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Translator Surajo Teete believes the Internet is the key to uniting Fulfulde language speakers

Surajo Teete is a Fulfulde translator from Kano, Nigeria.

 

Photo provided by Surajo Teete and used with permission. Surajo is pictured here on the left.

Rising Voices (RV): Please tell us about yourself and your language-related work.

Surajo Teete (ST): As a language student who got the National Certificate in Education from FCE, Kano and specialized in Fulfulde, English alongside Education, I was exposed to the language endangerment that languages are experiencing, Fulfulde included, due to the nature of its diverse speakers over African countries.

In this pursuit I acquired a Bachelor of Linguistics, from Bayero University, Kano, to equip myself with policies, strategies, and possible ways to sustain the language. During my project I wrote on “Code – Switching as a Step to Language Endangerment: A Case Study of Some Selected Fulɓe Families in Kano Metropolis,” to measure the level of language switching of Fulfulde speakers in Kano. 

In our efforts to sustain, and develop Fulfulde, we initiated Sakiraaɓe Media, an outlet that posts news in Fulfulde, both in audio and in written forms. This has gone and done a lot for sustaining and developing the language vocabulary, and maintaining the language usage.  

RV: What is the current state of your language both online and offline?

ST: In terms of the number of countries speaking it, Fulfulde is arguably the biggest spoken language in Africa. It is a language that is spoken in a continuum of over 24 African countries. Online, too, it is one of the few, if not only, African languages that broke tens of borders to make up its pool of speakers. It is also one African language that is breaking every colonial construct by bringing people from different parts of Africa, across tens of borders, and bonding them by their common tongue — all thanks to the internet. 

RV: What are your motivations for seeing your language present in digital spaces?

ST: The motivation is simple: it has to. And I think the reason is visible and staring at us. Digital spaces today are part and parcel of our lives. Loads of our communication is happening right there. Our policies, our politics, our learning, our businesses, our identities, our fears and even our wars are in these digital spaces. What this means is that these spaces are indispensable for the survival of humans and everything they do, their languages inclusive.

Fulfulde, as established earlier, is a widely spoken language offline. If it can leverage the power of these digital spaces it will not only maintain its wide terrain of speakers, but will also — for the first time — get a chance to unify those speakers in their tongue irrespective of any barrier. No border(s). No paperwork and bureaucratic red tape. No citizenship. No nothing. Just language. And language. 

RV: Describe some of the challenges that prevent your language from being fully utilized online.

ST: For a language so dispersed like Fulfulde, there are challenges that must be addressed. One among them is maintaining a common orthography. But we know this is difficult, simply because of the dispersion. For example, a Fulfulde speaker from Francophone Africa will have almost an entirely different way of writing Fulfulde from someone who is from Anglophone Africa. (And there is also the influence of local languages). Hence, communication sometimes becomes difficult between Fulfulde speakers of different social backgrounds on these digital spaces simply because of writing the language in borrowed orthographies.

RV: What concrete steps do you think can be taken to encourage young people to begin learning their language or keep using their language?

ST: One, using the same digital spaces to teach Fulɓe the standard Fulfulde orthography born by the UNESCO Bamako Conference of the ‘60s. This, for me, is the best possible way to turn the tide. Fulfulde speakers, for example, from Senegal, Guinea, Ghana and Nigeria can be taught in, say, a webinar about the orthography and be encouraged to use it, something that was not possible in the pre-internet days.

Two, more written material must be written as it is the basis for solidifying all these. Without written material, people will always have to improvise — and we cannot detach that from the influence of their immediate society. Many people are writing English, for example, perfectly, not because they were taught its orthography in class. Rather, they write it so clearly because there is a trove of its written material, everywhere. This is something we must do for the survival of our languages, both online and offline. A language that is not written is romancing the inevitability of death.

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Meet Wali Ntumba, a Tshilubà language activist attempting to engage younger generations through digital resources

Wali Ntumba wants younger generations to learn the Tshilubà language.

Image courtesy Wali Ntumba

Rising Voices (RV): Please tell us about yourself and your language-related work.

Wali Ntumba (WN): I'm a British Congolese. I was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo but have spent most of my life in London, England. I got into language work during my masters at University College London. I was researching colonial language policies and colonial educational planning for my dissertation and fell in love with linguistics and language.

I create learning resources for anglophones who are interested in learning Tshilubà. I focus mainly on grammar because Tshilubà grammar is difficult to grasp.

RV: What is the current state of your language both online and offline?

WN: Over 200 languages and hundreds more dialects are spoken in Congo to varying degrees. And Tshilubà is one of them. Tshilubà has the privileged status of national language in Congo, so it is in no way a minority, engendered, or marginalised language. It is also used in digital spaces, but in the diaspora, very few young people (below the age of 30) speak Tshilubà fluently or at a conversational level, and the language does not have the same status as Lingala, which is another Congolese national language. As a result of many contributing factors, Lingala has become the language of the diaspora.

Other Congolese languages such as Kikongo ya Leta (a cerolised form of Kikongo) and Kiswahili, both national languages, are also spoken in the diaspora. Like Tshilubà, they do not have the same status in the diaspora as Lingala.

But this issue is not only restricted to the diaspora. There are many Bena Konji (Nkoshi), Bena Luluwà, Bena Lubìlànjì, and Bakwà Luntu people who live in other regions and provinces (outside of the Kàsayì provinces) in Congo who cannot speak Tshilubà and/or their dialect of Tshilubà.

RV: What are your motivations for seeing your language present in digital spaces?

WN: As I said, Tshilubà is not a minority or an endangered language, so my focus is less on language preservation and more on seeing young people interact in their mother tongue without difficulty.

RV: Describe some of the challenges that prevent your language from being fully utilized online

WN: One of the biggest challenges is access and lack of confidence. People have very little access to online learning materials, and they lack to confidence to start using the language online because they are worried others will mock them for incorrect grammar or spelling.

RV: What concrete steps do you think can be taken to encourage younger people to begin learning their language or keep using their language?

WN: I think the first step should be removing the generational barrier. Many parents and elders gatekeep the language from (their) children. They do not teach children Tshilubà and only speak Tshilubà amongst themselves, creating a generational barrier and making Tshiluba mwakulu wà bakulu ‘a language of the elders’. Removing the barrier will help change the relationship both elders and young people have with the language.

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Meet Robert Obiri, a digital strategist working with the Fante dialect

Robert Obiri is bringing the Fante dialect into digital spaces.

Image courtesy Robert Obiri.

As part of our ongoing series highlighting the work of activists promoting African languages in digital spaces, we would like to feature digital strategist Robert Obiri (@robertjamal12) from Ghana. Much of Robert's work focuses on making the Fante dialect of the Twi language from Ghana more prominent in online spaces, such as the Fante Wikimedia Community, which Robert cofounded. Rising Voices recently interviewed Robert Obiri by email to learn more about his perspectives on his language finding its place in online spaces.

Rising Voices (RV): Please tell us about yourself and your language-related work.

RV: What is the current state of your language, both online and offline?

RV: What are your motivations for seeing your language present in digital spaces?

RV: Describe some of the challenges that prevent your language from being fully utilized online

RV: What concrete steps do you think can be taken to encourage younger people to begin learning their language or keep using their language?

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Umasoye: A language activist who uses technology to make learning Ekpeye fun

Meet Umasoye, an Ekpeye digital language activist

Photo provided by Franca Umasoye Igwe and used with permission.

Rising Voices (RV): Please tell us about yourself and your language-related work.

RV: What is the current state of your language both online and offline?

Umasoye: The Ekpeye language is gradually gaining presence in the online space through the work of the Speak Ekpeye Fluently Language Initiative. We look forward to having more accessible resources online in years to come. Offline, the language is spoken mainly by elders as the Gen-Zers and millennials seem uninterested. This challenge we aim to tackle through the use of digital tools.

RV: What are your motivations for seeing your language present in digital spaces?

Umasoye: My motivation for having Ekpeye in the digital space is to see that young Ekpeye youths embrace and learn their language in a relatable space. Hopefully this will reduce their language apathy.

RV: Describe some of the challenges that prevent your language from being fully utilized online

Umasoye: Some of the challenges that prevent Ekpeye being fully utilized online are:

RV: What concrete steps do you think can be taken to encourage younger people to begin learning their language or keep using their language?

Umasoye: Young people can be encouraged to learn their language by using a fun and interesting approach that appeals to them while educating them on the importance of language sustainability. A fun approach that can be used is music, the creation of language gaming apps as well as family influence.

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Rana Tharu digital language activist Bikram Rana talks about his work to promote the language

Interview with a Rana Tharu language activist

Image courtesy Bikram Rana

From Nepal, Bikram has been working to promote the language of Rana Tharu by writing articles and blogposts, creating a digital forum, and translating children's stories into Rana Tharu. The Rana Tharu are an ethnic subgroup of the Tharu people of southern Nepal.

Rising Voices spoke to Bikram over email about his work. An edited excerpt follows.

Rising Voices (RV): Please tell us about yourself and your language-related work.

Bikram Rana (BR): I was raised speaking Rana Tharu at home in Kanchanpur, Nepal. I was selected for Budhanilkantha school in Kathmandu from Kanchanpur district in 1984, since then I am out of my home district with sporadic monthly stay in my hometown. I developed a habit of collecting pieces on Rana Tharu to understand more about this minority community living in Kailali and Kanchanpur districts of Nepal and the adjoining border in India. 

I founded the Rana Tharu Welfare Forum (RWF) and sporadically engage with Rana Tharu Samaj. One of the objectives of RWF is to write about the Rana Tharus targeting Tharu and Tharu groups so that people have better understanding about Rana Tharus and the language. Some of my work has been published as op-eds and blogs:

Through Rana Tharu societies we have been also advocating for the Rana Tharu language to be considered for mother-tongue based multilingual education.

RV: What is the current state of your language both online and offline?

BR: The official working language of Nepal is Nepali but the 2015 constitution provisions each province to choose one or more additional official working languages. Through Rana Tharu organizations we have been lobbying for Rana Tharu as an additional official working language in Sudurpaschim (far west) province of Nepal.  The Language Commission of Nepal, on September 6, 2021, recommended 14 official languages for the different provinces of Nepal. The commission recommended Dotyali and Tharu for Sudurpaschim — Rana Tharus in Kanchanpur and Kailali are not happy with this recommendation, since the Tharu language is different from Rana Tharu.

Mother-tongue based multilingual education captures Rana Tharu up to grade three in Kailali and Kanchanpur districts. However, the textbooks are only available up to grade two. Textbooks for grades one and two are also falling short. The implementation aspect of mother-tongue based multilingual education is realistic, but it seems to not endure because it is not a priority of the state to develop textbooks and build teacher capacity.

RV: What are your motivations for seeing your language present in digital spaces?

BR: Understanding languages is one of the important factors to claim an identity. It must be visible and attractive online if we want to have a chance to preserve our language, identity, and culture.

RV: Describe some of the challenges that prevent your language from being fully utilized online?

BR: There are few digital initiatives to promote Rana Tharu language use, one of the major challenges is the dominance of Nepali and English languages. The quality of writing in Rana Tharu is equally important; for this we need to revive the Rana Tharu script (Unam is known as the main script guiding Rana Tharu language; however it is not that easily available). The Rana Tharu script can be a push and pull factor to enlarge the use of the language.

 RV: What concrete steps do you think can be taken to encourage younger people to begin learning their language or keep using their language?

BR: Mother-tongue based multilingual education in Rana Tharu Language is one way to encourage younger people to begin learning. Rana Tharu as an additional official language in Province 7 (Sudurpaschim province) will help to enlarge its use and development. Writing in Rana Tharu language will also help widen the use of the language.

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Using technology to revitalize and bring awareness about Yucatec Maya language

Rodrigo Petatillo is a Maya language digital activism fellow

Locality: (i)x K’o’opch’e’en, where the project will take place. Photograph courtesy Rodrigo Petatillo Chan.

Project summary:
Creation of short videos in Yucatec Maya on social networks.

The topics of the videos will be vocabularies, expressions of everyday life, as well as short stories or community stories.

Bix abeele’ex? Hach ki’imak inwóolo’on inmeyaho’on te’ proyecto “Activismo digital” yo’olal uséeger ukuxkíinta’al le maaya t’aan tumeen uyuumilo’obo’. Waye’, hach yaan k meyah ya’ab yéetel ki’imak óol.

My name is Rodrigo Petatillo Chan, I am originally from the community of (i)x K’o’opch’e’en (Kopchen, in Spanish), Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Quintana Roo, Mexico.  I am currently a doctoral student in the Indo-American Linguistics program at the Center for Higher Research and Study in Social Anthropology (Mexico City).

My project

The general objective of the project Ut'aanil ukuxtal (i)x K'o'opch'e'en ‘ (Kopchen's talk of life”) is to revitalize and raise awareness about Yucatec Maya among the inhabitants (speakers and non-speakers of this language) of the community and to create short videos in Yucatec Maya on social networks. The videos will discuss vocabularies, expressions of daily life, short stories or community stories, among other topics. The project is mainly aimed at children, parents and grandparents (who speak or do not speak Yucatec Maya), for teaching-learning among peer groups.

The number of boys and girls who will participate in the project must be equitable in terms of gender and the language they speak. That is, half have to speak Maya and the other half do not have to speak Maya. In addition, five have to be girls and the other five boys. I have chosen this distribution so we can raise awareness among the children who do not speak Maya so that they are encouraged to do so with their peer groups. Those children will be encouraged to speak Maya, and, later, they themselves will transmit it to their own parents who did not teach them Maya at home, so that the parents become aware of this issue. Parents and grandparents will be involved, too, because the children will ask them for help to make short videos in Maya.

The first stage of the project will be that the children will be taught to use the necessary equipment to make the recordings, as well as a small reading-writing workshop for one or two months so that at the end they have a basic knowledge of it.

In the second stage, the children will begin to record the first videos on the aforementioned topics. These videos will be made in a group of pairs (made up of children who speak Yucatec Maya vs. children who speak Spanish).

The third stage would involve children working with their relatives (parents, grandparents and siblings) so that the community participates in the project and people get connected.

Finally, the members of the project will review of all the videos. They will transcribe, subtitle and translate (MayaSpanish) the videos made mainly by children and then upload them on social networks for dissemination.

My motivation

I have been working to support my language for approximately 12 years, doing various linguistic and anthropological projects, as well as non-profit social work. I think that one of the problems encountered by scholars studying their own indigenous languages ​​is the lack of support, mainly financial. In addition, many indigenous speakers have been unable to continue studying due to being far away from the institutions where they want to study.

I am satisfied with the work that I have done so far to support my language, I have researched several topics that had not been investigated before. Linguistic documentation is a way of saving the memory and knowledge of speakers. I feel encouraged because especially children are very active in working on projects related to their language. I noticed their interest years ago when I taught a course on reading and writing in Yucatec Maya. To tell the truth, children learn very quickly.

As a Maya speaker I want my language to be felt, heard, enjoyed, perceived and dreamed of in all possible areas. There has been a lot of digital and non-digital activism in various communities of the Yucatan Peninsula, but none of them has been focused on my community. Therefore, carrying out a project of this magnitude would have a positive impact on the inhabitants of my community.

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Activist Emre Pshigusa talks about his work revitalizing the Circassian-Kabardian language

Meet Emre, an applied linguist dedicated to the preservation of his native tongue

Photo provided by Emre Pshigusa and used with permission.

Rising Voices spoke to Emre over email about his work.

Rising Voices (RV): Please tell us about yourself and your language-related work.

Emre Pshigusa (EP): My name is Emre Pshigusa and I am a PhD candidate in Applied Linguistics at Ohio State University. I’m a native Circassian-Kabardian speaker and Circassian maintenance and revitalization is one of my research areas.

RV: What is the current state of your language both online and offline?

EP: Circassian is spoken in the historic homeland in the North Caucasus of Russia and several other diaspora countries; Turkey hosting the largest population. Unfortunately due to the assimilationist language policies of Turkey, Circassian was oppressed for so many years. Within the past 10 or so years there have been some elective language courses at the middle school levels in public schools. In terms of online language instruction, there were not any initiatives until the Covid pandemic as far as I know. However, several Circassian associations in Turkey started online language courses during the pandemic over Zoom.

RV: What are your motivations for seeing your language present in digital spaces?

EP: My main motivation as a native Circassian speaker is to preserve the language and transfer it to future generations. To be able to do so, there is a strong need for Circassian presence in digital spaces.

RV: Describe some of the challenges that prevent your language from being fully utilized online

EP: The main challenge is the lack of educational materials to learn Circassian. There are a handful language activists creating online materials for Instagram pages or other social media outlets and there is one language app called Optilingo that offers Circassian. Unfortunately, these are not enough to preserve the language.

RV: What concrete steps do you think can be taken to encourage younger people to begin learning their language or keep using their language?

EP: There are many steps that both the language policy makers and the speakers of Circassians can take. Firstly, the government’s language policies should encourage language maintenance for linguistically minoritized populations. In nation state countries like Turkey, mother tongue education is seen as a threat to the national unity, which limits the linguistic human rights of ethnolinguistic minorities. There needs to be instruction in mother tongues in schools and Circassian NGOs in Turkey need to encourage parents to enroll their students in Circassian courses. Also, more educational materials are needed especially for younger children such as cartoons and educational games etc.

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RV Newsletter: Planning ahead for the International Conference on Minority Languages

Hello readers: So it’s July and we are half through the year. Have you been planning anything major for the months to come? Some are surely making plans well into next year and they need to hear from you!

The 19th International Conference on Minority Languages will be happening in Wales, approximately a year from now. In addition to the context-specific experience, it’s also a time for presentations, discussions, and networking. If you feel like being part of it, you can start early by responding to its open call for proposals now.

Submission due: September 30, 2022

 

 

 

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RV Newsletter: Banding together for a more inclusive future

Illustration by David Canul (Pájaro Toj) for Rising Voices.

Hello readers, how is this June treating you? Anything worth sharing? We’ve got one!

Starting in May, ten emerging language digital activists from the Mexican states of Chiapas, Quintana Roo and Yucatan have joined us in the 2022 Mayan Languages Digital Activism Fellowship Program, for an eight-month long journey. During this period, they will be participating in a peer learning process, focusing on developing skills that’ll help carry forward their own community projects.

 

 

 

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