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Who can save minority languages?

Noteworthy news came from Wales last week. The Welsh Language Society (Cymdeithas yr Iaith) elected a new chairman. Joseff Gnagbo is the first chairman who was not born in Wales. Coming from Ivory Coast, he is also the first person of colour to hold this function. BBC News reports that Mr. Gnagbo decide to learn Welsh five years earlier, when he arrived in the country as an asylum seeker. His mission, as chairman, is to promote the Welsh language "as open to everyone, whatever your background".

Listen to Mr. Gnagbo speak Welsh:

New speakers, new opportunities for minority language revitalization

Mr. Gnagbo's appointment should not shock. Minority language activists have been looking for new ways to strengthen their communities. Traditionally, language revitalization efforts target native speakers.

During my PhD research, I noticed that minority languages can facilitate migrant integration. Representing local identities, minority language communities tend to be more welcoming than heavily normative 'national languages'. For migrants, the knowledge of locally used languages provides a much needed sense of belonging.

Activists now begin to see the value that new speakers add to revitalization work. Praat mar frysk is a campaign that targets new speakers of Frisian - a language spoken in the province of Fryslân, in the Netherlands.

Frisian activists, who are also researchers, believe that language revitalization policies should offer complementary support for both traditional and new speakers.

Interested in what Frisian (Frysk) sounds like? Play the video:

How to support new speakers?

The researchers noticed that what prevents new speakers from speaking Frisian more actively is insecurity. So, they ran a language promotion campaign to create a more open and supportive Frisian speaking community.

At LangWork, we also believe that a friendly community is extremely important when it comes to empowering new speakers. Our approach starts from securing speakers wellbeing. Being in a friendly and open community reduces stress, and improves motivation to learn. Check out our resources, paying attention that we will be adding new ones throughout October.

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