SDL Tados 2021

What Languages Will the New Constitution of Chile Reflect?


After this week’s vote to compose a new constitution, a debate is occurring in Chile about whether Indigenous groups will be represented in the upcoming Constitutional Convention, and in what capacity. How will language play a part?

In a landmark vote about whether to compose a new national constitution, the people of Chile have spoken. After a year of protest, police violence, and resistance from President Sebastián Piñera, the people have decided to vote on an assembly of 155 delegates for next year’s constitutional convention.

Responding initially to a rise in public transportation fees, the protests evolved into a larger critique of Chile’s structural inequalities and widening income disparities, turning demands to the constitution. Written in 1980, Chile’s constitution was composed in secret by the Pinochet government, cementing into Chilean society a neoliberal, market-driven philosophy that valued economy over people.

In contrast, this week’s vote has made clear that the people demand the constitutional re-write promote a transparent, democratic process, as well as a commitment to serve all Chilean people.

Some of the issues expected to be covered in the constitution will be health care, education, pensions, water rights, and the expanded autonomy of Indigenous groups. Additionally, representation will play an important role in determining who will actually write the document. The process aims to ensure a binary gender parity, and negotiations are currently considering Indigenous representation.

However, reports are inconclusive about what further measures the convention will take beyond numerical representation. Questions arise, then, about what that representation looks like not just in the composition of delegates, but also in the substance of the constitution.

For example, what role will language play in the crafting of this new constitution?

This is a broad question, but one that could have notable implications in the debates during the convention, particularly in terms of the languages representatives speak during debate, the languages used to compose the document, and how the document aims to promote Chilean languages.

Though Chile recognizes Spanish as its official language, speakers of Indigenous languages number the hundreds of thousands. Furthermore, Indigenous groups — the Mapuche peoples making up the largest groups — make up well over 10% of the Chilean population. Despite their significant numbers and linguistic diversity, however, the current constitution makes no mention of Indigenous peoples, let alone their rights and languages.

The constitutional convention will begin in April next year and will extend as far as April 2022. At that time, it will be presented to a plebiscite to consider the reforms. As the story develops, we will continue digging into how, or if, the languages of Chile’s Indigenous groups will play a role in this historic moment.

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MultiLingual creates go-to news and resources for language industry professionals.


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Chinese Project Promotes Local Dialects, but in What Capacity?


Surveying a wide swath of regions, Chinese officials aim to preserve and promote local dialects. The country’s human rights record, however, stands at odds with the recent measures.

Home to hundreds of dialects and ethnic minority languages, China has begun a project to preserve language resources and protect the record of the region’s rich linguistic history. The Chinese Ministry of Education and the State Language Commission began conducting surveys in 2015 to determine the state of local dialects around China. The survey has found that at least 100 local dialects are endangered, prompting the National People’s Congress (NPC) deputy to put forth proposals to protect endangered languages and promote inheritance of dialects.

The project stands to become the largest language preservation project in the world. As of this month, the project has collected more than 10 million entries for 123 Chinese dialects and ethnic minority languages after surveying the language resources of over 1,700 locations. Along with the language surveys, the NPC has made a call to promote local dialects in schools, though apparently in the form of

In terms of the spoken languages, much of the world associates Chinese language with either Mandarin — often referred to as “Putonghua,” or common tongue, in Mainland China — or possibly Cantonese, the predominant language spoken in the southern Guangdong province. The Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) and the rise of television and film media prompted the Chinese Government to enact policies that would make Mandarin the predominant language for mass broadcasts, most mainstream media, and most educational disciplines. Mandarin is often a second language, and an increasingly necessary language to learn. 

However, while Mandarin is the official language of the country, the linguistic diversity of China is immensely diverse. Besides Mandarin and Cantonese, both distinct from one another, 14 million people speak a dialect commonly referred to as Shanghainese, and Shanghai is made up of even more languages. Language is not tethered to region, either. Hakka is a cultural language of the Hakka people, who live among several provinces. 

In statements for a 2005 New York Times article, one linguist from the Fujian province in China said, “We have an expression, that if you drive five miles in Fujian the culture changes, and if you drive 10 miles, the language does.”

Similarly, a professor of linguistics said in the same article, “No one can clearly answer the question how many dialects there are in China. The degree of difference among dialects is much higher than the degree of difference among European languages. In Europe they call them languages, but in China we share a culture, so the central government would like to consider that one language is shared by many different peoples. It is simply a different definition.”

Needless to say, the project of collecting records of all these languages will be a massive undertaking, not to mention pressing. Many of the measures to promote Mandarin since the Cultural Revolution have resulted in a sharp decreases in opportunities for speakers of local languages to maintain their own dialects, especially with laws requiring Mandarin instruction in many K-12 educational disciplines. In fact, just in August this year, ethnic Mongolian communities in the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region (IMAR) — located in China’s north border with Mongolia — staged mass school boycotts in response to a new curriculum that would scale back education in the local Mongolian language.

Likewise, in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR), many of the local dialects are in danger due to similar educational policies as those in IMAR. In its report on China’s “Bilingual Education” in TAR earlier this year, the Human Rights Watch suggested that “TAR authorities are using a strategy of cultivated ambiguity in their public statements while using indirect pressure to push primary schools, where an increasing number of ethnic Chinese teachers are teaching, to adopt Chinese-medium instruction at the expense of Tibetan, such as allocating increasing numbers of ethnic Chinese teachers who do not speak Tibetan to positions in Tibetan schools.”

Considering the threat many of these languages face due to Chinese language policies, one might see the creation of a language preservation project as an attempt to make up for human rights abuses that necessitated such preservation measures in the first place. Furthermore, the cultural erasure occurring in many of the autonomous regions begs the question of whether these recent measures are meant to protect people, or rather simply to preserve language as artifact while the cultures themselves go extinct.

While the project to survey, protect, and promote local dialects in China is still new and will likely evolve in upcoming years, human rights advocates stress that such measures must be complemented with active cultural preservation as well. In her Atlantic story on Chinese repression of the Uighur people in Xinjiang, Yasmeen Serhan writes, “Safeguarding a culture requires more than simply maintaining a historical record of its existence. Cultures, after all, can’t be placed behind glass like museum artifacts; much like the people who inhabit them, cultures are meant to grow, adapt, and evolve.”

Preserving and promoting local dialects and ethnic minority languages will thus require not merely the collection of documents, but an even more more massive undertaking: promoting the cultures themselves. The project has so far resulted in a rich collection of language data and resources, and likely a better understanding of China’s broad swath of cultures and languages. How this information will translate to policy, or reform, still remains a question.

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Jonathan Pyner is a poet, freelance writer, and translator. He has worked as an educator for nearly a decade in the US and Taiwan, and he recently completed a master’s of fine arts in creative writing.


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Turkish Social Media Law set to Gobble up Dissent


The Turkish parliament swiftly approved a new law regulating social media at the end of July, after Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned earlier in the month that he would shut down social media platforms over “immoral content.” The law takes effect today, October 1, and has implications for the localization industry and its social media clients.

According to the law, foreign social media platforms with over one million daily active users are required to open offices in Turkey, with legal representatives appointed to field concerns around content that Turkish authorities take exception to. Companies will have 48 hours to comply with requests to remove content that is deemed unsavory. The law also requires user data to be stored in Turkey.

Companies that run afoul of the law risk severe penalties, including fines of up to more than $700,000, the blocking of advertisements, or having bandwidth slashed by as much as 90%.

The Turkish government claims that the new law is necessary to fight cybercrime and protect social media users, particularly women, from harassment and bullying. Critics fear, however, that the law will allow the state to increase censorship, target individuals, and silence dissent. A spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said the law “would give the state powerful tools for asserting even more control over the media landscape.” 

This is just the latest move toward more sweeping media restrictions and censorship in a country where over 90% of conventional media is now controlled by conglomerates with close ties to the government. Last September, legislation came into effect placing streaming services such as Netflix under the regulatory control of Turkey’s Radio and Television Supreme Council, whose rules state that programming cannot be contrary to the national and moral values of Turkish society.

Might foreign social media companies simply opt to leave the Turkish market rather than comply with requests to enforce restrictive censorship laws that are at odds with their own corporate values and the values of their home markets? Such a decision would not be without precedent. Wikipedia refused requests from Turkish authorities to edit several English-language articles that described Turkey as a sponsor country for ISIS and Al-Qaeda, resulting in a three-year ban of the site that lasted until January of this year. And, in July of this year, when Netflix was denied permission to produce their original Turkish drama If Only in the country because one of the characters was gay, they chose to cancel production rather than modifying the script.

Even for companies that do wish to comply with the new regulations, the bureaucracy, expense, and risk involved in doing so may greatly outweigh any gains from remaining in an under-monetized or non-monetized emerging market such as Turkey under such draconian rules. 

Turks are already aware that holding views in opposition to the government can have harsh consequences, as detailed in a recent MultiLingual magazine story. The greatest question in the end is not how the new law will affect social media companies themselves, but how it may erode the last bastion of freedom of expression and dissent online, and move many Turks to self-censor.

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Bobb Drake is a foodie, book hoarder, and curator of fine and interesting information and artifacts. A long-time language services veteran, Bobb has spent much of his career exploring the secret depths and furthest reaches of the industry’s cultural underbelly. He is currently director of Geocultural Research at Nimdzi Insights.

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Journalists Face Widespread Crackdown After Belarus Vote


Authorities in Belarus have received international criticism for their violent crackdown on journalists following the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko. Many believe the election results were falsified in order to secure the president’s victory, including the opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.

Following the August 9 presidential election in Belarus, journalists reported on widespread protests that broke out in opposition to what they claimed was the fraudulent re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko. Chief among the protesters’ demands is that the president resign from his 26-year rule. In an effort to quell the unrest, officials in Belarus have blocked more than 50 news media websites originating from a variety of sources and language backgrounds.

The blockade came soon after Belarus state-run publishing house Vysheysha Shkola halted the printing of prominent independent newspapers Narodnaya Volya and Komsomolskaya Pravda, citing malfunctioning press equipment. This was the third time the newspapers faced disruption of their press since the election in early August. Narodnaya Volya is printed in Belarusian, an East Slavic language, as well as Russian — which is also an official language of Belarus. Komsomolskaya Pravda is a Russian-language paper.

Responding to the crackdown, the Belarusian Association of Journalists — which include sites for US-funded Radio Liberty, Polish-funded satellite TV channel Belsat, and Minsk-based EuroRadio — have expressed concern about the government’s attempts to control the narrative through suppressing journalism.

“The Belarusian Association of Journalists links the blocking of internet resources and the disruption of print publications with the government’s attempt to block information about post-election protests in the country,” the journalists’ association said in a statement. “We consider such actions indirect censorship and obstruction of the legitimate activities of media in Belarus. These actions not only violate the rights of journalists and the media, but also restrict the constitutional right of citizens to receive complete, reliable and timely information.”

Along with press blockades, Belarus authorities have also beaten, detained, and denied entry to dozens of reporters, according to the association. The crackdown has drawn international criticism, with the International Press Institute and many other press watchdogs, including PEN America, the European Federation of Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, and the UN-run Internews, which all penned an open letter demanding protection for reporters.

President Lukashenko won the election with 80% of the votes, though critics in Belarus and abroad, including the opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, claim the results were falsified. Tsikhanouskaya has expressed support for the protests, which sent around 200,000 demonstrators to the capital last weekend. “We are closer than ever to our dream,” Tikhanovskaya said in a video message from Lithuania, where she took refuge after the election.

The protests in Belarus are happening at a time when unrest against government corruption is global, including against the most recent federal police crackdowns in Portland.

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