cuestión.

Para ayudarnos en esto, le he pedido a todos los que han contribuido a la traducción de Facebook que provean también “traducciones respaldo” de algunos de estos complicados términos en inglés con la esperanza de que sean de ayuda para nuevos traductores. Estas traducciones respaldo se guardan en el wiki del proyecto [en], y damos la bienvenida a contribuciones adicionales a cualquier idioma.

También debo decir que no necesitas traducir todos los 200 mensajes si no lo deseas. Para una lengua que rara vez, si es que, se ve en una computadora, creo que tiene un gran valor simbólico.

Ver este blog en Inglés: Revamp your Facebook! Give a voice to small languages in social media!

“Use it or lose it!” What has been achieved with or without the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages?

by Zsuzsanna Fagyal-Le Mentec |

"Commemorating is remembering the first step of a journey of a thousand miles…" (Unknown)

Twenty years ago on November 5th 1992, an important step was taken towards protecting small languages in Europe. The Council of Europe’s landmark international convention, called the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages was opened for signature, calling on the Council’s member states to protect and promote the small languages that have been spoken in their territories for centuries. The European Union Center and participating centers and units on the Urbana campus organized a one-day symposium on November 5, 2012 to reflect on the progress in implementing and monitoring the Charter, and discuss the effects of lack of protection of languages in greater Europe.   

1.    Here is why we did it…
Not speaking a language on a daily basis increases the risk of losing it forever. Words start coming slowly, stylistic nuances are lost in communication, and mistakes never made before begin popping up in speech and writing. Eventually, language attrition (the linguists’ word for it) can lead to language loss and language shift, i.e. switch to the exclusive use of other languages. The same is true for communities of people. Not being able to use a language for reading and writing, pleading in court, listening to a priest marrying a couple, or buying stamps in the post office can be the beginning of the end for languages spoken by small groups of people. This is why – besides being spoken and heard at home – all languages need some form of administrative and political support to function in public life.

And this is where the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages comes in…

In its Preamble, the Charter declares its intentions to protect and promote “the right to use a regional or minority language in private and public life”. It works through voluntary compliance by the Council’s member states, which amounts to behaving socially responsibly in pursuit of a good public image! Therefore, one question we’ve asked the Symposium participants is this: How is the implantation and monitoring of the Charter coming along (and does voluntary compliance really work)?    

The Charter helps countries that sign and ratify the document figure out what kind of protective measures are best suited for protecting and promoting those languages within their borders that are different from their official state language(s), and are spoken by relatively small groups of people (“minority”) occupying or not a specific territory (“regional”). Since every language has its unique historical and sociolinguistic situation, offering tailor-made provisions is one of the most unique features of the Charter.

Part III comes up with a menu option of protective and planning measures to increase the presence of smaller languages in education, judicial authorities (pleading in court), administrative authorities and public services (getting a birth certificate), media (social media and good old radio), cultural activities (folk festivals and museums), economic and social life (banks, hospitals, and nursing homes). It also offers measures for trans-frontier exchanges when the same language is spoken on both sides of a political border. In light of these options, we’ve asked the Symposium participants the following question: Do you really need the Charter to enact measures in all these domains? If yes, what has been achieved in the last 20 years?

2.    Here is how we did it…
As one of the organizers of the Symposium, I have offered an introduction to the topic and presented the first keynote speaker. (Click here for powerpoint presentation.) In my presentation, I showed a video recorded by Professor Emeritus Douglas Kibbee who talked about inequalities in language and human rights. (Video below.)

Our introductory keynote speaker, Mr. Alexey Kozhemyakov, Head of the Charter Secretariat, Council of Europe, Strasbourg, France, then talked in greater detail about the Charter and its implementation. He outlined some of the achievements, such as the revitalization of Cornish in the United Kingdom, Maronite Arabic in Cyprus, and Yiddisch in Sweden, and also stressed some of the concerns with monitoring, such as delay, non-compliance, and budgetary restrictions.

Then, we considered historical minorities in two non-ratifying member states of the Council: Italy and Corsica. In these countries, the Charter’s provisions do not apply but, as hinted on by Professor Kibbee in it video address, its influence is recognizable. Dr. Eda Derhemi (SIP, UIUC) presented the contribution of old media, a community newspaper, to the revitalization Arbëresh, an ethnolect spoken by groups of Albanian-speaking minorities in Italy. Alessia Zulato (French, UIUC) took us to trilingual Aosta Valley in Italy to explain how cultural initiatives can give visibility in the public domain to oral languages such as franco-provençal, spoken at home by numerous speakers whose official and co-official state languages are Italian, French

Professor Alexandra Jaffe’s keynote address highlighted the acceptance of multiple norms in elementary education in Corsican, a Romance language spoken natively on the island of Corsica, France. She presented videos and transcripts of actual exchanges that showed how teachers negotiate successfully between the mixed use of Corsican, French, Italian (as a second language) in the classroom. Her conclusions resonated with the morning session’s overall perception that small, “tailor-made” measures promoting the use of local languages can help increase awareness of the language, but it often has little at stake for the community.

In the afternoon, we turned to Spain, a “chartered” territory for regional or minority language planning and protection. Taking the Basque Country and its flagship minority language, Basque, as her demonstration, Itxaso Rodriguez (SIP, UIUC) addressed the issue of language ideologies and language use. She argued that the attitudes of the upcoming generations that are now speaking Basque natively often have a radical attitude towards the prestige and correctness of standard Basque: while practicing it in most formal settings, they are also questioning its authenticity and legitimacy in everyday life.
Professor Inigo Urrutia the University of the Basque Country in Bilbao offered several analyses of EU-case law on labeling and official language laws. He showed that laws requiring the use of the national language in media broadcasts and food labeling can be seen as barriers to trade and free circulation of goods increasingly advocated by the EU. In his short reply, Professor Jose Ignacio Hualde raised the question of limits to planning and revitalization that effectively stop at trade arrangements and practical constraints that often lead to a compromise.

Professor Kevin Scannell’s video-recorded presentation on the grassroots initiative to translate Facebook’s English-only interface to various languages of lesser use closed the day of this long Symposium. If you would like to read our separate blog entry on this topic, please click here

3. And what was achieved …
… was a lively and open discussion that brought up even more questions that we could possibly answer. What we have learned that the Charter is a catalyst. Its aim and proposals have extended beyond the ratifying member states and succeeded in bringing concrete measures, such as the standardization of nearly-extinct languages and awareness of the existence of many languages. Greater awareness can bring re-evaluation of the value of the language itself, contributing to inter-cultural dialogue. Often times, as we have seen in Italy and in Spain, regional autonomy achieved much of the same the Charter could have brought to the community… In some of these communities, the regional language shows unmistakable signs of vitality in debates on stylistic variation and ideologies.

How could the Charter still contribute to regional or minority language protection and planning?
Alessia Zulato’s willingness to look into the future of trilingual Aosta Valley gave us the following positive closing statement: “The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages could importantly contribute to strengthening the impact of regional activities on the regional territory, as well as inserting these local measures within a supra-regional frame. Cultural projects, for one, could expand and create cooperation among regional minority languages speakers around the EU.”   

Let it be the job of the 30th Anniversary Symposium to evaluate this proposal…

Zsuzsanna Fagyal-Le Mentec is Associate Professor of French at UIUC. She is an EU Center faculty, specializing in the study of the sounds of French, language variation and change in European varieties of French, and language and minorities in Europe. She regularly teaches the EUC-sponsored "Language and Minorities in Europe" course and she is the chief editor of this blog..

Revamp your Facebook! Give a voice to small languages in social media!

What if those long hours spent in front of the computer screen using social media with friends and family could be used to highlight some of the world’s cultural heritage? Professor Kevin P. Scannell from the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science at Saint Louis University is proposing a project aimed at encouraging indigenous language groups to use their languages in social media.  The newest initiative involves translating Facebook's interface!

With the author’s permission, we are reproducing here Professor Scannell’s blog entry from Rising Voices titled: Facebook in your Endangered or Indigenous Language. Read on and join in!

by Kevin P. Scannell

The Indigenous Tweets project is still going strong, and the number of languages we're tracking on Twitter continues to grow - we added the 138th and 139th languages (Inari and South Saami) to the site a couple of weeks ago.  Last week, the team at Twitter was nice enough to feature Indigenous Tweets on their “Twitter Stories” site; you can read that piece here.

Multi-Lingual Facebook Interface

Since January, I've spent a lot of time working on another project aimed at encouraging indigenous language groups to use their languages in social media.  What we're trying to do is produce translations of Facebook's interface (the menus, navigation, etc.) into as many languages as possible.

You may be aware that Facebook has a nice system in place that allows volunteers to translate the site into about 100 different languages, including a number of languages that we care about here, like Irish, Cherokee, Northern Sámi, and Aymara.  This is about the same as the number of language teams currently translating Mozilla Firefox (105) and somewhat less than the number of languages the Google search interface is available in (150).

No Options for New Languages

The trouble is, neither Facebook nor Google has added any new languages to their translation systems for quite a while.  In the case of Google, this is stated explicitly in their translation FAQ
Right now, we're unable to support more languages in GIYL
We haven't been able to reach anyone at Facebook about this, but we've heard second-hand that they have had problems with spam translations and poor quality from some of the smaller translation teams.  Whatever the reason, there are hundreds of language groups out there actively using Facebook to communicate in their language, but who are forced to use the site in English, Spanish, etc.  This flies in the face of Facebook's stated aim to “make Facebook available in every language across the world”.

Overlay Script

To solve this problem for his own language of Secwepemctsín, the late Neskie Manuel came up with a clever solution using a technology called Greasemonkey.  His code acts as a kind of “overlay” that runs in your web browser; as you navigate pages on Facebook, they are sent across the network to you in English, but then can be translated on the fly in your browser.

At one level this is just a “hack”, and even Neskie viewed it as a temporary workaround: “It would be good to be able to use the official Facebook Translations App, but Secwepemctsín isn’t listed. Until then, we can use this script.”

Personally, I think it's a bigger, more important idea than that.

What it means is that any language group can undertake a translation without having to wait for Facebook's approval or permission, and the same approach works in theory for Google or other popular web sites that aren't open to translation. I've been working on open source software translations for more than ten years, and have contributed to the Irish translations of Mozilla FirefoxLibreOfficeKDE, etc. I've strongly advocated [PDF] for an open source approach among indigenous language groups who are just starting out on software translation, because it means that the community itself can maintain control and ownership of their work, instead of having to rely on the goodwill of a big, for-profit corporation.

The trouble we're facing now, however, is that more and more of the software we use is “software as a service”: Gmail instead of Mozilla Thunderbird, Google Docs instead of LibreOffice, etc., or social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. This trend puts control of the online “linguistic landscape” firmly back in the hands of big corporations. Neskie's approach gives us a way to maintain a measure of control over the language we choose to use online.

Community Translation Efforts

The response to this project has been overwhelming. More than 60 different language groups have started translations, and we already have more than 30 that are in a usable state.  About two-thirds of these languages are endangered according to the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger, and in the majority of cases, I'm aware of no previous efforts to translate software into the language.
Doing a “complete” translation is quite easy. Depending on how much terminology you have to make up, it can take as little as a couple of hours of work. I've picked out around 200 of the most common messages that appear on Facebook to be translated. Of course this is only a small fraction of the entire site (which would be overwhelmingly large for a small language group to undertake), but by choosing these 200 messages carefully, we're able to achieve a convincing immersive experience in the target language with a minimum of effort.

There are a few technical terms needing translation (e.g. “Mobile Uploads”, “email address”, “Apps”, “Cookies”), some site-specific jargon (”to like/unlike”, “to poke someone”, “status update”), and western concepts that have been difficult to render in some indigenous languages (”Privacy”, “Advertising”). A useful technique for terminology creation is to see how other languages have dealt with a given concept.

To help with this, I've asked everyone who has contributed a new Facebook translation to also provide “back translations” of some of these tricky terms into English, in the hope that some of these might be helpful to new translators. These back translations are stored on the project wiki, and we welcome additional contributions in any language.

I should also say that you don't need to translate all 200 messages if you don't want to. For a language that is rarely, if ever, seen on the computer, I think there's great symbolic value in even a translation of just a few key words, for example “Like”, “Unlike”, “Comment”, and “Share”. Would you like to try translating Facebook into your language?  Leave a comment below and I can send you detailed instructions!

See this post in Spanish: ¡Renueva tu Facebook! ¡Dar voz a las lenguas minoritarias en los medios sociales!

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