How wide the great divide language endangerment awareness and the school curricula
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How wide the Great Divide: language endangerment awareness and the school curricula. Radosław Wójtowicz Adam Mickiewicz University [email protected] 3L 2012 Junior Researchers Conference, Lyon 11.7.2012. The structure of the presentation. about INNET Project

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How wide the Great Divide: language endangerment awareness and the school curricula

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How wide the Great Divide: language endangerment awareness and the school curricula

Radosław Wójtowicz

Adam Mickiewicz University

[email protected]

3L 2012 Junior Researchers Conference, Lyon 11.7.2012

The structure of the presentation

  • about INNET Project

  • Curriculum Report and results of the interviews – Awareness Report

  • real needs vs. existing materials

  • summary and suggestions

INNET Project

  • the consortium: UCO, HASRIL, MPIPL, AMU

  • 7th Framework Programme of the EU

  • 2011-2014

  • 5 workpackages

  • Summer School: Technological approaches to the documentation of lesser-used languages, September 2013, Poznań


  • not mere preservation of the data, but making archives available for researchers and the general public

  • engaging in an interaction with secondary school teachers and pupils so as to attract new generations of students to the study and management of linguistic diversity

Assessing awareness

  • examining school curricula

  • interviews with educational officials

  • semi-structured interviews with pupils and teachers of 8 secondary schools across Poland

Curriculum Report

  • school curricula currently in a state of transition

  • language endangerment not an issue whatsoever, although there are 7 school subjects where lessons on language endangerment could be conducted in relation to topics that are included in syllabi for the subjects

Inteviews with educational officials

  • Ministry of Education sets priority topics for inspections; summer semester 2011/2012: the abidance of rules concerning teaching of languages, culture and history of ethnic minorities

  • Regional Educational Superintendents: not searching for problems, but responding to problems/needs signaled by pupils, teachers and parents and searching for solutions to them; except for pupils in Pomerania who wanted extra-curricular education on Kashubian, no such needs reported

  • rather than on the languages, more attention should be focused on the culture and history of minorities

  • awareness considerably higher in regions where minority languages are spoken, although not in all cases

‘folk linguistics’ of language endangerment

  • a language can become endangered due to e.g. bad (=cold) climate; a possible solution to the problem is relocating the speakers to safer/better locations;

  • if a language is too difficult or too old-fashioned to be used by a new generation, it can easily become endangered.

  • „Although it is essential to ensure minority language rights, natural processes are difficult to go against.”

Pupils’ feedback

  • include maps and statistical data (especially liked by boys)

  • more information on several languages rather than superficial knowledge from very many languages

  • the idea of a computer game not so much liked

  • karaoke in endangered languages 

Teachers’ feedback

topics that could be nicely combined with the issue of language endangerment:

  • the cultural diversity of the world (Geography)

  • the ethnic composition of Poland – past and today (History)

  • identity and national identity, civil and political rights (Social Studies)

  • global culture vs. regional culture (Cultural Studies)

  • different varieties of English (English)

Teachers’ feedback

what type of teaching material?

  • English: listening exercises

  • Geography: personal-like stories of language communities

  • Social Studies: a myth or a legend in an endangered language with a translation into Polish

    what additional material?

  • History and Social Studies: extracts from statistical yearbooks

  • Cultural Studies: songs, pictures etc.

Awareness Report: conclusions

  • basic demographics and significant cultural content to be included

  • spoken language exists before a written language and that a language is not confined in its (standarized) written form;

  • small does not always mean endangered;

  • challenge the assumption that endangered languages are only used by old women or tribesmen; show young people school pupils could identify with

  • two lessons: 1. about language in general, 2. two communities, their language, culture, geography etc.

The Linguists


  • an interactive map showing locations

  • minimum text, maximum interactive material

  • A Teacher’s Guide to Endangered Languages: 10 themes dealing with different aspects of language endangerment; proposals for discussions, tasks, homework

  • video extras

Kristin Denham: Teaching Kids about Language Change, Language Endangerment and Language Death


  • language change explained comparing English of Beowulf, Shakespeare texts and Modern English

Kirk Hazen: Teaching About Dialects (


  • an article in fact dealing with dialects of English, but useful because of the practical advice for teachers

  • having pupils discuss stigmatized forms

  • assessing the level of ‘language intolerance’ and linguistic prejudices by having students discuss some popular beliefs about language


  • Linguistic Society of America: What is an endangered language? - basic questions as subheadings with examples supporting the answer wherever possible

  • First Voices – games and audio puzzles on sounds from indigenous languages of Canada

School information package

  • teaching materials

  • an interactive map available on-line

  • Book of Knowledge

  • ancillary package for teachers

Book of Knowledge

  • 10 chapters

  • links, photos

  • examples of structures primarily from endangered languages

  • constant emphasis on the linguistic diversity of the world

  • emphasis on the fact that each human language, be it Aranda or English, is a complex system


  • too difficult? too academic?

  • too much focused on the linguistic side?

  • pupils’ feedback vs. emphasizing the linguistic diversity of the world

  • how to design the package for teachers?

  • are the teachers going to use the material?

  • beaurocracy


  • Crystal, David (2003): Crossing the great divide: language endangerment and public awareness. Keynote speech to the International Expert Meeting on Endangered Languages, UNESCO, Paris, 10 March 2003.

  • Crystal, David (2011): Language diversity, endangerment, and public awareness. British Academy Review18, 12-20.

  • Odé, Cecilia (2008): Teaching Materials on Language Endangerment An Interactive E-learning Module on the Internet, In: Tjeerd de Graaf et al. (eds.) - Endangered Languages and Language Learning: Proceedings of the Conference FEL XII, 24-27 September 2008, Ljouwert/Leeuwarden, 147-150. Leeuwarden: Foundation for Endangered Languages


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