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Educating indigenous through their languages

Ensuring that local communities have access to reliable information about COVID-19 is a challenge for governments and organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) — one that is compounded for speakers of minority languages.So far, the project has worked with seven different languages — all from Cameroon, one of the most coronavirus-affected countries in the region with at least 2,265 cases as of May 9. In a country of 250 different languages, a linguistic divide exists between speakers of majority French and minority English — both languages brought through colonization. The three-year-long French-English linguistic conflict has led to the displacement of 500,000 people.

In response to this challenge, the virALLanguages initiative is working with local community leaders around the world to share basic COVID-19 health information via audio and video through the use of “proverbs, metaphors and diverse rhetorical strategies” to speakers of minority languages.

VirALLanguages is a collaboration between the KPAAM-CAM project/Community for Global Health Equity at the State University at Buffalo in the United States, and the School of Oriental and African Studies’ World Languages Institute at the SOAS University of London in the United Kingdom.

The initiative provides supporting materials for videos distributed on YouTube and Facebook under a Creative Commons license. As more language communities from across the world join, the coverage in more languages will grow. Videos are downloadable from the Internet Archive.

In October 2019, Rising Voices spoke with linguist Mandana Seyfeddinipur who heads the SOAS Endangered Languages Documentation Program, during the Decolonizing the Internet’s Languages Conference in 2019, to learn about the critical role of indigenous languages in the access of information. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Seyfeddinipur’s insights informed a podcast episode entitled: “Indigenous Languages In The Times Of A Pandemic”:

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