MINEL as a possible acronym for non-LWCs

Don Osborn dzo at bisharat.net
Fri Sep 7 14:46:40 UTC 2007

>>From time to time I and others have run into the situation where an
acceptable general term for languages other than global languages of wider
communication (LWCs) was hard to find.  There are a range of terms used for
specific situations or conditions, such as:

* minority language (which some consider offensive, even if its use Is
intended to describe a demographic relationship), 

* indigenous languages (in the broader sense, every tongue is indigenous to
some place, but the general use is to describe languages of indigenous
peoples - itself a category the boundaries of which are sometimes contested)

* national languages (in the sense of the language of a "nation" not
necessarily a "state"; in many African countries the maternal languages and
regional lingua francas are sometimes given the term and sometimes also
legal status of "national languages")

* endangered languages (needs no introduction but a lot could be said about
what the boundaries of that are; some popular and even academic discussions
have discussed some languages with millions of speakers and active cultural
production like Igbo or Gikuyu as "endangerd" based on various criteria and

* ethnic languages (less commonly used from my informal observation, but it
seems to be an alternative way of describing some of the above)

* local languages (I've personally come to dislike this term as it seems to
imply an lesser inherent importance vis-à-vis other categories like
"official" or LWC; also with international migration many "local languages"
are now internationally "multi-local";  nevertheless, this term is part of
the discourse)


Each category above has its reason, but there is so much overlap that it
seems useful to have a catchall term to describe languages that are not
international LWCs. There seem to be a number of characteristics common to
the non-international-LWCs despite some significant differences. These
commonalities might be described as follows: 

* they typically exist in multilingual contexts in which one or more other
languages are dominant, or no language is dominant, or another language(s)
has(have) higher social & legal status

* there are policy and planning issues relating to their use in public life
that are by nature (aguably) different than those surrounding use of LWCs

* they are not favored by international mechanisms that promote global LWCs
(British & American TEFL/TESOL/etc. programs to promote English; French &
OIF programs to promote French; China's Confucius Institutes to promote
Mandarin Chinese; commercial publishing and ICT which find larger markets in
more widely spoken languages); they may benefit from national or targetted
international projects, but generally not on any sustained basis

* they are often experiencing some contraction to the point in some cases of

* they present challenges in areas like development of terminologies,
development and maintenance of school curricula, and the localization of ICT


Consolidating repeated letters I came up with "MINEL" a couple of years ago.
This meta-category is not without its shortcomings. For instance, what is
the boundary of the overall grouping "MINEL"? How, say, does one categorize
Chinese or Spanish which have huge numbers of speakers globally and function
in many areas as LWCs, yet are also minority languages in other contexts?
Would "MINEL" and "LWC" then depend on context and relationship? Another
problem is that more widely spoken MINELs may at the same time be LWCs
vis-à-vis less widely spoken MINELs - i.e., in some contexts, the
differences among MINELs might be as significant or more than their
similarities. Does the whole category become so large and amorphous to be
meaningless, or is it a useful catchall for languages that are not LWCs or
are in particular contexts in a subordinate legal or sociolinguistic status
to LWCs or official languages?


This is quick and rough, but if it interests anyone on this list I'd
appreciate feedback. 


Don Osborn



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