Friday, February 21, 2014

Language, Peace and Security

On this International Mother Language Day, the US Institute of Peace, the Alliance for Peacebuilding, the Center for Applied Linguistics, and SIL International have organized a "Symposium on Language, Peace and Security" at the USIP in Washington, DC. It is being webcast on the event page (in break as I write and post this).

A Twitter hashtag is being used for some live tweets: #langpeacesec. In one tweet, @USIP indicated that the proceedings will be made available online about a week after the symposium.

Description (excerpts from event page):
The role of language—both as a means of communication and as an expression of identity – is a vital consideration for any serious discussion of peace and security. The Symposium on Language, Peace, and Security, which marks UNESCO’s International Mother Language Day, will:
  • Look at the overlooked linguistic and educational dimensions of a simmering conflict pitting Pattani Malay-speaking Muslims against the government of Thailand.
  • Address the importance of ensuring linguistic human rights through educational policies and practices that value and promote linguistic diversity.
  • Consider language policy in education and how it may serve to exacerbate or mitigate violence.
Can careful consideration of language and communications in discussions of peace and security lead to real solutions to conflicts? How do issues of language, language complexity, and communication play out in peace-building efforts and ongoing security? How can language issues be identified and addressed effectively in policy planning and execution?

Keynote Presenters:

Patricia Friedrich
Associate Professor of Linguistics/Rhetoric and Composition
Arizona State University
Suwilai Presrirat
Professor of Linguistics and Founder of the Research Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia
Mahidol University, Thailand
Terrence Wiley
Center for Applied Linguistics
Zeena Zakharia
Assistant Professor of International and Comparative Education
University of Massachusetts, Boston
George A. Lopez, Keynote Discussant
Vice President of the Academy for International Conflict Management and Peacebuilding
U.S. Institute of Peace
Peter Weinberger, Moderator
Senior Program Officer
United States Institute of Peace
Perspectives from the Grassroots
Community-based practitioners reflect on the relevance of language to peace and security.
Joel Trudell, SIL International; Unian Samoh, Mahidol University; Cecilia Ochoa, Save the Children; Micael Olsson, World Vision
Personal perspectives

The symposium topic and presentations helpful in expanding discussion of the importance of language(s) in planning and development-related work.

For some time I have discussed links among language, development, and information and communications technology. My work in support of localization and interest in applications of human language technologies address the language - technology connection. The connection between language and development, as others have observed, still needs more work. The connection between language on the one hand and peace and security on the other is an important complement to the latter.

Having in recent years worked more in relation to peace and security, I appreciated the opportunity to hear from others making the connections between those concerns and language planning.

Language is never the cause of conflict (as some scholars have pointed out in the past), but in some cases it might be a focus in conflict. Moreover, as several presenters showed, attention to first languages may be important in alleviating factors (such as social exclusion) that may lead to conflict.

Various interesting lessons and case studies in the symposium, with two presentations that explored the particular issues and approaches in southern Thailand. Some useful concepts included: "peace linguistics" (Dr. Friedrich); and "equity in learning" (Ms. Ochoa).

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