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Revitalizing Linguistic Diversity: Some Insights from the 2024 Language Policy Hackathon

The Language Keepers and Language Policy Hackathon 2024 events held at the incredibly beautiful Native Women Association Centre (NWAC) in Ottawa on Wednesday, February 21st welcomed around 60 in-person and close to 200 online attendees.

The Language Keepers segment of the event focused on rejuvenating Indigenous languages and cultures with a purpose to forge linguistic ties with Indigenous knowledge bearers and to link them with other communities, especially newcomers. Moderated by Sarah Onyango, panelists Elaine Gold (Canadian Language Museum), Thea Harris (First People's Cultural Council), Rebekah Ingram (Carleton University), and Laila Joud (613 Refugee), along with hosts Deanna Nemeth and Amal Dweik, engaged in stimulating discussions that highlighted our collective dedication and enhanced our comprehension of Indigenous languages' vital role in safeguarding our common cultural identities. Each participant's unique insights enriched the conversation.

The afternoon event, however, moderated by Lola Bendana, was devoted to discussion and solutions as a shortened version of language policy hackathon addressing four topics:

  • Policies around accessibility and inclusivity for marginalized communities and how we address language barriers in hospitals -  an "active language offer" - everyone in public service settings, hospitals in particular, across Canada actively gets asked what language they would like to be served in,

  • Policies around Indigenous language revitalization and education, particularly for Indigenous youth - Call upon appropriate Ministries to fund and work with Indigenous communities to create opportunities to learn and preserve traditional languages,

  • Policies around advocacy for official languages, with a focus on Ontario - particularly increasing the advocacy efforts for the wide-inclusion of French as one of Canada’s official languages. (conducted in French), and

  • Policies around technology and leveraging generative AI in interpretation and translation for language support in public services.

What is language policy hackathon?

Policy hackathons, including those focused on language policy, are collaborative events that address language-related challenges. They bring together a diverse group of technologists, linguists, policy-makers, and community advocates. The aim is to promote linguistic diversity, inclusion, and accessibility by fostering innovation and developing solutions through interdisciplinary approaches. These events are a platform for dialogue and knowledge exchange, exploring policy interventions to eliminate linguistic barriers and promote inclusivity. The interactive structure enhances stakeholder ownership and the effectiveness of policy implementation.

Technology is crucial in language policy hackathons, and in the future, we are planning to allocate more time for participants to connect with tools and platforms that boost linguistic accessibility and inclusivity. This includes machine translation algorithms and multilingual communication apps that simplify language services, bridge communication gaps, and support linguistically diverse communities. These tools act as catalysts, democratizing language access and promoting equal societal participation. Furthermore, language policy hackathons give marginalized communities a platform, empowering them to defend their linguistic rights and access to necessary services.

Generally speaking, language policy hackathons aim to build collaborative networks and partnerships that create innovation that lasts beyond the event (see: Hackathons as Instruments for Settlement Sector Innovation). They connect participants with agencies, non-profits, academic institutions, and industry stakeholders to expand their initiatives' reach. These networks foster systemic change by sharing knowledge, mobilizing resources, and advocating collectively. They influence policy agendas and institutional practices to prioritize inclusive linguistic diversity. Hackathons also amplify the voices of marginalized communities, empowering them to advocate for language rights and access to vital services.

Moreover, language policy hackathons could effectively tackle emerging challenges in language policy such as the ethical implications of AI's interaction with languages, digital inequality, algorithmic biases, and language preservation. To counteract the negative impact of technology on language diversity, it's crucial to prioritize inclusive, universally accessible digital platforms. Additionally, these hackathons can aid in rejuvenating endangered languages by utilizing technology for their documentation, preservation, and intergenerational transfer.

To put it simply, language policy hackathons should not only generate ideas but also aid in the implementation and assessment of policies. This can be achieved by involving policymakers and government agencies in piloting and escalating proposed solutions, while utilizing data analytics and feedback mechanisms. Such hackathons enhance empirical policy-making and continuous improvement, thereby promoting the sustainable growth of linguistic diversity and inclusion.

In short, language policy hackathons are powerful tools that foster diversity and inclusion. By using technology and collaborative, participatory methods, they innovatively tackle language issues and promote fair access to linguistic resources. These events play a crucial role in empowering marginalized communities, helping to shape inclusive policies and promote social justice. Continued support for these hackathons is imperative for creating societies that truly value and celebrate linguistic diversity.

Special thanks go out to MCIS Language Solutions as a main sponsor of all our events over the past four years and all LPH24 attendees for their active participation and intriguing inquiries. The engagement and enthusiasm witnessed in the room underscored the importance of language advocacy in today's multicultural society. Stay tuned for updates on the summary report and other fascinating projects brewing out of the Language Policy Hackathon 2024.

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Thank you for going above and beyond to organize this event. Everyone's effort cannot go unnoticed. Thank you for shinning a light every year on pioneers and lesser-known gems in the language advocacy realm!

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Thank you, training department, for your kind words. We will do what we can but also do it with you because sharing is caring :) Thank you so much!

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