CRLCC TALK: Global Language Justice in the Digital Sphere: The Ethiopic Case -Isabelle Zaugg
May 8th, 2019
York-Hall A301 – Center of Excellence
Glendon Campus- York University
12 pm to 1:30 pm
Institute for Comparative literature and Society
Postdoctoral Research Scholar
Communication, Media Studies, Semiotics Science and Technology Studies
Global Language Justice in the Digital Sphere: The Ethiopic Case
We currently face unprecedented rates of extinction of minority and indigenous languages and scripts, and digital technologies appear to be contributing to their decline. Scholars predict 50-90% of languages will become extinct this century, while only 5% of languages will attain digital vitality. This presentation investigates what can be done to close this digital divide through an instrumental case study of Unicode inclusion and the development of supports for the Ethiopic script and its languages, including the national language of Ethiopia. Mixed methods include observation of digital governance institutions, archival research, a content analysis of script and language choices on social media, and interviews with Ethiopic digital pioneers. This presentation concludes with recommendations to strengthen supports for digitally-disadvantaged languages, from inclusion in the Unicode Standard, to grassroots coding within and on behalf of digitally-disadvantaged language communities, to advancing the idea that supporting linguistic diversity is Silicon Valley’s corporate social responsibility.
About the author
Isabelle A. Zaugg’s research interests revolve around language & culture, media, art, and digital technologies in the global public sphere. Her research investigates the relationship between digitally-disadvantaged languages and patterns of mass extinction of language diversity. Her dissertation research approached global concerns through a case study focused on the Ethiopian and Eritrean languages that utilize the Ethiopic script. It addresses the extent to which the script and its languages are supported in the digital sphere, including tracing the history of its inclusion in Unicode. It concludes with policy, governance, and advocacy recommendations to better support digitally-disadvantaged languages, in turn supporting their long-term survival.
Zaugg earned a PhD in Communication and an MA in Film & Video from American University in Washington, DC. She earned a BA in Art Semiotics from Brown University and is an alumna of the United World College of the Adriatic. Zaugg is a two-time Fulbright Fellow to Ethiopia and began her scholarly engagement and also spent a year studying at Addis Ababa University in the Brown in Ethiopia program. She is currently a Mellon-Sawyer Seminar Postdoctoral Fellow in “Global Language Justice” at the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society at Columbia University. She is also an affiliated researcher at Addis Ababa University’s Academy of Ethiopian Languages and Cultures, and an Associate Member of the Centre for Research on Language and Culture Contact at York University, Toronto.