Minority Language Education in the Spotlight: Mercator’s Wiki on Minority Language Learning

Ydwine R. Scarse and Ruth Kircher

Minority language education plays a crucial role in promoting the vitality of minority languages, and thus ensuring their maintenance. As Levine (1990, p. 4) puts it, the importance of schools lies in the fact that ‘[i]t is there that languages are taught, cultural values are transmitted from one generation to another, newcomers are integrated into a linguistic community, and numerous group members find employment as teachers and administrators.’ Because of the importance of education and schools for minority languages, education is enshrined in numerous international covenants and declarations (e.g. United Nations, 1992; Council of Europe, 1992 & 1995; UNESCO, 2001). Additionally, minority language education may be recognised by national and/or local governments. For example, West Frisian – a minority language mostly spoken in the Dutch province of Fryslân, where it is also recognised as an official language – is embedded in Dutch educational laws and receives institutional support from the Frisian provincial government (see e.g. Kuipers-Zandberg & Kircher, 2020, for an overview). For minority language education, institutional support and language planning are key (e.g. Van Dongera et al., 2017; De Jager & Van der Meer, 2007). However, despite its importance for language maintenance, in many contexts, minority language education is not a given. How, then, is minority language education organised and provided when languages have limited institutional support?

It is key to increase the visibility of minority languages with little or no place in the education system, and to share knowledge – not only about the challenges faced in these situations, but also about the best practices and the learning resources that are available despite lacking legal and institutional support. Wikis can play a valuable role in this process. Wikipedia may be the most well-known kind of wiki, but there are many others. What all have in common is that they are online publications (restricted or open) where users (restricted or open) can edit, add or remove content. This allows for more than one contributor to share information on the same topic. Wikis are fairly easy to access and use, and therefore accessible to many. In addition to providing visibility and accessibility, wikis allow for flexibility in content. This facilitates the provision of information about the vastly different situations in which minority languages may find themselves, and it enables contributors to swiftly incorporate changes that occur in minority language education – for example, as a result of increasing or decreasing numbers of students and/or teachers, new or ending projects, changing funding, or policy changes.

Image description: Alphabet. Source: pixabay

This is where the Wiki on Minority Language Learning – developed and published by the Mercator European Research Centre on Multilingualism and Language Learning – comes in. This wiki consists of an online factsheet system that focuses on minority languages which have only a very small place – or no place at all – in the education system. The Wiki on Minority Language Learning primarily includes European minority languages, but it is not restricted to these (and alongside entries for languages ranging from Aromanian in the Balkans to Tunumiisiut in Greenland/Denmark, it thus also includes entries for languages like Aleut and Tlingítin the United States). Mercator manages the users and publications, and everyone is welcome to contribute to the Wiki.

The main goals of the Wiki on Minority Language Learning are to:

  • share knowledge on minority language learning;
  • increase the visibility of minority languages online;
  • reflect the institutional support for minority language education in different contexts; and
  • collect and offer open resources for minority language learning.

Currently, the Wiki includes entries for more than 30 languages. It complements Mercator’s Regional Dossiers, a series of booklets which describe and discuss education with regard to minority languages which do have a place in the (regional) education system. 

A screenshot from the Wiki. The structure can be used to describe the language, demographics, education of the language, including legal background and education in actual practice, and resources. An example page with more explanation can be found in the manual.

More languages and more information can be added to the Wiki continuously, either by the users themselves or via the main editor. Information and (sub)chapters can not only be added but also changed or deleted on a continuous basis to ensure the Wiki provides the most up-to-date overview regarding a particular language. For example, temporary changes in minority language education due to Covid could be added. This way, the Wiki constitutes a truly collaborative, accessible, and flexible platform that ensures the online visibility of minority language education in different contexts.

Join us and share your knowledge about minority languages, too! Are you a speaker of a minority language that has little or no place in the education system? Are you interested in, or do you work on such a language? Then take a look at the Wiki on Minority Language Education. If your language is not there yet, it would be great if you could share your knowledge by writing an entry for it – and if the language is already included, there may be information you could add to the current wiki entry to provide an even more comprehensive overview. If you want to contribute, get in touch with Ydwine – you can find her email address in the section for contributors on the Wiki page. We look forward to your help with directing the spotlight to minority language education!


References

Council of Europe. (1992). Charter for Regional and Minority Languages. Available at: https://www.coe.int/en/web/conventions/full-list/-/conventions/rms/0900001680695175  

Council of Europe. (1995). Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. Available at: https://www.coe.int/en/web/conventions/full-list/-/conventions/rms/090000168007cdac

De Jager, B., & Van der Meer, C. (2007). The Development of Minimum Standards for Language Education in Regional and Minority Languages. Leeuwarden: Mercator European Research Centre on Multilingualism and Language Learning.

Kuipers-Zandberg, H. & Kircher, R. (2020). The objective and subjective ethnolinguistic vitality of West Frisian: Promotion and perception of a minority language in the Netherlands. Sustainable Multilingualism 17: 1-25. Available at: https://doi.org/10.2478/sm-2020-0011

Levine, M.V. (1990). The Reconquest of Montreal: Language Policy and Social Change in a Bilingual City. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

UNESCO. (2001). Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity. Available at: http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=13179&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html

United Nations. (1992). UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities. Available at: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/Minorities.aspx

Van Dongera, R., Van der Meer, C., & Sterk, R. (2017). Research for CULT Committee – Minority Languages and Education: Best practices and Pitfalls. European Parliament, Policy Department for Structural and Cohesion Policies. Available at: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2017/585915/IPOL_STU(2017)585915_EN.pdf


Ydwine R. Scarse (BA, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen) is a project assistant at the Mercator European Research Centre on Multilingualism and Language Learning, which is part of the Fryske Akademy in Leeuwarden (Netherlands). She studied Minorities and Multilingualism with the Frisian track, and she is particularly interested in European linguistic minorities. Prior to joining Mercator, she was a board member for Youth of European Nationalities (2017-2019). At Mercator, she works on projects and platforms to share knowledge, challenges and needs, and best practices for minority language and multilingual education. She is currently the main editor for the Wiki on Minority Language Learning. This is Ydwine’s website.

Ruth Kircher (PhD, Queen Mary University of London) is a researcher at the Mercator European Research Centre on Multilingualism and Language Learning, which is part of the Fryske Akademy in Leeuwarden (Netherlands). As a sociolinguist with a specialisation in societal multilingualism and language contact situations, her work focuses especially on language attitudes and ideologies in multilingual contexts, family language policy to promote intergenerational transmission and childhood multilingualism, and language planning to promote the maintenance of minority languages. This is Ruth’s website and you can also find her on Twitter: @ruth_kircher

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