Transcending Territories

跨  越  的  疆  圖

Special Project 2020 : Learning Mother Language Is Our Right

Transcending Territories

2020

Coming Soon

Transcending Territories

2020

Coming Soon

Transcending Territories

2020

Coming Soon

Call for Collaboration​

 

Dear Native and Ethnic Minority Friends,

 

We are the Transcending Territories 2020 Team. Since 2016, we have been curating a series of contemporary art projects called Transcending Territories, which features contemporary artists from or inspired by nomadic and native cultures. This year, as a part of Transcending Territories 2020, we are organizing a special project entitled Learning Our Mother Language Is Our Right.

 

BACKGROUND

The preservation and vitality of Indigenous and ethnic minority languages is a global problem. These mother tongues preserve cultural knowledge and histories that can never be fully translated, and are vital for the survival of cultures and fostering diversity around the world. Languages become endangered when the number of speakers declines through death or shifting to more dominant languages. It is crucial to value, encourage, and teach mother languages to retain the richness of cultural diversity and knowledge, as well as affirming Indigenous and minority identities while counteracting the detrimental effects of discrimination.   

 

  • In the past hundred years, about 600 languages have disappeared.

  • Of the 7,000+ languages spoken world-wide, 50-90% will no longer be spoken by the year 2100 if nothing changes, replaced mostly by English, Mandarin, and Spanish.

  • 96% of the world’s population speaks only 4% of its languages, meaning that the vast majority of globally diverse languages are only spoken by a minute and declining number of people.

  • Presently almost 3,000 languages are considered endangered, with less than 10,000 speakers each.[i]

  

Various efforts have sought to protect and perpetuate Indigenous and endangered minority languages. These include the UNESCO International Mother Language Day (IMLD, February 21st), which promotes awareness of cultural diversity and multilingualism. The United Nations General Assembly likewise designated 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages to call attention to the issue of language loss. However, the risk of losing Indigenous and ethnic minority languages remains acute, putting in jeopardy the cultural heritage that those languages carry. As part of Transcending Territories 2020, Learning Our Mother Language Is Our Right asserts the rights of all people to study their own native languages, regardless of ethnicity or nationality.

 

CURRENT SITUATIONS

Asia- Nearly half of the roughly 3,000 endangered languages documented by Google’s Endangered Languages Project are in Asia.[ii] Some of these languages are severely endangered, with ten or fewer fluent speakers surviving such as the Saaroa and Kanakabu languages in southern Taiwan, Ainu in the Japanese prefecture of Hokkaido, or Kusunda in Nepal.[iii] In addition to these immediately endangered languages, those of ethnic minorities such as Chinese Mongolians are currently at risk of decline. For example, a recent movement of ethnic Mongolian people has protested the marginalization of the native Mongolian language in the schools of the Chinese Inner Mongolia autonomous region.[iv]

 

Europe- Of roughly 200 languages among European countries, only a fraction of these are official languages of the EU, and some Indigenous languages such as in Scandinavia may have only a few fluent speakers remaining. Efforts such as the EU ENGHUM initiative seek to revitalize endangered minority languages by connecting interdisciplinary academic partners with community-based projects.[v] The collaborative ENGHUM approach brings scholars together with local organizers to stage workshops and cultural events seeking to preserve linguistic and cultural diversity, while counteracting linguistic discrimination.

 

North America- North America currently has a total of 256 living languages, of which 92% are at risk after centuries of colonization, genocide, and assimilation policies that sought to strip Native peoples of their distinct languages and cultures. The US government has acknowledged the harms of its past assimilationism, and more recent policies and modest funding have been oriented towards preserving and promoting Indigenous languages through the Native American Languages Act (1990) and the Esther Martinez Native American Language Preservation Act (2006). But these do not go nearly far enough to meet the concerns of the 574 Federally recognized tribes and many non-recognized Native groups, and more funding is needed.[vi] Canada passed the Indigenous Languages Act in 2019 to help preserve mother languages, and statistics suggest speakers of First Nations Indigenous languages are increasing, but at least forty remain endangered.[vii] For Indigenous communities of North America, language revitalization is crucially important, with many tribes and First Nations prioritizing language in their educational systems and/or establishing other immersive learning opportunities. For example, Navajo and Native Hawaiian immersive language schools have demonstrated a high level of success.[viii] Organizations such as the First Voice, the First Peoples’ Cultural Council, or the LearnMichif project are supporting the vitality and growth of First Nations mother languages.[ix] In addition to community-led approaches, museums and Universities are also seeking to contribute to language and cultural revitalization efforts, such as Smithsonian Institution’s collaborative Recovering Voices initiative.[x]

 

Central and South America- In these regions of former Spanish and Portuguese colonization, there are about 560 Indigenous languages, with the top five being Quechua, Mayan, Guaraní, Aymara, and Nahuatl. Guaraní is not at risk, since most Paraguayans (Indigenous and non-Native alike) can understand this official language. With 6-8 million speakers in the Andes, Quechua has the most of any Indigenous language in South America, but is still considered endangered, and only recently has Peru introduced Quechua-language television shows and education in some schools. Mayan is another Indigenous language with a large number of speakers, but diverse dialects, some of which are recognized by the governments of Mexico and Guatemala. It is taught in some special schools, while artists such as the hip hop group B’alam Ajpu contribute to language revitalization by incorporating Mayan into popular music. Aymara has a strong cohort of speakers and is an official language in Bolivia and Peru, as well as entering political discourse through native-speaking former President Evo Morales and Aymara language television. The Nahuatl language of Central Mexico has 1.5 million speakers, but is declining in use, and community led programs are working to revitalize and pass along this language. Although the largest five Indigenous languages retain significant numbers of speakers, 108 other languages are classified as endangered, some with fewer than ten remaining speakers.[xi]

 

Australia- As in North America, Australia’s colonizers enforced a policy of assimilation upon Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples through removal of children from their families, reeducation, and missions, although elders continued teaching their languages in secret. Of the estimated 250 Indigenous Australian languages at the beginning of European colonization, only about 100 are still spoken by older generations today, and only thirteen are documented as currently being passed on to children. However, a wave of revitalization is beginning to strengthen Indigenous language transmission, and some Aboriginal children can now learn their Indigenous languages in certain schools, while collaborative projects and local community initiatives are making important contributions.[xii] For example, the Wiradjuri language from traditional country now part of New South Wales is now taught in some high schools, has been recorded in a dictionary project, and is the focus of collaborative revitalization through the Wiradjuri Language and Cultural Heritage Recovery Project.[xiii] Community-based organizations such as the Noongar Boodjar Language Center in Western Australia have been essential in the reemergence and revitalization of other languages.[xiv] Despite these positive efforts, however, the majority of surviving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages remain severely or critically endangered.

 

Africa- The vulnerability of minority languages in Africa is poorly documented, despite the continent’s great linguistic diversity, having almost 1/3 of the world’s living languages. Unlike other parts of the world, internal forces such as population movement and pressure from regionally dominant languages seem to be the primary factors in language loss, while widespread multilingualism, urbanism, and a history of extractive rather than settler colonialism may have mitigated against it. Language loss is a significant, if unquantified problem in Africa, with estimates of endangered languages ranging between 200-300.[xv] Revitalization efforts do exist, such as a collaboration documenting and teaching the critically endangered San language of Njuu in South Africa, with only three fluent speakers remaining.[xvi]

 

OUR PROJECT

We are asking for 100 native and ethnic minority friends from around the world to participate in an art project affirming global revitalization of Indigenous and minority languages, and showing support for their crucial importance to global diversity. If you would like to join us in this effort, please print the following model in your own language on A4 or 8.27 x 11.69” paper:

 

Name

Country – Nationality/Ethnicity/Tribe/Culture

Learning Our Mother Language Is Our Right.

 

For Example:

Transcending Territories

2020

Coming Soon

Transcending Territories

2020

Coming Soon

Transcending Territories

2020

Coming Soon

We ask that you photograph yourself holding this sign in your hands, wearing traditional clothing and standing in front of landmarks or in a significant location (if you feel it is appropriate), in a setting of your choice. Please send the photograph to TranscendingTerritories@gmail.com.

We will use these images in a collaborative online art exhibit as part of the ongoing Transcending Territories project, in support of all the people globally working towards Indigenous language revitalization and in opposition to linguistic discrimination. It is my hope to eventually print and show these photographs in a travelling gallery exhibit that may appear in China or internationally. Please feel free to share this project with others who might be interested in participating.

 

Thank you sincerely for your interest and support.

The Transcending Territories 2020 Team