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Report from UNESCO IFCD “Strengthening minority language policies and publishing”

Wednesday 16 July 2014 - 3:34pm


Developing the Minority Language Creative Writing Industry in Kenya, Haiti, Serbia and Nigeria: An Inter-Regional Research, Advocacy and Development Programme

Roundtable Meeting, London, 29 & 30 May 2014


Carles Torner, the Acting Executive Director of PEN International, with Professor Christopher Lukorito Wanjala from Kenya (left) and Oluwafiropo Ewenla from Nigeria (right).

PEN International has been awarded the UNESCO International Fund for Cultural Diversity (IFCD) grant for the project ‘Developing the Minority Language Creative Writing Industry in Kenya, Haiti, Serbia and Nigeria: An Inter-Regional Research, Advocacy and Development Programme’.

This 18-month project, running from May 2014 to November 2015, proposes to strengthen minority language publishing industries in Haiti, Kenya, Nigeria and Serbia through the identification of the main challenges and policy gaps affecting the publishing industry, the development of recommendations on the strengthening of cultural policies to promote minority language publishing industries and the development and strengthening of a network of key stakeholders working to promote minority language publishing industries.

On May 29-30, PEN International organised a roundtable meeting on the theme of “Strengthening minority language policies and publishing” in London, the outcomes of which are intended to inform the research project. The first day of the meeting brought together PEN International staff members and representatives from each of the countries involved in the project (Haiti and Serbia were present through Skype, having not received visas into the UK in time). This was an opportunity to discuss the framework of the project and establish the four national contexts in which the project will develop.

The second day of the meeting was a first step towards establishing a network of writers, publishers, policy-makers and academics working in the minority language industry as twelve additional guests – three professors whose work focuses on minority/regional languages, advocacy experts who have worked with minority languages, and publishers – were invited to participate. This was an opportunity for PEN International to present the research project to the wider academic field and to explore potential partnerships and linkages with on-going research in this area.

Pic2Carles Torner welcomes the guests and introduces the project.

Overview of the Project
The project is divided into three phases – research, advocacy and development.

  1. Research
    a. First, a mapping exercise will be undertaken by the research team in each country to review and analyse the major challenges of the minority language industry and the policy gaps this cultural industry faces in these countries;
    b. A comparative analysis of the findings will then be undertaken to highlight commonalities of challenges and barriers to market access resulting in a report with findings and policy recommendations.
  2. Advocacy
    a. Develop advocacy strategies for introducing and/or strengthening cultural policies in the publishing sector, building on the recommendations to cultural policy-makers of Haiti, Kenya, Nigeria and Serbia that were submitted following the mapping exercise;
    b. Carry out four national advocacy campaigns targeting policy-makers and other key stakeholders in the sector to advocate for the support to local publishing industries;
    c. A model for research, advocacy and development of policies to promote minority language publishing industries will be created.
  3. Development (trainings and network development)
    a. PEN International’s Publishers Circle will provide expert advice and workshops directly to writers and cultural actors through the PEN Centres in Haiti, Kenya, Nigeria and Serbia (at key literary festivals and book fairs) on how to promote minority language publishing and develop the sector;
    b. Findings from the trainings feed into research. .

Nigeria: Context
There are over 250 identified minority languages in Nigeria none of which is strongly protected by cultural policy, which was formulated in the late 1980s and has not been reviewed since. However, whilst cultural productions in indigenous and minority languages were visible on the radio and television only a few decades ago, there is hardly any material available in those languages today. This has had a profound impact on people's ability to learn minority languages and on their relevance to the younger generation. This means that over the years, indigenous languages and minority languages have receded into the background. In order to help revive the minority language publishing industry, it was suggested that:

  • A database listing indigenous languages, writers and publishers to be constructed. This would be useful in providing a point of reference for future projects, and in bringing writers using their mother tongue to the attention of publishers;
  • More work to be done in order to identify self-published (vanity publishing) minority language contents, bringing attention to already existing materials;


Oluwafiropo Ewenla (right) the Secretary General of PEN Nigeria introducing the national context in Nigeria.

Kenya: Context
The new Kenyan constitution of 2010 has increased the democratic space for languages, offering a strong framework for the support of indigenous and minority languages. However, the reality of implementing language policies on the ground is different from the blueprint. Minority language production receives little promotion and even though the country has a mother tongue education policy, the time allocated for the teaching of indigenous languages is often used for other purposes. This is due in part to a lack of adequate teaching materials in local languages.

Haiti: Context
If bilingualism is formally established in Haiti - through the 1987 constitution which acknowledges both French and Creole as official languages, and the Bernard Reform of 2000 which reifies Creole as a language of knowledge – the situation on the ground is one of diglossia, where French is favoured at the expense of Haitian Creole. Various actions have been taken in the past 30 years in order to challenge the status quo. As a result, language classes in Creole have been introduced for schoolchildren but have yet to be extended to secondary and university education.

Creole is recognised as a national language and a Creole academy has recently been created, albeit with some difficulty. The political administration is French-speaking and there is an identified lack of teaching contents in Creole. The fact that French takes precedence in cultural matters poses a serious problem in terms of cultural production in Creole, as the language is devalorised in the public sphere. It is hoped that this project will help create an impetus for the valorisation and distribution of materials in Creole, as well as their introduction into the school curriculum. There are currently five publishing houses in Haiti, but publications in Creole amount to less than 10% of their output. Proposed solutions to counter these barriers were:

  • The creation of a quota for publications in Creole;
  • The digital redistribution through the PEN network of Creole texts that have previously been self-published;
  • The organisation of literary workshops to help inspire creative writing in Creole.

Serbia: Context
The Vlach and Roma languages are minority languages in Serbia. Whilst Roma is taught at the University of Novi Sad, Vlach is not taught at secondary or university level. Vida Ognjenović, the president of the Serbian PEN Centre, therefore expects the Vlach language to present more of a challenge in the framework of this project. Vlach is a language boasting approximately 20.000 speakers living in the eastern part of Serbia. It is a colloquial mothertongue that is often dismissed as a Romanian dialect. However, if the Vlach language shares the same roots and the same alphabet as Romanian, it is a language in its own right with a pronunciation and grammatical structures different to Romanian. Although there is some local publishing in both Vlach and Roma, distribution presents a real difficulty. The project proposes to address this through:

  • The formation of a research board for Vlach and Roma, comprised of people writing in both languages;
  • Encouraging writers who write in Vlach or Roma to submit their work to the Serbian PEN Centre;
  • Multilingual book publishing in Roma/Serbian/English/Vlach;
  • The publication of six books in Roma – two books of poetry, two books of prose and two books of essays – to encourage the teaching by the department of Roma language at the University of Novi Sad


Participants in the roundtable discussion.

Finding commonalities
Bearing in mind the differences of these four national contexts, the project aims at creating a comparative analysis and establishing commonalities so that a set of good practices and recommendations regarding minority language publishing can emerge and be applied to other countries in the future.

All four countries participating in the project have existent language policies in place, but these policies do not in reality translate into effective protection and promotion of the local minority languages. In all four cases, a failure to integrate sufficient minority language content into the curriculum was identified. This is a critical issue, as the devaluation of local languages as languages of knowledge and cultural production directly impacts on the levels of creative output witnessed in the language communities at stake. There is a close link between the success of creative publishing industries and education policy, and conversely. As Romana Cacchioli remarked, 'writing in mother-tongue creates readership': without literacy and readership there can be no publishing market as there would be no demand. There therefore needs to be a holistic approach that helps foster a culture of writing and reading in minority language communities, a move which will in turn help create a market for minority language publication.

The valorisation of local minority languages was understood by participants to be an essential condition for people to start (re)using their mother tongue as a language for cultural production and distribution. In a lively discussion aimed at defining the term minority in the context of this project, Dr Julia Sallabank proposed that the 'relative [lack of] power of a language group is not necessarily about the numbers who speak that language, but about [lack of] respect and recognition'. A minority language is thus not necessarily a language spoken by the few, but a language that has lost its prestige or that is no longer believed to adequately respond to the needs of its speakers. Raising the self-confidence of people – and helping them to reassert their mother tongue as a legitimate tool for the transmission of thought, knowledge and culture – is important. Valorising minority languages and reclaiming the knowledge systems that are locked into those languages as valid ways of knowing, might help create amongst publishers a heightened understanding of the importance of preserving and promoting minority literary contents.

Pic5Carles Torner and Professor Julia Sallabank are listening to Dave Pearson.

Focus was also laid on the need to help empower local communities and industries, so that people can feel confident entering lines of work relating to the creative writing and publishing industries knowing that they will be able to support themselves and their families. Elin Haf Gruffyd Jones, a professor of Media and Creative Industries at Aberystwyth University, argued for the need to develop the creative industry space within the minority languages considered, rather than taking creative works away from these communities to outside publishing houses. The publishers' workshops and seminars organised during major festivals in each of the countries will be an opportunity for professionals to share their knowledge and resources with local writers and publishers, with members of the PEN International Publishers Circle as well as independent publisher and guest Ellah Allfrey having expressed their intent to participate.

Pic6PEN International staff members with participants from Kenya and Nigeria (L to R Paul Finegan, Romana Cacchioli, Prof Dele Layiwola, Oluwafiropo Ewenla , James Tennant, Sarah Clarke and Professor Christopher Lukorito Wanjala).

To find out more about our ongoing work in this area please contact our Centres and Committees Officer Paul Finegan (, International Policy and Advocacy Officer, Sarah Clarke ( or James Tennant, Literary Manager (

PEN International wishes to thank the UNESCO Fund for Cultural Diversity for their support of this meeting as part of their funding of PEN International’s project, Developing the minority language creative writing industry in Kenya, Haiti, Serbia and Nigeria: an Inter- Regional Research, Advocacy and Development Programme.

Participant Biographies

  • Ellah Allfrey is the previous Deputy Editor of Granta. Before joining Granta, she was Senior Editor at Jonathan Cape, Random House. She sits on the board of the Writers’ Centre Norwich and is Deputy Chair of the Council of the Caine Prize and a patron of the new Etisalat Prize for Literature. Her journalism has appeared in the Telegraph and the Observer and she is a contributor to the book pages of NPR. Her introduction to Woman of the Aeroplanes by Kojo Laing (Pearson, African Writers Series) was published in 2012. A Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, Allfrey was awarded an OBE in 2011 for services to the publishing industry.
  • Professor Peter K. Austin is Marit Rausing Chair in Field Linguistics at SOAS, University of London, and works on documentation and revitalisation of endangered languages. He has carried out research on Australian Aboriginal languages and languages of eastern Indonesia, and is currently involved in a project with the Dieri Aboriginal Corporation, South Australia, to revitalise their language -- see the blog at
  • Pierre Buteau is an historian and former Minister for Education in Haiti. He will be the lead researcher for the project in Haiti.
  • Romana Cacchioli is the Director of International Programmes of PEN International. She manages the organisation’s work in delivering access to education, and human rights education, literary and civil society Programmes across the world. Romana has twenty years’ experience working in human rights, most recently with Anti-Slavery International where she led their Programmes and Advocacy team in advocating for reform in law and policy and seeking redress through national courts for those affected by slavery. She led the development of local and grass roots organisations and movements to understand and claim their rights, including on access to quality education, and income generation activities for communities affected by slavery. She will oversee the project and staff supervision.
  • Sarah Clarke is the International Policy and Advocacy Officer of PEN International. She is responsible for managing international public policy and advocacy across PEN International’s areas of work. She highlights PEN’s work in freedom of expression, translation and linguistic rights and education at the UN and regional forums. Sarah has previously worked in human rights research, policy, and advocacy with a number of UN agencies, NGOs and academic centres. Sarah is the Project Coordinator and will coordinate trainings and policy inputs to the strengthening of minority language writing in project countries.
  • Emma Cleave runs the Writers in Translation programme at English PEN. In this role Emma administers grants programmes for UK publishers and programmes literary events to celebrate – and draw attention to – great writing from around the world. Emma is currently redeveloping the PEN Samples grant scheme, which is designed to encourage and support the translation and publication of literature from nonmainstream European and minority languages.
  • Paul Finegan is the Centres & Committees Officer of PEN International. Paul joined the PEN team in March 2011 and has worked as a researcher and campaigner for the Writers in Prison Committee and has also co-ordinated the literary work of PEN International. Paul have previously conducted research into cultural policy, in particular on protections on linguistic and minority rights. Currently his work focuses on providing support to PEN Centres and Committees around the world. Paul will be coordinating communications for the project.
  • Elin Haf Gruffydd Jones is Professor of Media and Creative Industries at Aberystwyth University. She is Director of the Mercator Institute for Media, Languages and Culture at the same institution, which hosts Literature Across Frontiers, Wales Literature Exchange and other network projects involved in creative translation, linguistic diversity, media, the arts and publishing. She specialises in minoritised languages and intercultural exchange and her co-edited volume Social Media and Minority Languages: Convergence and the Creative Industries was published in 2013 by Multilingual Matters. She speaks Welsh, English, French, Spanish, Catalan, Galician and Basque.
  • Oluwafiropo Ewenla is the Secretary General PEN Nigeria and is a writer, filmmaker, journalist, and human rights activist based at the University of Ibadan. He will oversee the implementation of the project in Nigeria.
  • Professor Dele Layiwola is the Director of the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. The publications unit of the Institute has a policy of encouraging writing, publishing and translation between English and Indigenous languages. He is also the General Secretary to the Nigerian Academy of Letters, the Apex Academy for the study of disciplines in the Humanities which has recently begun an advocacy for writing and publishing in minority languages to ensure both orthographic and cultural survival. He will be the lead researcher for the project in Haiti.
  • Jean-Euphèle Milcé directs the PEN Haiti House of Literature. His 2004 novel Alphabet Nights won the Prix Georges Nicole in Switzerland and was a finalist for the Prince Pierre Literary Prize, among others. Milcé was born in Gonaïves, Haiti. He studied Applied Linguistics and Information Management at the State University of Haiti and the University of Fribourg in Switzerland. He served as Director of the National Library of Haiti from 1996 to 2000 and as the Director of the Intercultural Library of Fribourg, Switzerland, from 2004 to 2006. He also collaborates with the Department of Manuscripts and the Central Library of the University of Lausanne. He will oversee the implementation of the project in Haiti.
  • Vida Ognjenović is the President of Serbian PEN Centre. She is a famous Serbian Director, playwright, writer, drama professor and diplomat. In 2012 she was given the World Award of Humanism by the Ohrid Academy of Humanism. In 1989 she was one of the founders of the Democratic Party, the first opposition party in Serbia. She was appointed Ambassador to Norway representing Serbia and Montenegro in 2001. Currently she is serving as the ambassador of Serbia to Denmark. She will oversee the implementation of the project in Serbia.
  • Zoran Paunović is Professor of English Literature at the Faculty of Philology and Vice Dean for International Cooperation, Faculty of Philology, University of Belgrade. He is the Vice President of the Serbian PEN Center. He is the author of numerous translations including Joyce, Nabokov and Barnes into Serbian. He will be the lead researcher for the project in Serbia.
  • Dave Pearson is Director of Partnerships and Public Relations for SIL International. Dave has worked for local language development with SIL for the last 30 years, his longest assignment being 10 years in Chad. He has just finished a two-year assignment in Kenya and last year facilitated a local-language advocacy workshop in Jos, Nigeria. Dave is currently focused on advocacy for the language and culture components of the post-2015 development framework.
  • Julia Sallabank is Senior Lecturer in Language Support and Revitalisation in the Endangered Languages Academic Programme at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London. Her main research interests are sociolinguistics/sociology of language; endangered language documentation and revitalisation; language policy and planning; Channel Islands French. Her most recent major publications are the Cambridge Handbook of Endangered Languages (edited with Peter Austin), Cambridge University Press, 2011 and Attitudes to Endangered Languages: Identities and Policies, Cambridge University Press, 2013.
  • Emily Sharratt is Senior Editor at Faber Children's and has been working in children's publishing for seven years. Her first role was at the award-winning multicultural publisher Frances Lincoln Children's Books, creator of We Are All Born Free: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Pictures in collaboration with Amnesty International, which was published in over forty languages worldwide. Since then she has worked for Walker Books, Templar Publishing, Orchard Books and Faber Children's.
  • Simona Škrabec is a professor at Open University of Catalonia (UOC) in Barcelona. Her main interests are the European literature of 20th century and the relation of literature with the construction of historic memory and identity. SLOVENE: Mother tongue. University education in the field of literature (1994). Author of books and literary translations. Regular publications of scholarly texts in literary theory. She speaks Slovene, Catalan, Spanish, German, Serbian, Croatian, French and English.
  • James Tennant is the Literary Manager of PEN International where he edits PEN International magazine and runs the Publishers Circle imprint. He coordinates all literary publications and literature events, including the international Free the Word! event series. James also manages the New Voices Award, the Publishers Circle and the Writers Circle. Previously he worked as a journalist and in publishing. James will liaise with PEN International’s Publishers Circle regarding trainings and policy inputs to the strengthening of minority language writing in project countries.
  • Chiara Tognetti works as Foreign Rights and Co-editions Manager at Walker Books Group, looking after the Spanish (including Latin America and Spain's minority languages), Italian and Eastern European markets, as well as having responsibility for the development of the Group's foreign rights business with charities and not-forprofit organisations. Walker Books has in the past collaborated with researchers from the University of Edinburgh and with Fundasaun Alola in East Timur on a Shilluk and Tetun edition respectively for two of their titles. Chiara has studied South Asian Literatures and Languages in Venice, Italy and completed a MA in South Asian Studies at SOAS University of London. Between 2002 and 2006 she was an active volunteer and organiser of summer youth camps in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
  • Carles Torner is the Acting Executive Director of PEN International. A Catalan writer, he has been active in PEN International’s work for over twenty years; in that time he was, among other responsibilities, chair of the Translation and Linguistic Rights Committee. He chaired the scientific committee who drafted the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights, and he lobbied for this declaration in UNESCO. He also commissioned the report To be translated or not to be. PEN/IRL report on the international situation of literary translation, directed by Esther Allen. Before joining PEN as Acting Executive Director, he was director of the Literature and Humanities Department at the Ramon Llull Institute, where he was in charge of the presence of Catalan literature as guest of honour at the Frankfurt book fair and the Guadalajara International book fair. He holds a PhD from the University of Paris VIII and is a lecturer in Communication and International Relations at Blanquerna, Universitat Ramon Llull, in Barcelona. Carles will serve as a key advisor on the Project.
  • Ola Wallin is a publisher at the independent Swedish publishing houses Ersatz and Coltso, both specialized in Russian literature. International Secretary of Swedish PEN, board member of the Swedish Publishers’ Association, and Chair of Freedom to Publish Committee of the International Publishers’ Association.
  • Christopher Lukorito Wanjala is Professor of Literature in the Department of Literature, Faculty Arts, and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences of the University of Nairobi. Professor Wanjala, is the current Chairman of the National Book Development Council of Kenya (NBDCK) and Chairman of the Translation and Linguistic Rights Committee of Kenya PEN Centre. He is one of the foremost literary critics of the region having authored several book on East African literature and given commentaries on literature, politics and culture on radio and television, and as a poet and novelist and has been awarded the Order of Elder of the Burning Spear (EBS) for his work in the promotion of the reading culture in Kenya. He will be the Chair of this project and lead researcher for the project in Kenya.
  • Catherine Young is the International Literacy and Education Coordinator for SIL International. Catherine is based in the UK but has worked in consulting and training for effective adult literacy and children’s mother tongue-based multilingual education programmes throughout Asia - principally in Bangladesh, Nepal, Thailand and the Philippines. Catherine is interested in the design and development of materials for both children and adults that affirm the language, culture and identities of the users.

Click here to get the PDF version of the report.

PEN International awarded major UNESCO grant for Minority Language Publishing Project