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Minority Languages, Major Opportunities. Collaborative Research, Community Engagement and Innovative Educational Tools

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - COLING (Minority Languages, Major Opportunities.Collaborative Research, Community Engagement and Innovative Educational Tools)

Reporting period: 2020-01-01 to 2023-09-30

The COLING project was launched in 2018 with the aim to develop innovative methods of language revitalization, with a special focus on minority and highly threatened languages and cultures which are in danger of disappearing within this or the next generation, such as Greco, Nahuatl and Mixtec.

The objectives of the project include developing and sharing expert knowledge on language revitalization, which was realized in a series of workshops and summer schools where scholars, activists and other interested parties shared their best practices and worked to develop innovative revitalization methods.

Furthermore, the project aims to promote engaged collaboration among academic, non-profit and community-based organizations by organizing contact, workshops and secondments for researchers in various fields and language activists from all participating institutions.

A crucial aspect of the project is developing efficient teaching methodologies, teacher training, and curricula for minority languages to facilitate language learning/teaching, to promote the benefits of bi- and multilingualism and to encourage the preservation and appreciation of linguistic and cultural diversity of humanity. This includes developing an online platform focused on minority and endangered languages, online (easily accessible) dictionaries, materials and syllabi dedicated for specific languages and templates adaptable to any languages that are involved now or will join the project in the future.

In the long run, the project aims to achieve a multidisciplinary and coherent understanding of opportunities enclosed in minority languages. Indigenous knowledge (including ecological knowledge), medicine, psychology, art, law, history and linguistic expertise is a potential source of alternative solutions and innovative responses to the problems of the modern world.

The next step will be creating practical recommendations for language activist, NGO members and local authorities on actions that need to be taken in order to improve the level of societal and economic well-being in local communities. Those may include activities relevant to communities speaking minority and endangered languages, such as film festivals, photo competitions, expert debates, cultural events that promote embracing heritage identities and traditions.
The COLING organized a number of workshops and summer schools (https://coling.al.uw.edu.pl/news) which provided researchers with opportunities to present the results of their work, receive feedback from colleagues, but also to do extensive research in libraries, archives and educational institutions in the USA, Mexico, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands and Poland.

The secondments allowed to run pilot projects on documentation of the endangered languages, community-based archives, and organizing language courses. Extensive sociolinguistic and historical research on the role of scripts, orthographies, and typefonts in the shaping of identities, ideologies, and language attitudes was carried out. This can also be a point of departure to investigate the local application of minority policy rules, the attitude to minority(ies) in local social environment and problems connected with codification of oral languages and cultures.

The research included studies of heritage language communities and their language preservation scenarios after migration, ancient pictorial manuscripts of Native American cultures, developing teaching materials and resources for small languages, building online resources, developing community-based pedagogies.

Activities focused also on developing skills to encourage and empower community members, for example by training teachers and students in the use of audio and video equipment, protocols for the transcription and translation of recordings, digital tools, social media and best practices.

New teaching materials were developed for a number of languages involved in the project, including textbooks, educational games, online resources, flashcards, which may serve as templates for the development of materials in other languages after they have been extensively tested in workshops organized as part of the project’s events.

Great emphasis is placed on the cooperation with local communities to help them in their efforts to revitalize and document their heritage languages and promote local scholarship and development.

Other areas covered included discrimination of non-native speakers in the dominant society, indigenous culture and performance art, stereotypes in art, language ideologies and attitudes, orthographies, the role of museology in the maintenance and revitalization of endangered languages and cultures, indigenous epistemologies, legal protection of the intellectual property of indigenous peoples.

The research program strives to understand the dynamics of intergenerational knowledge transfer and recognizes that language communities and scholars have a mutual interest in documenting, revitalizing and sustaining languages and the knowledge embedded in them.
The first two years of the COLING project resulted in a significant impact both for members of the consortium as well as outside the academia. First of all, both early-stage and experienced researchers, as well as language activists from GAL and LgSC, had the opportunity to conduct joint research work in diverse, leading, and inspiring environments. The newly established networks allowed for a creative exchange of ideas and led to the possibility of sharing best practices in the field of language revitalization and promotion of linguistic diversity. The range and scope of COLING project activities are well documented in the news section: https://coling.al.uw.edu.pl/news/ and the knowledge is made available for all interested in the form of pdf presentations: https://coling.al.uw.edu.pl/resources/presentations/ .

COLING members were able to develop teaching materials that were missing before our project. The Colingua online platform (www.colingua.eu) will serve as a useful tool both for presenting practical educational materials and best practices.

The project also had a significant impact on communities speaking endangered languages. In particular, the pilot programs on pre-school education in Nahuatl can lead to long term cooperation and establishing innovative teaching methods. The work on reading Mixtec Codices in Mixtec Language was very well received and can be adopted in different contexts.

It is important to notice that the project impact is also reflected by the active participation in the 2019 UNESCO Year of Indigenous Languages. The language diversity week in Warsaw and the first indigenous film festival allowed us to engage directly with about 800 people in the audience (often with panel discussions about the screenings) and communicate the need to preserve linguistic diversity to 1,3 million people.

The Language Diversity Week also included a series of workshops for kids focussing on the ancient Maya script and base-20 counting system, which firstly provided an opportunity to test some of the methodologies developed by our team, and secondly to promote and disseminate knowledge of lesser known cultures.

An essential part of our activities focuses on improving the standards of protection of language rights. The COLING project co-hosted an expert debate and young activist panel with the polish Commissioner of Human Rights.
Workshop for children about Maya glyphs at Warsaw University
In our own words film festival 2019
COLING members during summer the school in Italy