Universiteit Leiden

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The value of languages (to their users and communities)

Wednesday 5 June 2024
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden

There will be a symposium on “the value of languages (to their users and communities)” on June 5 , 2024 (see below for a provisional programme) organised under the auspices of the Emeritus Professor of Ethnolinguistic Vitality and Diversity in the World, CIPL/CIPSH Chair, Leiden University. 


 The main motivation for this symposium is to get some people around the table to discuss the value of languages especially the economic value of languages to speakers especially in marginalized communities. Some of the issues to be discussed include: Why do languages matter economically, and why should they matter to investors and industry who engage in economic activities in endangered and minority language speaking communities? What benefits are there for investors in promoting languages, especially those used in areas where they plant their factories? Even though languages are thought of as social and human capital, many of the minority and endangered languages are disadvantaged as their users find it difficult to make explicit the economic value of their languages. Moreover, these languages have no access to the formal economies within which they are used. They are extensively used in the informal economies, e.g. in local markets. Do investors need these languages then?  It is hoped that some arguments can be assembled to use in approaching businesses (and industry) in arguing for the importance of languages for their activities in various communities around the world.

Languages have been talked about as being very important for the history, identity, and cultural expression of their speakers. There is a growing interest in the importance of languages for the wellbeing of language users and communities. But the wellbeing focused on is emotional wellbeing, health and in particular mental health. Little research exists on language and wealth or socio-economic wellbeing. The topic has been broached from the other side of the relationship between language and poverty  (Williams 1970, Harbert et al. eds. 2008). As Mufwene (2010) noted in a review of the latter, the field of linguistics had not yet determined under what “ideal socioeconomic conditions a language can be maintained without being a liability or an unnecessary burden to its speakers”. This question remains. A key factor that affects ethnolinguistic vitality is language shift. To understand the value of languages we need to explore the socio-economic factors that play a role in language shift. In short, we will discuss the relationships between language shift, language vitality and wellbeing of speakers, especially socioeconomic wellbeing. 


You can download the programme including abstracts here.

09:00 Walk in Tea and coffee

Felix K. Ameka

Welcome and Introduction


Anne Pauwels, SOAS, University of London & The University of Melbourne

The ‘economic’ value of maintaining minority languages

The views and attitudes of minority language students in Australia and the United Kingdom

11:00 Break

Marian Klamer, Leiden University Centre for Linguistics

Language and wellbeing in superdiverse Indonesia

12:15 Break

Frieda Steurs, KU Leuven & Instituut voor de Nederlandse Taal, Leiden

Language is business. On the value of language in our global world.

15:00 Break

Nancy C. Kula, Leiden University Centre for Linguistics

Local languages as drivers of socioeconomic growth in Eastern Africa


General Discussion and Conclusions

17:15 Closing


All are cordially invited. 

Watch this space for updates. 

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