Language Policy Updates

Part of the Language Conservancy’s stated mission is to track and inform our supporters about legislation and government policy changes that affect endangered languages’ chances of survival.  One such bill introduced to Congress this spring has been flagged by the Linguistic Society of America and its subsidiary, the Committee on Endangered Languages and their Preservation (CELP), as a threat to National Science Foundation (NSF) support for social science research.


H.R.4186, the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science and Technology (FIRST) Act of 2014, was introduced to the House of Representatives on March 10.  CELP Senior Co-Chair Tim Thornes calls the bill a “threat to the funding of essential projects in our discipline.”

The CELP alert included a message from Alyson Reed, Executive Director of the Linguistic Society of America, with more details on H.R. 4186.

“The bill serves as reauthorization legislation for the National Science Foundation (NSF), which governs both continuing funding authority and operations,” Reed writes.  “There are a number of problematic provisions within this bill.  Of particular concern to the linguistics community is the proposal to cut NSF’s Social, Behavioral and Economic (SBE) sciences directorate by nearly 42 percent.  The NSF’s Linguistics Program is housed within the SBE directorate.

“The bill would also place a greater burden on NSF regarding its already-gold-standard merit review process and require additional, potentially duplicative public disclosure of research grants.  Further, the bill seeks to micromanage the grant application process and to limit the number of awards that can be made to principal investigators, undermining the merit review process that successfully determines the very best science worth taxpayer support.”

H.R. 4186 has been approved by the House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Technology. On May 28 the full Science Committee recommended it to the full House for “further consideration.” If fully approved by the Science Committee, it could be referred to the entire House for a vote later this summer.

HR seal copy


Bill to Support Language Immersion

In other legislative news, Senator Jon Tester of Montana introduced S1948 just before he took up chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, on January 16 of this year.  The Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act amends the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to allow the Department of Education to award grants to develop and maintain, or improve and expand, programs that support the use of Native American languages as the primary language of instruction in schools, from prekindergarten through postsecondary level. The same legislation was introduced March 12, 2014 in the House of Representatives as H.R. 4124, by Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma.  Both versions of the bill are awaiting consideration in their respective committees.

capitol building

Alaska Must Translate Election Documents

A recent story in the Anchorage Daily News reported that a U.S. District Judge has ruled that “the constitutional right to vote requires the state of Alaska to translate all election materials into Native languages for voters lacking English proficiency.” This ruling by Judge Sharon Gleason comes in the run-up to a voting rights lawsuit brought by several Native villages and elders with limited English skills.  Gleason’s ruling affirms that as a matter of law, the state is obligated to match all English materials — including pamphlets, instructions, registration materials and ballots — with Yup’ik, Cup’ik and Gwich’in translations. The lawsuit was filed through the Native American Rights Fund last year. The State of Alaska defends its Native languages program as robust, involving bilingual poll workers, outreach to villages and translated ballots – but asserts that since Alaskan Native languages are historically oral, the state is not required to translate election materials into written versions of those languages.



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