Language security

The ICTWB defines language security as the ability of individual speakers and the language groups they belong to together meet their shared essential linguistic and cultural needs sustainably.


To meet such needs, a number of essential linguistic instruments must exist, the basic tools needed to perpetuate a language. These bare linguistic necessities are:

– an officially recognized orthography,

– an officially recognized spelling system,

– a grammar,

– basic terminological instruments such as word lists, dictionaries, linguistic databases,

– other forms of language descriptions (audio recordings, video recordings, new media).


Having these minimum language instruments in place does not ensure language survival.


But without them, the risk for a language to fall into UNESCO’s 1st category of endangerment (‘vulnerable’), rapidly move through the next 3 stages (‘definitely endangered’, ‘severely endangered’ and ‘critically endangered’) and end up in the final category of being ‘extinct’, may materialize sooner rather than later. In fact, language extinction can happen in as little as one generation.


Once a language has entered the first level of endangerment, without these basic linguistic tools, it becomes almost impossible to revitalize it.


And once a language dies without leaving any written, audio or other traces, there is simply no way of ever reviving it.


Which is why the work of descriptive linguists, though insufficient to revitalize or reclaim languages, is so important.


To ensure that the basic instruments of language security and recoverability are present in as many as possible of the ±2500 languages identified by UNESCO as endangered, the ICTWB will launch a series of initiatives on all 6 continents and in island nations (see “Where we work”), cooperating closely or partnering with international organizations specialized in cultural and linguistic rights as well as with endangered languages nonprofits, universities offering training in endangered languages, with language research laboratories and other actors in the field of language revitalization and revival.


These potential partners include :


International Organizations

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization ( http://www.unesco.org/new/fileadmin/MULTIMEDIA/HQ/CLT/pdf/FlyerEndangeredLanguages-WebVersion.pdf )

United Nations Human Rights Council (https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Minorities/SRMinorities/Pages/LanguageRights.aspx ),


https://www.unicef.org/ ),

United Nations Development Programme ( https://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/2030-agenda-for-sustainable-development/peace/governance/indigenous-peoples.html ),

International Labour Organization (https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/indigenous-tribal/lang–en/index.htm ),

United Nations Indigenous Peoples’ Partnership ( http://mptf.undp.org/factsheet/fund/IPP00 ),

United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues ( https://www.un.org/development/desa/indigenouspeoples/ ),

United Nations Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples ( https://www.docip.org/en/indigenous-peoples-at-the-un/expert-mechanism/ ),

United Nations Global Compact ( https://www.unglobalcompact.org/what-is-gc),

and others.



Summer Institute of Linguistics ( https://www.sil.org/ ),

Endangered Languages Documentation Programme ( https://www.eldp.net/ ),

Foundation for Endangered Languages ( https://www.ogmios.org/ ),

Terralingua (https://terralingua.org/our-projects/voices-of-the-earth/ ),

and many others.



University of Adelaide, Australia ( https://www.adelaide.edu.au/learning/adelaidex/free-online-courses/language-revival ),

University of Geneva, Switzerland (https://www.unige.ch/lettres/linguistique/welcome/ ) and (https://www.unige.ch/fti/fr/ ),

Dallas International University, USA ( https://www.diu.edu/ ),

Harvard University, USA ( https://www.radcliffe.harvard.edu/seminars-and-workshops/language-revitalization-and-university ) and (https://hir.harvard.edu/near-extinction-preserving-dying-languages/ ),

University of Hawaii in Hilo, USA,

University of California, Berkeley, USA (https://news.berkeley.edu/2018/07/27/untitled-10/ ),

School of Oriental and African Studies, London, UK ( https://www.soas.ac.uk/linguistics/research/research-clusters/documentation-and-description-of-endangered-languages.html ),

Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, Japan (http://www.aa.tufs.ac.jp/en ),

University of Victoria, Canada ( https://www.uvic.ca/news/topics/2018+knowledge-indigenous-language-mcivor+news ),

Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales, Paris, France (http://www.inalco.fr/ ),

and many others.


Language Research Institutions

Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC (https://naturalhistory.si.edu/research/anthropology/programs/recovering-voices ),

Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics (https://tla.mpi.nl/ ),

Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History ( https://www.shh.mpg.de/102128/eurasia3angle_group ),

Langues et Civilisations à Tradition Orale, Paris ( https://lacito.vjf.cnrs.fr/ ),

Laboratoire Dynamique du Langage, Lyon (http://www.ddl.cnrs.fr/index.asp?Langue=EN& ),

and many others.


Lexicographical Societies

Linguistic Society of America ( https://www.linguisticsociety.org/resource/endangered-languages ),

European Association for Lexicography ( https://euralex.org/ ),

Australasian Association for Lexicography ( https://www.adelaide.edu.au/australex/ ),

and many others.


Linguistic Publications

Langscape (https://terralingua.org/langscape-magazine/read-langscape/ ),

Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development (https://www.tandfonline.com/toc/rmmm20/34/4#.VRTkmvmUeSo ),

Oxford Studies of Endangered Languages (https://global.oup.com/academic/content/series/o/oxford-studies-of-endangered-languages-ostel/?cc=fr&lang=en& ),

and many others.


Language Conferences

Summer Institutes of CoLang/InField (http://hs.umt.edu/colang/default.php ),

Adelaide Languages Festival (https://www.facebook.com/adelaidelanguagefestival/ ),

International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation, Hawaii (https://icldc6.weebly.com/ ),

International Conference on Revitalization of Indigenous and Minoritized Languages (

https://en.iyil2019.org/events/ii-international-conference-on-revitalization-of-indigenous-and-minoritized-languages/ ),

National Indigenous Languages Revival & Education Conference (https://www.icsconferences.org/2019 ),

World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education (https://wipce2020.net/news/ ),

Cambridge Conference on Language Endangerment (https://www.mmll.cam.ac.uk/news/ninth-cambridge-conference-language-endangerment ),

Linguistics Research Student Conference (https://www.soas.ac.uk/linguistics/events/10jun2019-4th-linguistics-research-student-conference–soas.html ),

And many others (http://linguistlist.org/callconf/browse-current-LF.cfm?type=..&subclassid=7197 ).




Official Recognition and Public Funding

It is very hard to ensure language security without official recognition or financial support by the authorities. Such recognition may take different forms ranging from the most encompassing (declaring it a national language), to more limited forms such as giving it provincial, regional or local official status.


Other forms of public support could see primary schools or other institutions of education being financed to provide education in the language with or without it becoming an official language of the country or local area.


The ICTWB organizes advocacy campaigns to obtain the necessary recognition, changes to existing or introduction of new language legislation and policies, as well as initiating and supporting existing efforts to obtain public funding for endangered languages.




Language Immersion Nests

The ICTWB will invest a large share of its finances in language immersion nests, a tool that has been used to great effect in many of the languages currently being revitalized around the world.


In a language nest, older speakers of the language take part in the education of children through intergenerational language transference in early childhood education. Education in mother tongue helps children and young people obtain the skills needed to retain their ancestors’ language and culture, build their resilience and develop coping mechanisms.


Language nests were first used to revitalize Maori in New Zealand (https://blogs.ubc.ca/etec521/2009/12/01/te-kohanga-reo%E2%80%94maori-%E2%80%9Clanguage-nests%E2%80%9D/ )


The language nest model has been replicated to great effect in other endangered language groups like Hawaiian (http://www.ahapunanaleo.org/index.php?/programs/youth_programs_-_punana_leo/ ),

across Canada (http://www.fpcc.ca/language/Resources/Online_Companion_Toolkit/default.aspx ) and (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=40uZMu3sY_M ),

in a number of American schools (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QzrW9I1ZEM ) and (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=52jReWuyvv8 ),

in Ireland and the Isle of Man (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0f9J9Loco0 ),

in Australia (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=40uZMu3sY_M ) and (http://theconversation.com/language-nests-a-way-to-revive-indigenous-languages-at-risk-19824 ,

England (https://gocornish.org/2019/06/10/cornish-language-programme-for-schools-camborne-redruth/ ),

Wales (https://www.itv.com/news/2017-09-04/back-to-school-but-not-an-english-one/ ),

as well as non-English speaking countries of the world, where the programs are called by different names.


The ICTWB will support language nests where they exist, and create ones where they don’t in conjunction with community organizations and potential partners such as those listed above.





Literacy campaigns allow older illiterate speakers to increase language skills, linguistic pride and better transfer their knowledge and experience to younger generations, for example in language immersion nests.


The ICTWB will support literacy campaigns where they exist, and launch new ones where they don’t in conjunction with community organizations and potential partners such as those listed above.




The arts

For a language to flourish, steps must be taken to encourage the development of a homegrown literature. This often involves translation of the indigenous group’s literature into foreign literatures, and foreign literatures into the local language. Music and drama in indigenous languages also play an important role in the revitalization of language and culture. Together the arts create a sustainable cultural environment for speakers of an endangered language and help perpetuate a language.


The ICTWB will support literature, music, drama and other arts development programs where they exist, and launch new ones where they don’t in conjunction with community organizations and potential partners like those listed above.





There is a proven link between the physical as well as mental health and wellbeing and linguistic revival of indigenous peoples (https://www.sbs.com.au/nitv/nitv-news/article/2017/02/21/could-language-revival-cure-diabetes ).


The ICTWB will partner with health institutions and other nonprofits active in the field of health-care to examine the ways in which language renewal positively impact mental and physical health, and to ensure that language revitalization’s health benefits are maximized throughout the communities in which we work.




Restoring language pride

Cultural imperialism and policies designed to marginalize speakers of minority languages lead such speakers to lose pride in their own cultural and linguistic heritage. Once they view their language as inferior, as a dead end, they often choose to give up their distinct identity and assimilate into dominant linguistic groups. Whether by active choice or passive consequence, their language is thus no longer passed on to their children.


The ICTWB and National TWB Societies will raise linguistic pride by bringing language role players and speakers together, help them exchange experiences and define cultural and language revitalization programs, educate speakers young and old of the value of their language, its uniqueness, thereby restoring hope to mother tongue speakers that they have a distinct place, unique and important role to play in the world.


The ICTWB will support language pride programs and campaigns where they exist, and launch new ones where they don’t in conjunction with community organizations and potential partners like those listed above.




Building respect for the law

As part of our mission to protect and assist the victims of linguicide and linguistic imperialism, the ICTWB seeks to ensure respect for linguistic victims’ rights. This includes reminding authorities and others of their legal obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

Where awareness-raising and rule-of-law support campaigns exist, the ICTWB will join such programs, and where they don’t we will launch new ones in conjunction with international organizations, community organizations and potential partners like those listed above.