Since the latter half of the 20th century and right up to the present day the society in which we live in has changed dramatically. Advances in medicine have extended our lives. Economic and social changes have shaped the way we work and live. Improvements in technology and increased access have made information and communication technology a part of our daily lives and have helped us make further advances through sharing information and ideas. Possibly the most noticeable change brought about by these advances has been the growth in the number of languages we encounter in going about our business. Improved communication and information sharing opens up a whole new world of possibilities to us, but that world speaks with many voices in many languages. Understanding one’s neighbour and being able to share his insight has become a part of life for the modern European citizen; and with that so too has the need for multilingualism. We stand looking forward into the 21st century living in a rich and diverse multilingual Europe. In his/her daily life a citizen will encounter many different languages on public transport, in the media or on product packaging.
Yet, in this linguistically rich multilingual Europe we find that some languages are at risk of dying out or being left behind in the information society. This is shocking given that no language is inherently more difficult to learn or use for communication than another and that as Europeans we value all of our languages equally. As our society becomes more and more technologically enabled in the home, at the workplace, and at school, the language in which information is produced, accessed and exchanged becomes a crucial factor. If a language is poorly resourced with technology which supports information communication, it is at risk of being left behind other languages more readily better resourced with websites, online discussion fora and other information technology tools. Thus we risk our cultural heritage and riches, a part of our own identity by allowing our languages to fall behind in the information age.
META-NET has undertaken a systematic review and comparison of 30 European languages, covering each country and official language as well as regional and minority languages. These reviews concentrate on the social and economic status of each language in the country/countries where it is spoken and look at how well equipped they are to cope with the emerging multilingual European information society. These reviews have been formulated into a Language Whitepaper for each language which presents this view in a frank manner and draws comparisons across other European languages to give a true picture of European multilingualism and where each language is positioned in the Language Technology landscape.
Today, on the European Day of Languages, we celebrate linguistic diversity in Europe and reaffirm our commitment to foster and preserve our languages as a cultural asset. Language Technology is a crucial tool in this task both in ensuring preservation of a language in the information age, as a teaching and learning tool, and in improving our everyday lives. We invite you to read these Language Whitepapers and consider the situation for your own languages and those you encounter in daily life and ask how can Language Technology for your language improve things for you?
In a multi agency, multilingual push to emphasise the importance of the findings of these Whitepapers, META-NET members are today issuing press releases in each country and each language. The individual releases highlight the importance of multilingualism in each region and emphasise specific LT issues affecting each region and language. We invite you to read these press releases and statements which have been prepared in consultation with and are backed by various national stakeholders including National Institutes of Language, publishing houses, the media and government ministries.
At the end of June 2011 our annual conference META-FORUM took place in Budapest, Hungary. We've now processed and uploaded to YouTube videos of (almost) all presentations.
Links to the videos are available on the META-FORUM 2011 programme page.