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7. Overheard on the Web

EU Constitution to be Translated into Welsh, but Not Other UK Languages

Eurolang 10 March 2005
Davyth Hicks

Plaid Cymru Euro-MP Jill Evans has welcomed the news that the proposed EU Constitution will be translated into Welsh as reported on Eurolang (17th February). A formal announcement came yesterday from UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in a response to a parliamentary question tabled by the party's UK parliamentary leader Elfyn Llwyd MP.

Ms Evans , who has been leading the party's campaign for greater recognition for the status of the Welsh language in Europe, described the announcement as a first step in winning official EU status for Welsh. Jill Evans was the first MEP to legally use Welsh on the floor of the European Parliament when rules were changed to allow non-official languages to be used last year.

Speaking from Strasbourg, Jill Evans MEP said: "We're delighted that we've won this battle to get the EU constitution translated into Welsh. This was the first step in our campaign for Welsh to be recognised as an official European language and we now hope that the New Labour Government in Westminster will go further and propose Welsh as an EU working language."

Meanwhile, the Scottish National Party (SNP) has stepped up its campaign to have the proposed EU Constitution translated into Scotland's indigenous languages. The Foreign Office informed Eurolang that the UK government does not intend to translate the document into Gaelic or Scots. The SNP believes that translations should be provided prior to any referendum on the proposed Constitution.

Speaking to the press yesterday, Europe spokesperson Ian Hudghton MEP said: "The recent enlargement of the EU has seen a huge leap in linguistic diversity. Scotland's indigenous languages are part of that diversity and are an important part of the rich cultural tapestry of Europe.

"The European Commission has confirmed to me that the proposed Constitution can be translated into Scotland's languages - if the UK requests it. Such a step would mark a significant commitment to the future well-being of Gaelic and Scots.

"We congratulate the Welsh on securing a commitment from the government for a translation to be made in their language. However, if it's good enough for Wales, it's good enough for Scotland. The government must rethink its stance and show full respect for Scotland's culture."

The Foreign Office has informed Eurolang that the UK government has no plans to translate the Constitution into Irish or Cornish either.

Language issues were also raised in the European Parliament's plenary session in yesterday’s debate to prepare for the forthcoming European summit in Brussels, Catalan Republican MEP Bernat Joan called for coherence from those Spanish MEPs who have been demanding greater pluralism and respect for diversity within the EU, due to the ongoing reduction in the use of the Spanish language in the EU institutions. "You cannot call for pluralism in Europe and then on the other hand refuse it, for example, as happened in the Spanish state Parliament", said Mr Joan.

In this context the Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) representative in the European Parliament observed that without the participation of the stateless nations Europe would remain incomplete. Mr Joan went on to express his approval "for the differential vote in the Basque Country and Catalonia in the referendum on the EU Constitutional Treaty" which saw a higher ‘No’ vote.

Bernat Joan closed his remarks with a few words in Catalan: "without Scotland, Wales, the Basque Country, or Catalonia, Europe is not Europe. Without the Catalan language, a complete and worthy Europe will not be built".

Dutch foreign minister announces Frisian translation of the European Constitution

Onno P. Falkena,The Hague 22 Apr 2005

The Dutch foreign minister Bernard Bot has decided that the Netherlands will publish a translation of the complete European Constitution in Frisian. The minister made the promise in his answer to parliamentary questions from the Dutch MP's Karimi and Duyvendak of GroenLinks ('Green left', the Green Party). The costs of the Frisian translation will be shared by the Dutch state and the province Frysln, who share the responsibility for the second official language of the Netherlands.

Last year minister Bot refused to produce a translation in Frisian because 'all Frisians are able to read the Dutch version'. The letter of the minister to parliament does not unveil why he changed his mind. Last week the provinsje Fryslân already published a summary of the European constution in Frisian. "We want to leave it to the Frisians themselves in which language they want to read the constitution'', spokesman Jochum Admiraal of the province declared. "Such a decision should not be made by authorities, but left to the people themselves.''

In his letter Bot also promises that he will inform the European Union about the official version of the European Constitution in Frisian. An annexe to the constitution (Declaration 29) offers member states the possibility to announce translations of the Constitution in other languages than the official European languages.

Until now Spain and the United Kingdom announced that they will translate the Constitution in other languages. Earlier this month the Frysk Nasjonale Party mentioned the examples of Basque, Catalan and Welsh in a letter to minister Bot, urging the minister the produce a Frisian translation of the Constitution. In the Netherlands there is a public vote on the European Constitution on the first of June.

University of Hawaii Students set up Documentation Centre for Endangered Languages

By Lisa Ann Ebeling lebeling(at) 25 March 2005 (that article contained inaccuracies, so we have updated the text below as directed by the University of Hawai'i Language Documentation Center.

Entrepreneurial U.H. Students Setting up Language Documentation Center By Philip Lee, 3/25/2005 1:18:16 AM Two years ago in fall 2003, Meylysa Tseng, a PhD student in Linguistics at the University of Hawai‘i was inspired by the rich cultural diversity on her campus at Manoa. Meylysa was looking for a good community service project to organize. Suddenly, she realized that there were many speakers of different endangered languages studying at the university and that graduate students of linguistics could teach language documentation skills to these students. At first many were skeptical. They thought the project would not take off. But, that did not discourage Meylysa who went on to recruit her other classmates and seek support from various departments within the University. One semester later, nine previously under-documented languages of the world received much needed attention, were further away from extinction and the effort saw the winning of two awards: the Jacob Peace Memorial Award and the NAFSA "Partnership in Excellence Award."

Today, the Language Documentation Project (LDP) continues its social mission by training students from countries with endangered languages on how to document their languages and to apply for grants to expand their projects. This semester there are 20 students being trained by graduate students in the Linguistics Department, led by an equally dedicated graduate student, Valerie Guerin from France. The project utilizes computer software to improve the documentation and archiving process and places its resources on the Internet for speakers of the languages documented, as well as other researchers to access them. Valerie’s dedication has been rewarded.

This May, she will present the project at the NAFSA international conference in Seattle. According to Valerie the LDP director, the project’s secret ingredient is, "the spirit of aloha and cooperation in reaching out to the international student community at the university. The students who speak endangered languages are placed in a constructive environment where people care about their languages and culture. And in cooperation, everyone wins. The Department of Linguistics benefits by having its student engage in real and useful research. The University as a whole is enriched by the presence of these laudable efforts. Graduate students in linguistics are provided with an opportunity to pass on their training and skills. In the process, everyone broadens their cultural knowledge and is motivated of the importance of language preservation."

One of the languages documented so far is the Ema language spoken by approximately 50,000 people in the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, commonly known as the East Timor. There are more than 15 other languages spoken in this newly formed nation, which was recognized as an independent state from Indonesia in 2002. To date, there has been very little documentation of the Ema language. Matias Gomes, an East Timorese student joined the LDP in spring 2004 and worked together with linguistics graduate student, Ryoko Hattori to compile a basic 300-word vocabulary list. They are now working on designing a writing system for the language to be followed by the first alphabet picture book in the Ema language. Their work was recognized and awarded the Jacob Peace Memorial Award. Matias was funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to continue their work. Since then, Matias has recorded an Ema funeral song and an Ema sketch grammar is under preparation.

For more information, visit the LDP Web site:

Mbeki calls for preservation of indigenous languages 7 April 2005,2172,101617,00.html

President Thabo Mbeki wants traditional leaders to stop indigenouslanguages from disappearing. Mbeki was speaking at the annual opening of the National House of Traditional Leaders in Cape Town today

Mbeki says he is very concerned that African languages and traditions are lapsing in both rural and urban areas. Mbeki says African pride shines when people express their culture in the way they dress, the traditions they uphold and the languages they speak. But these are in danger of being pushed aside.

The president says at school level, fewer and fewer of African children are taking African languages as subjects. He says many young people are more in tune with Western trends. Hence in many instances it is easy for the youth to identify with rock stars from places they have never seen. He called on traditional leaders to bring back language and tradition. He says they should work with communities, government departments and the private sector to raise the importance of African languages.

Mbeki also wants to see festivals celebrating traditions, songs and dances becoming a regular feature in cities and rural areas countrywide. This has been welcomed by the traditional leaders.

Guatemalan Linguists Introduce New Software Prototype for K'iche'

Associated Press 3 March 2005

Guatemalan linguists have distributed a prototype for a computer program that operates in the Mayan Indian language of K'iche', a project aimed at preserving the ancient language and raising its profile worldwide.

The prototype was developed by language experts at the Academy of Mayan Languages in conjunction with computer students at the state-run San Carlos University, and was distributed this week to about 100 potential users for their feedback, including native speakers, publishing houses, consultants and cultural experts.

The project was inspired by a law, passed last year, that promotes the use and preservation of native Indian languages, Academy president and linguist Modesto Baquiax Barreno said Tuesday in an interview with The Associated Press.

The law "challenged us with the important goal of distributing writings in the Mayan languages, and that led us to take advantage of existing technology," Baquiax said.

Academy director Rigoberto Juarez said: "As K'iche' speakers... we want to give our language a political profile equal to other languages."

The program was created with software to operate on the Linux system.It contains menus, instructions, help texts, and grammatical and spell-checking programs in the K'iche' language, a feat that took "hard and extensive work," Baquiax said, noting that designers inserted 8,000 K'iche' words in the program. About 1.2 million of Guatemala's 14 million people speak K'iche'.

In the future, the academy hopes to design programs in the majority of the other 21 Indian languages spoken in Guatemala. The designers also will urge computer manufacturers and software designers to take the languages into account when designing their products, including redesigning keyboards

"Some in this country say it is difficult to write (in K'iche') and that it is impossible to learn because it doesn't have a fixed grammatical structure or because the sounds are different and strange," Baquiax said. "Those are discriminatory arguments."

The software is the second recent project in Guatemala aimed at promoting its majority Mayan cultures. In December, President Oscar Berger announced the establishment of a university dedicated to rescuing and developing ancient Mayan knowledge.

Bilingual Education and Frisian Politics
Henk Wolf

Bilingual education has not been a controversial subject in Frisian politics for years. Although bilingual primary education was prescribed by law, the educational goals for the minority language Frisian were reached by only 30% of all primary schools. In its 1999 evaluation report, the school inspection criticized the general lack of enthusiasm among school boards to teach Frisian. They also concluded that the teaching methods were often inadequate and time spent on teaching Frisian was very limited (on average 25 minutes per week).

This situation was criticized by both the Dutch Ministry for Internal Affairs and the Council of Europe, who regularly evaluate Frisian language politics as laid down in the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and several national agreements. No measures were undertaken, however, to improve Frisian education. Recently, the debate on bilingual education was reopened by the Frisian provincial government (Deputearre Steaten), who declared in their report 'Herziening kerndoelen Fries in het primair onderwijs' (revision of educational goals for Frisian in primary education) that they no longer considered a policy of equivalent bilingualism realistic. The provincial government now proposes to lower the education goals, which still prescribe a level of full literacy. In their proposal, only 'a positive attitude towards Frisian' would remain as an obligatory goal. The government advises to leave it to every school which extra goals they wish to attain for their pupils.

I have read the report, as have other sociolinguists, and we are surprised to see that no reference at all is made to research on bilingualism or experiences of bilingual schools elsewhere in the world. The official policy of full equivalence of both official languages is abandoned without a proper motivation. I invite you all to study the report and the criticism given. Most of the information is available at the site of a pressure group that protests against the plans. The information is mainly in Dutch and Frisian.

Proud first-graders now say: Cherokee spoken here

Diana West , The Christian Science Monitor 22 March 2005

LOST CITY, OKLA. - Their parents were mocked for speaking it. Their grandparents were punished. But for three classes at Lost City Elementary School in Oklahoma, Cherokee is the only language spoken in the classroom. Lost City is one of the first public schools in the United States to immerse students in an American Indian language.

The program started in fall 2003 with kindergarten and classes for 3-year-olds. This year the program expanded to include first grade. "We do what other classes do but it's all in Cherokee," says Anna Christie who teaches a combined kindergarten and first-grade class at the school. Ms. Christie talks to them in Cherokee, calling the children by their Indian names. At naptime, she tells Matthew Keener or "Yo-na" (Bear) not to put his mat too close to Lane Smith "A-wi" (Deer). Cherokee songs play softly in the room. A Cherokee calendar hangs on the wall. Students practice writing words and numbers in Cherokee. First grader Casandra Copeland, "Ji-s-du" (Rabbit), counts aloud in Cherokee.

It's called an immersion class because the children speak nothing but Cherokee. The Cherokee Nation in nearby Tahlequah, Oklahoma creates the curriculum. "The goal is to get them fluent," says Harry Oosahwee, the tribe's language project supervisor. "If we don't do anything about it, [the language] is not going to be here for the next generation." It is estimated that presently fewer than 8,000 of 100,000 Cherokee people speak the language and most of them are over 45 years old.

Mr. Oosahwee, who grew up speaking Cherokee as his first language, says, "I feel fortunate that I was able to communicate with my grandparents and aunts and uncles." Now these children can talk to their parents and grandparents. "I can talk to my grand- pa," says Matthew Keener. He is also teaching his mother to speak Cherokee.

Oosahwee says at first there was mixed feelings from the community about the program. Some parents were excited while others were hesitant. "They didn't want the kids to experience negative reactions like they had." He can identify with that because he was mocked and ridiculed as a child for speaking his native language at public school. But since Lost City also started a night class to teach Cherokee to Grades 5-8, staff, and parents, he says interest has started to grow.

An instructor volunteers his time, and use of the school facility is free, so there is no cost to the community for the night class. About 65 of the 100 students enrolled in the Lost City Elementary School are Cherokee. Some non-Cherokee students have opted to learn a second language and belong to the immersion classes although participation in the program is entirely voluntary.

All eight grades are exposed to Cherokee at a weekly "Rise and Shine" assembly where they begin by saying "o-si-yo" meaning hello. They discuss the Cherokee character word for the week. One week it was truth-fulness or "du-yu-go-dv."

Next year immersion classes will include second graders. Kristen Smith, who teaches the 3-year-olds, was 5 when she learned the Cherokee lan-guage from her grandparents. Her son, Lane, who is in the first grade class, comes home every day with a new word or phrase. "Now Lane and I can talk in Cherokee," she says. Lane also teaches some Cherokee words to his 11-year-old brother, Kristian. "This is something the whole family can share," their mother says. Fonda Fisher, Lane's great aunt, says, "He automatically responds in Cherokee. He even sings Cherokee in the shower." She adds, "Lane is learning what it is to be Cherokee and to be proud."