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International Mother Language Day

Posted by Rozenn Milin on 23 February 2011

In 2000, UNESCO proclaimed February 21 “International Mother Language Day”. Over the past 10 years, this date has been an annual opportunity to celebrate multilingualism and the preservation of language diversity as an essential component of human heritage. It is also a day to remember that everyone can use their native language fully and freely in any and all circumstances. Unfortunately in many countries, this fundamental right is still not fullyrecognized.

The scope of UNESCO’s efforts encompasses education, science, and culture. This international institution is particularly concerned with the issue of mother languages in terms of two of these areas: culture of course, since language is a crucial part of the intangible heritage of all people; and education for the language of instruction is often crucial for strong academic achievements.

The issue is simply this: studies conducted worldwide by various organizations show that using a child’s native language for instruction generally provides excellent results, whereas imposing at the outset of schooling a national or foreign language is a policy that often leads to failure.

Mother languages in early education

Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, the Finnish linguist (University of Helsinki) specialized in multilingual education and particularly involved in mother tongue education projects in Nepal and India, offers a clear analysis of the question: “If instruction is given in a language that children from a native (tribal or minority) language community do not know, they will spend their first 2 or 3 years in the classroom without understanding much of what is taught. They can mechanically repeat what the teacher says without understanding, without developing their ability to think with the help of language. In the end, they will have learned almost nothing of the subjects that they have been taught.

For this reason, many of these children leave school prematurely, without having learned to read and write, without having developed a mastery of their native language either, and having acquired virtually no academic knowledge.

Whereas if children are educated in their native language, they understand their lessons and are capable of learning them, they develop their cognitive and academic ability in their native language, and have very good chances of becoming rational and cultivated individuals, capable of continuing their education. “

In the Sourcebook for Poverty Reduction Strategies (2001), the World Bank itself sums up a 1999 UNICEF report thusly: “There is ample research showing that students are quicker to learn to read and acquire other academic skills when first taught in their mother tongue. They also learn a second language more quickly than those initially taught to read in an unfamiliar language.”

Better results in school

Linguists W.P. Thomas and V.P. Collier (1997) have considerably researched the subject and are even more specific. They have observed that those students from linguistic minorities who had received the most extensive instruction in their mother language during their primary school education had the best results … in the national language on national standardized tests conducted in high schools.

Finally, Claire Moyse-Faurie, linguist with the LACITO / CNRS, provides further arguments: ”The benefits are also social and cultural. When the same language is used in school and at home, parents are able to monitor their children’s learning. They can thus discuss, help, and get involved in school life. Schooling in their mother language guarantees the children’s lifestyles will not be marginalized and that they will not be alienated from their culture.”

Recommending the use of mother languages to teach children to read and more generally in education as a whole is not a flight of fancy. It is a recommendation based on multiple, field studies. In addition to the conclusive results of these studies – despite the difficulties certain have in admitting them – we should add it is a matter of common sense. It is unfortunate that this information is not more widely acknowledged because academic achievements determine the chances for millions of children to better their living standards. Literacy is their best guarantee against being left behind by globalization.

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And the desert once again became a vast, empty expanse

Posted by Jacques Godfrain on 26 January 2011

The Sahel is not deserted by man. Humans are everywhere, at the end of each road, along each track, around every dune. Those who know these vast expanses a little (perhaps a lot?), know that men and women live here, entrenched in this hostile setting and yet capable of both adapting to it and protecting themselves from it.

Their wealth is their herds, emaciated when far from waterholes and magnificent during the kinder seasons or with thin vegetation nearby.

For decades, Europeans and Africans have understood the importance and wealth of the pastoral world. Studies of tropical breeds go far back in our veterinary schools; be they Agro here in France or the Veterinary School of Dakar.

The care, the vaccinations, the follow-up of herds in sub-Saharan Africa have, over the years, created close, personal, and trusting ties between these populations and those who contribute to their livelihood and sometimes their survival.

And then came structural adjustments. Agriculture was phased out as the primary concern of financial managers. There were budget freezes and major institutions changed their guidelines.

Desert populations soon realized that the health of their herds was not a priority and that they themselves were of little importance in the minds of those they had welcomed as tourists, as brothers, as admirers of the setting sun, and sometimes for whom their grandparents had died.

And the desert once again became a vast, empty expanse.

Other men came, talked, helped, supported, and often replaced a certain White Man with their support and sense of brotherhood.

Today, circumstances require action not contrition.

Special forces will not suffice. We must rethink our positions on agriculture and livestock. An impressive organization exists, the OIE (The World Organisation for Animal Health (1)) ; however, every year, budget after budget, their financial power is eroded.

We must re-engage dialogue with those who take care of the animals, for they feed people.

This means fighting hunger, this means actually fighting against falsified drugs and vaccinations, in deed and not merely in word.

When human wisdom prevails over the strength of things, then there is no longer room for those who kidnap or kill.

Preventing conflicts shows the poor that ultimately, life will offer the shepherd, during his twilight years, the hope of leaving his son a larger herd than the one bequeathed by his father.

Jacques GODFRAIN
Former Minister
Honorary member of Parliament
Replacement deputy for Aveyron

(1) L’Office international des épizooties was created in 1924 to globally fight animal diseases, in 2003 the Office became the World Organisation for Animal Health but has kept its historical acronym, OIE.

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A very happy New Year to all, including all of the forests of the world….

Posted by Tristan Lecomte on 5 January 2011

The United Nations have declared 2011 the International Year of Forests, which we at the Fondation warmly welcome. The fight against deforestation and support of sustainable harvest of timber are amongst the Fondation’s primary objectives, particularly because we are conscience of the direct link that exists between forest preservation and the protection of the rights of indigenous peoples.

The future of these populations is intimately linked to their ecosystems, on which they are dependent for survival. Preserving their forest, allows them to continue to live their traditional lifestyle, to meet their needs by sustainably using the resources of their forest, and as well as preserving their culture and language, the forest protects them from the frenetic evolution of today’s world.

The deforestation of a zone inhabited by an indigenous population is all too often synonymous with the forced entry into the Western and globalized world and the loss of orientation for fragile populations. Here we are measuring a very important aspect of the strong interdependence that exists between the forest and human development.

The forest is more than just a bunch of trees and vegetation to be admired while strolling through the countryside. The forest is an immense sanctuary of biodiversity, it is the most important reserve of fresh water in the world, the best way to preserve our soils from erosion, to maintain high soil quality and thus to reap successful harvests and to preserve our climate.

100 square meters destroyed every second

The forest is the lung of the planet, a lung that is in a pitiful state and that we continue to destroy at the rate of 100 square meters every second…

We really hope that this year, 2011, is the starting point for a greater awareness on the importance of the forest and its multiple interdependencies with human development. To all, we wish you a wonderful year in 2011…. in the forest!!!

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Sustainable development and respect for diversity are intimately linked

Posted by Tristan Lecomte on 8 December 2010

The Foundation has, from the start, stated that defending peace and promoting the sustainable development of our planet, necessarily entails respect for the diversity of cultures and more generally all forms of life. President Chirac is passionate about the cause of the First Peoples and has always encouraged dialogue between cultures as the very foundation for peace and the guarantee of a more harmonious, durable, richer development.

Given the hegemony of a dominant ideology and the market system that standardizes tastes and broader societal choices, we must offer solutions that are by definition different and complementary. We can not solve the current economic, social, and cultural crisis with a single model, but rather by working through the combination and complementarity of different visions. This is a feature of the sustainable development movement, it is inherently tied to natural Biodiversity but it is also by nature tied to a Biodiversity of approaches and solutions.

We cannot leave oil behind unless we combine all sources of renewable energy, unless we adjust the current neoliberal model by adapting it to the social and environmental constraints of each country or continent, unless we change the world by ceasing to create blocks and conflicts between civilizations.

Each individual must create a personal life model

This vision directly echoes President Chirac’s decision not to intervene during the second Iraq war, and in so doing, ending the binary and hegemonic vision held by the United States at the time.

Respect for each and everyone’s diverse point of view, for their participation in harmoniously changing the world, all the while allowing each his or her freedom; this is a message that offers particular depth to the concept of Sustainable Development. The theme is approached here in terms of subsidiarity. Each individual must create a personal life model, more in harmony with himself and the Planet. This would replace the current model, often based on a dominant ideology that impoverishes the world and leads into a dead-end.

One of the Fondation’s most powerful messages is that it is up to each of us to observe and participate in these multiple visions that enrich our daily lives and help build our future World.

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The death of an old lady and of her ancient language

Posted by Rozenn Milin on 22 February 2010

On February 5, 2010, Mrs Boa Sr. passed away. She was the last speaker of Aka-bo, a language that dated back several millennia and spoken on the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean.

Her death was widely covered in the international press leading us to wonder why the death of an old lady and the extinction of her “little” language have triggered such emotions…

To understand the symbolic weight of this “double” death, of both the woman and her language, we must go back in time, not only of this part of the world but back to the origins of Humanity.

The Adaman archipelago is made up of 204 islands more than 1000 km off the Indian coasts, divided up between the Great and the Little Andaman. Four population groups live on these islands:

  • The Sentinelese, between 50 and 200 members who are extremely isolated and who, apparently, have never been in contact with Westerners. They are one of the most isolated populations in the world;
  • the Jarawa, who number a little less than 300;
  • the Onges, with nearly 100 individuals;
  • the Great Andamanese, whose language was composed of a dozen dialectal variants, one of which was the Aka-bo language. This specific language is now extinct and there are only 50 people left who speak one of the Great Andamanese languages.

Researchers generally believe that the Andamanese languages could be the last vestiges of pre-Neolithic languages…

These populations apparently left Africa 70 000 years ago to finally settle in Southeast Asia. The men and women who made up these communities were probably the first “modern” human beings to settle in this part of the world.

They survived throughout the centuries until the arrival of the English in 1858. From then on, the Andamanese were decimated – killed by the new settlers or from foreign diseases.

At the start of the 21st century, their long voyage is coming to an end. How can only several hundred individuals scattered across a handful of islands resist the massive uniformizing waves of globalisation?

The day the last speaker of an Andamanese language dies, the loss will be irreparable: an entire linguistic family will disappear. What is at stake here is nothing less than the disappearance of one of the most ancient cultures of our planet, one that dates back to the dawn of time….

“You cannot begin to imagine my pain and anguish as I witness a remarkable culture and a unique language disappear,” said Professor Anvita Abbi, the linguist who has been documenting the Aka-bo language, through recordings of Mrs. Boa Sr.

Today, we measure the full importance of her work. These are the last traces of a language that nobody will ever speak again. And this reminds us of the urgency of recording, filming, and documenting all the other languages and cultures around the globe that are currently threatened. The Fondation Chirac’s Sorosoro programme is committed to this monumental task.

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