Moving Languages – English application launch !

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Moving Languages – English application launch

Friday 8th June 2018,   18:00 – 20:00

Esmée Fairbairn building Lecture theatre – EF26

Heriot-Watt University, Riccarton Campus

Edinburgh

The Moving Languages application constitutes an EU-funded project designed to help new migrants learn the host language(s) and familiarise themselves with culture-specific vocabulary. A user-friendly, versatile and comprehensive app, it also aims to encourage people to learn other languages and promote understanding between cultures. Our mission is to help combat linguistic and cultural isolation, which is proven to be one of the key barriers to the successful integration of migrants. The project is led by Finnish organisation Learnmera Oy.

 This free application provides a gamified language and culture-learning solution. It contains 4000+ illustrated vocabulary items for easy concept recognition. It will be available for download from all major app stores from June 2018. 

Users can learn English, Spanish, Italian, German, Swedish, Finnish (main languages) from 20 support languages, widely spoken by refugees/migrants in the partner countries: Albanian, Arabic, Bulgarian, Chinese, Croatian, Estonian, French, Hungarian, Kurdish (Sorani), Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Somali, Tigrinya, Turkish, Ukrainian, Urdu.

Are you a user of any of the main or support languages? Do you work in the languages or intercultural communication industry? Then join us at the launch of the English version of the Moving Languages application!

The event will be followed by a feedback session and a drinks reception for an opportunity to find out more about the project.

The event is free but spaces are limited, so please register here:

https://goo.gl/forms/v0jgBXbcT0TgZKso1

Details on how to get to the venue will be emailed to registered participants.

For more information, please contact the UK coordinator, Dr Katerina Strani: A.Strani@hw.ac.uk

Project flyer in English: Moving Languages Flyer ENGLISH

Website: http://www.movinglanguages.eu/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/movinglanguages/

LinkedIN: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/8580234

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/movinglanguages/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MovLanguages

 

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission under Project No. 2016-1-FI01-KA204-022678

Borderland identities

by Kerstin Pfeiffer

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“Wie, Sie … äh… du weißt nicht wie Snapchat geht?” Three pairs of eyes fix me in complete disbelief. A part of me wants the floor of the rehearsal room to open wide and swallow me there and then. For the third time in less than two hours I am pleading age-related ignorance of this or that social media platform. And it is only day 1 of the workshop.

Catching up with 21st-century culture was an interesting by-product of my work with Čojč Theaternetzwerk Böhmen Bayern (http://cojc.eu/cs/), a Czech-German theatre network in 2017. The network organises bilingual theatre projects on both sides of the border, and I joined last year’s main project, Like/Hate, as a participant observer. For two weeks in August and September, Like/Hate brought together 20 young people aged 14 to 27 living Bavaria and Bohemia to create a theatrical performance centering on the influence of social networks on our thinking, behaviour, and the way we present ourselves to the world. My main reason for observing the project had less to do with the question how we conceive of performing the self in and through social media than with an interest in the participants’ real-life communication and interactions – with each other and with the audience.

In many bilingual youth projects along the German borders, pooling linguistic resources is considered one of the main strategies for facilitating intercultural dialogue and fostering cross-border relationships unencumbered (or at least less encumbered) by the baggage of historical differences between the Germans and their neighbours. Čojč projects are no exception but they go one step further in that they aim to create performances which are accessible to monolingual speakers of Czech and German alike by using a hybrid of Czech and German, Čojč, on stage. The network motto provides a good example of how this can work: ‘Mit divadlem theater hýbat grenzen hranicemi bewegen’. The word Čojč itself is a blend of from the Czech word for the Czech language, Česky, and the use of Czech spelling for the word [d]eutsch – [d]ojč, and in some senses, Čojč (the language) is the verbal manifestation of a strong sense of a distinct regional identity grounded in the historical and cultural particularities of the Bavarian-Bohemian border region that pervades the network.

The city of Plzeň

So how does the Čojč network use language(s) to express, negotiate and potentially transform (individual) identities? How do workshop participants communicate with each other? Which language do they use, when, and why? What are the effects of using a hybrid language on the audience? In other words, how is regional identity performed and how is it changed in and through performance?  And how do such performances integrate into contemporary discourses about the role of regions in responding to societal challenges within the EU? These were just some the questions that guided my observation of the devising process and the interviews I conducted with participants and network members. The larger framework for this research is the Horizon2020-funded project Critical Heritages: performing and representing identities in Europe (CoHERE) (https://research.ncl.ac.uk/cohere/) which investigates the socio-political and cultural significance of European heritages and their role in developing communitarian identities. My work with Čojč Theaternetzwerk Böhmen Bayern forms a case study within the project work package led by Heriot-Watt and the Latvian Academy of Culture focusing on cultural forms and expressions of identity in Europe (PI: Prof Ullrich Kockel).

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Landmarks of Plzeň

Data analysis is still ongoing, but some main themes are already emerging. The first is the importance of liminal spaces in which borders – linguistic, cultural, political – and dichotomies are temporarily suspended a and in which the question of the contours of a particular cross-border identity can be explored and negotiated. The second concerns language use. For Like/Hate, some ground rules for communication were assigned top-down from the bilingual project leader team; more frequently, however, participants made their own decisions about how to communicate effectively with each other and  how to produce theatrical material that is accessible to monolingual speakers of Czech and German respectively. Bilingual cooperation relied quite strongly on translation in the devising and rehearsal process. Within that process, translation was conceived of from the outset as a collaborative activity – and a collaborative responsibility. While translation accountability was sometimes regarded as an unwanted or uncomfortable responsibility by the participants, it also holds the potential to become a vehicle for authority in the co-creative process. Moreover, the communication choices made by the participants clearly went beyond pragmatic concerns: they frequently reflected existing linguistic asymmetries. Or, in other words, German dominated the rehearsal room. These initial findings about communication choices suggest interesting parallels with other bilingual theatre workshops, such as Michael Richardson’s (Heriot-Watt University) investigations into BSL-English theatre. These will be presented as part of a comparative study at the upcoming conference of the International Association for Translation and Intercultural Studies (IATIS) in Hong Kong:

Pfeiffer, K., and Wurm, S., ‘(Un)Performing Barriers: A comparative  study of bilingual theatre in two inter-cultural spaces’, paper to be presented at 6th IATIS Conference, 3-6 July 2018, Hong Kong

Curious about Čojč and Like/Hate? Meet the participants and watch the project vlogs here: https://www.like-hate.com. Two of seven performances in Passau and Pilsen are also available as a livestream on the Čojč Land Network Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/cojcface/.

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Performance: Like/Hate 
Photographer: Valentina Eimer
Photo taken on 25 September 2017 in Passau

 

 

 

 

Reporting from 14th ETMU Days conference: ‘Race, Power and Mobilities’

Dr Katerina Strani led a working group on ‘Cross-cultural understandings of Race’ during the 14th ETMU Days conference themed Race, Power and Mobilities, which took place at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland on 26-27 October.

The working group was put together to examine cross-cultural understandings of race in the context of increased mobility and migration.

Minna Seikkula presented a paper on ‘The nexus between Anti-Racist Activists’ Conceptions of race/racism and migration’. Minna’s paper explored (dis)connections between racism and race/coloniality through an analysis of antiracist activists’ conceptions of racialized relations and practices in connection to migration. In Finland, as a part of the Nordic countries, speaking of racism often contains many paradoxes that are intensified by the current polarized political debate. For instance, Nordic self-perception is built on ideas of equality and democracy, while the eugenic pasts and their traces in the present are actively excluded from the grand narratives of the nation states. Race and racism are repeatedly seen relevant mainly or only in relation to migration, which can been seen to re-inforce the (false) image of white, homogeneous nation-states – yet, welfare state practices governing migration are often seen as neutral (or even anti-racist).

 Minna’s paper compared the views of activists reacting to heightened presence of the extreme right, as well as those demonstrating solidarity to newly arrived migrants and those articulating Black, Brown and Muslim identities. In the analysis, the focus was on the question of how racialized oppression is connected to or disconnected from the continuum of coloniality, which reproduces a world divided between west and the rest through racialized borders. The analysis is based on interview data with 47 antiracist activists in Finland.

Next, Marta Padovan-Özdemir presented a paper written with Trine Øland on ‘Refugee Arrivals, Helping Hands and Hearts and Racialised Welfare Dynamics in Denmark, 1978-2016’. Marta and Trine’s abstract was as follows: “In the Summer of 2015, in all European welfare nation-states professionals, policy makers, administrators, and civil society organisations were in highest alert over the major refugee arrivals from Afghanistan, Syria, and the African continent. In Denmark, in particular, the government responded with stricter border controls and containment of refugees in temporary tent camps. Local administrative bodies and ngo’s contributed with panics about the managing of the new refugee groups. This state-of-alert is particularly interesting in a historical perspective of earlier Danish responses to the arrival of new refugee groups: The Afghans in the 2000s, the Bosnians in the 1990s, the Iranians in the early 1980s, the Vietnamese in the 1970s, the Jewish Poles in the late 1960s, the Hungarians in the 1950s, and not least, the Germans in 1945-46. The above-identified state-of-alert points to professional and civil confusion, disruption, and anxiety about not being able to manage a presumably new target group with the cultural repertoires already available. This state-of-alert crystallises welfare problematisations of the new target groups and becomes an occasion for the mobilisation of joint forces to manage and solve the imagined problems, thereby generating new tasks and needs for the helping hands and hearts.

This paper’s objective is to gain insight into continuities and breaks in re-presentations of the refugee, and on that background understand the welfare dynamic, which is mobilized in response to the arrival of new refugee groups.

The analysis builds upon critical studies of Danish welfare state developments and draws historical and analytical inspiration from Donzelot’s genealogies of the double pathologization inherent in welfare work. This is combined with Fanon’s underscoring of the racial order’s subtle expressions in postcolonial societies, which is supported by Said’s argument that re-presentation of the Other is the result of a willed human work.

Methodologically, the paper is designed as a historical-sociological documentary study of annual reports, newsletters, and consultations from Danish Refugee Council, Danish Red Cross and Association of Municipalities from the periods 1978-1980 (Vietnamese), 1992-1996 (Bosnians), and 2014-2016 (Syrian). The paper identifies two dominant re-presentations of the refugee as object of civil and public welfare work: the productive and the sick. Thus, the paper alludes to the racialisation of the welfare dynamic mobilized in response to refugees. A racialized welfare dynamic that is governed by an economic and pathological concern for the degeneration of society as well as of the individual.”

Finally, Katerina Strani presented her paper on ‘Exploring Cross-cultural Understandings on Race’.  The concept of race, albeit controversial and disputed, is becoming more and more thematised in today’s multicultural societies, which are increasingly re-shaped by migration and changing demographics. These changes are bringing to the fore discussions on culture, belonging and otherness, with race being a central aspect of the latter. Starting from the premise that race is a social construct, Katerina’s paper looked at differences in the meaning, significance and difference in the construction of race and racialisation in different countries and cultures. The focus was on processes of exclusion and othering through racialisation and the hegemony of whiteness (cf Ahmed, 2007). It challenged the concepts of race and racism in the framework of migration nand mobility and urged the necessity to revisit these key concepts and seek definitions, clarifications and boundaries from people of colour themselves. The paper sought to establish a language to talk about race in a cross-cultural, changing and dynamic context without resorting to stereotypes, colourblindness or homogenisation of experiences.

The presentations were followed by a lively discussion on definitions, boundaries and ‘white saviour’ complex, which included two of the three keynote speakers of the conference, Nando Sigona and Tobias Hübinette. Working group participants are grateful for all comments and interest in our research!

The full conference programme and book of abstracts are available here: http://etmudays.etmu.fi/en/programme/

LINCS collaboration with the Edinburgh Spanish Film Festival

by José María Conde and Ramón Inglada

The 2017 Edinburgh Spanish Film Festival (ESFF) starts on Thursday October 5th and will run in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Stirling until October 31st. This is the 4th edition of the festival and LINCS is collaborating with the ESFF once more, this time as a ‘Major Sponsor’:

http://www.edinburghspanishfilmfestival.com/sponsors/

This is a contribution with the best we can offer from our school: interpreters. Three of our interpreting students will be volunteer interpreters in several presentations and Q&A sessions with Spanish speaking filmmakers. More details are available in the website below:

https://www.edinburghspanishfilmfestival.com/en/festival/2017/

Two staff members in LINCS, José María Conde and Ramón Inglada, are coordinating this collaboration, hoping that it will continue for many more future editions of the festival.

We encourage you to attend some of the screenings and enjoy the festival!

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Marco Polo project: Training Module in Penang

by Katerina Strani

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John Cleary and Katerina Strani from LINCS led the 2nd Training Module on International Cooperation Agreements and Networks, which is part of the Erasmus+ Marco Polo project (574027-EPP-1-2016-1-ES-EPPKA2-CBHE-JP), led by the University of Seville. The project includes 9 partners from Spain, the UK, Austria, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, and seeks to strengthen International Cooperation amongst Higher Education Institutions by establishing new mechanisms to exchange experiences and good practices, providing training to HEI staff, creating a framework for mobility of students and staff, and fostering research abilities by creating international research groups.

The 2nd Training Module on International Cooperation Agreements and Networks took place on 21st – 25th August at Universiti Sains Malaysia, in Penang, Malaysia. The first day was spent presenting the participating institutions: the hosts, Universiti Sains Malaysia, the University of Malaya, Prince of Songkla University, Naresuan University, Hanoi University, PTIT and Heriot-Watt University. On the second day, John and Katerina led discussions on internationalisation in the Higher Education sector and what this means for individual institutions. Differences in conceptualisations, priorities and strategies already started to emerge. The day continued with an interactive workshop on international cooperation agreements and networks and a subsequent talk by Dr Khairul Anuar Che Azmi from the USM legal office. The workshops continued on template agreements, analysing risk and developing institutional strategies for network building and internationalisation.

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The third day continued with more workshops on teamwork and building trust in cross-cultural teams, as well as building and sustaining virtual networks using social media.

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All delegates visited the impressive – to say the least – USM’s International Mobility and Collaboration Centre (IMCC).

Here’s how IMCC staff and ‘buddies’ welcomed the delegates:

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The fourth day focused on discussion and reflections on the week’s activities and drew parallels between institutional strategies. It also focused on future collaborations and included meetings with USM Heads of Schools and Departments. We were particularly honoured to have had the opportunity to have a meeting with the Vice-Chancellor of USM Professor Datuk Dr. Asma Ismail and discuss with her the university’s vision, priorities and opportunities for collaboration.

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The final day continued the networking activities at a more informal basis and included a tour of Georgetown, the capital city of Penang. Georgetown is unique in its diversity and richness in culture, heritage, architecture and food. The oldest portion of the city centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A blend of Chinese shophouses (“clan jetties”), Chinese temples, Hindu temples and Mosques Georgetown has also retained some colonial-style buildings, English street names and an Anglican church, St George’s (unsurprisingly). The Street of Harmony is testimony to the matchless diversity of the city.

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A promising project module that establishes important international networks could not have taken place in a better setting than unique Penang, in an unparalleled environment of rich cultural  heritage, tremendous hospitality an and mouthwatering food.

Terima kasih !

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59°N – IRC PhD Student based in Orkney

by Cait McCullagh

Have you ever had the opportunity to peer at some of the many online depictions of Ptolemy’s 2nd Century AD Geography?  You’ll have had to turn your head to one side in order to take in the northern-most extent of Scotland, including the Northern Isles; bent over and squeezed to fit into the realm of what was then believed to be the ‘known world’?  The idea that anything might survive beyond the 59th parallel was, it seems, impossible to consider for Ptolemy and his Graeco-Roman counterparts and so they simply ensured that the Orcades and their farther flung partner archipelago, Ultima Thule (today’s Shetland), were snuck in below their true latitudes.

Perhaps you have also read recent press and social media reports of archaeological findings at the Ness of Brodgar, or even reviews of BBC Television’s Orkney: Britain’s Ancient Capital? Both proclaim aspects of the Islands’ heritage to be ‘weird’ and create the inference that there may be life in the far north, but ‘it’s not as we know it’. More making strange and a framing of the north as remote in culture as well as location.

In reality, experiencing life, and working, in the Northern Isles, does, indeed, require a re-framing of mindset.  For example: Edinburgh seems a terribly remote location from this centre, after all it takes me a car journey, a ferry, a train and another train and all in more than one day allows, to get to Edinburgh.  How does anyone down there cope with being so far from everything up here?  

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The view over the island of Hoy

 

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Kirkwall Harbour

Ah yes, the re-framing is welcome and it is enabling me to explore and research the ways in which being constrained as peripheral and, in some ways, ‘exotically traditional’ may actually inspire creative innovation.  I am already observing this in the ways that islanders are curating and developing their maritime heritage –  this being the topic that is significant for my PhD.  In an environment where the sea is always adjacent and imminent and where most people relate to the sea directly, each day, I’m also aware that this ‘heritage’ can be both past, present and future. It ullulates; an ongoing wave of cultural expressions; from the wrecked to being renewed boats, set adrift across the islands, to my own growing obsession with the Shipping Forecast as I plan field-tripping from one island to another.  The experience is rich and I hope this will be reflected in my research.  All this and next month: Shetland.  It’s a great privilege to be representing this northerly reach of the IRC, here at 59°N and counting!

Cait is  researching  Curating Heritage for Sustainable Communities in Highly Vulnerable Environments: The Case of Scotland’s Northern Isles, an Applied Research Collaborative Studentship supported PhD, supervised in partnership across Heriot-Watt University, The University of the Highlands and Islands Centre for Nordic Studies and Shetland Museum and Archives.  She is based at the university’s Orkney Campus, the International Centre for Island Technology.

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Interior of the boat shed at Lyness on Scapa Flow

 

Moving Languages Project

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A mobile phone is proven to be a crucial tool for newly arrived migrants’ and refugees’ wellbeing and integration into their host country.

Dr Katerina Strani from LINCS is leading the UK team of the Moving Languages project. Moving Languages is a 27-month Erasmus+ project (2016-1-FI01-KA204-022678) led by Learnmera Oy in Finland. It has six partners in Finland, Sweden, Spain, Austria, Italy and the UK. The aim of the project is to develop a language app for newly arrived migrants.

Migration in the EU has been rapidly growing in recent times, especially in light of the troubled political situation in Middle Eastern countries. For this reason, it is of great importance to provide tools to support the integration of migrants and refugees arriving in Europe.

Language learning is one of the key priorities of successful integration. Mobile applications are an effective educational source that can be specifically designed for migrants and refugees, as a considerable percentage of them are digitally literate, own smartphones and are looking for new opportunities online in their host countries.

This project provides a gamified language-learning solution. It is available in English, Spanish, Italian, German, Swedish, Finnish and the three languages most widely spoken by refugees/migrants in the partner countries. The application will not only help them to learn the local language(s), but it will also introduce them to new cultural concepts in their host countries.

Designed to cater to different levels of linguistic competence, this application will also be useful for people who have already been living and working in their new home country for some time. The content of the mobile application covers topics that are essential during the first steps of living in the host country. It contains 2,000-2,500 illustrated vocabulary items for easy concept recognition. This free application will be available for download from all major app stores from June 2018.

The Moving Languages project started in September 2016 and it will finish in November 2018. For more information, please visit the project website http://movinglanguages.eu or contact Dr Katerina Strani.

Active learning at a World Heritage Site

by Cristina Clopot

At the end of November, LINCS students on the Global Heritage course, which is part of the MSc in Cultural Resource Management, went on a visit to the Edinburgh World Heritage Centre.

What better way to compliment academic learning than by a discussion with experienced professionals? Luckily enough we live and work in close proximity to several wonderful examples of World Heritage sites. The Old and New Town of Edinburgh have been part of the World Heritage list since 1995 and the main actor responsible with the management of the site is Edinburgh World Heritage Centre (EWHC).

The visit included a discussion at EWHC followed by an on-foot exploration of some of the UNESCO-protected area, led by EWHC Director, Adam Wilkinson.

In the first part of the visit, Mr. Wilkinson explained the approach to heritage embraced by EWHC in its ethos. Students explored different definitions and concepts of heritage, as well as their applicability. Building on our lecture discussions, we all debated values, meaning and memories, not just mere objects, and gained from the heritage professionals’ view.

The complexity of tasks a world heritage site management activity entails was  also presented through different projects. Several examples were provided to emphasise the numerous stakeholders that need to be consulted (and persuaded in some cases) to begin any conservation activities, from the various owners of flats in a heritage building, to the complex system of authorities and agents who need to agree to undertake restaurant façade change. Several projected activities were also presented and the key takeaway was the thoughtfulness for people’s interaction with the site, keeping the site alive but also potential improvements of life in a historic city. The rest of the visit was an on-foot exploration and discussion of projects developed in the Old Town. We are grateful to Edinburgh World Heritage Centre to have had the chance to present our students with this applied learning experience.

One of our students found food for thought in this visit to reflect on her own heritage:

https://thinkglobalheritage.wordpress.com/2016/11/30/edinburgh-world-heritage/

What about you ?

 

RADAR project update

The RADAR national workshops took place between April and June 2016. As part of Workstream 3, six national workshops were organised in the partner countries (Italy, Finland, The Netherlands, Poland, Greece and the UK) to test the training approach and material developed.

The UK workshop “From hate speech to hate communication: How racism is produced and reflected through communicative practices” took place on 16-17 June 2016 (16 hours in total) at the Esmée Fairbairn building in Heriot-Watt. The workshop, led by Dr Katerina Strani, with Rania Qussasi, Eloisa Monteoliva and Emma Hill, was intensive but very successful. Among the 28 participants were social workers, equality and diversity experts, police officers, project workers, volunteers, students and teachers. The first day included a short presentation of the project’s aims, followed by a session on terminology – unpacking salient terms. The discussion focused on the challenges of creating a vocabulary of ‘race’-related terms, as well as the concepts of whiteness, white privilege, racialisation and colourism. After lunch, we presented the findings of our interviews in terms of experiences of racism and hate crime. This was followed by a session on laws and judgments in the UK (mainly Scotland and England) related to racism, racial discrimination, hate crime etc. The second day was more hands-on and it consisted entirely of group work. The question of representation was probed during an analysis of written texts and newspaper articles, social media posts, advertising images and videos. The end of the workshop was marked with a round-table discussion on challenges with regard to the rise of hate communication and how to use what we have learned in the workshop in the workplace and everyday life.

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The workshop received very positive feedback and this was also a great networking opportunity for people working with migration, community relations, minority ethnic groups, xenophobia, racism or intercultural communication in general.

Next, the RADAR international workshop and final conference took place on 12-14 September in Perugia. Drawing on the knowledge and expertise gained from the local pilot events, the international workshop brought together all RADAR partners and their external experts for the purposes of drafting the general RADAR recommendations and guidelines as the final deliverable of the project. The UK team was represented by Katerina Strani with Rania Qussasi as the external expert. The final conference took place in Palazzo Donini, Regione Umbria, and was very well attended by academics and community representatives. It presented the RADAR project results and the draft guidelines, which were discussed at a round table. Katerina Strani  with Maria Fountana and Stavroula Sokoli presented a paper on “Attitudes to ‘race’ in the media: Evidence from the UK and Greece”. Katerina also presented 2 posters at the conference: i) with Emma Hill on “Critical ‘race’-related vocabulary in the UK” and ii) with Emma Hill on “AntiRacism and AntiDiscrimination Laws and Judgments in RADAR partner countries”.

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The 24-month project ends in November 2016. You can have a look at the project’s outputs so far if you register on the RADAR platform.

@RADARproject    #RADARproject

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Project-Radar-Just2013fracag6271-370112223154383/?ref=hl

Contact: Katerina Strani

 

The Manchester terror drill – and why we must stop linking Arabic with fanatics

This article was first published in ‘The Conversation’ https://theconversation.com/uk

by Máiréad Nic Craith

Greater Manchester Police staged a mock attack featuring a suicide bomber late on the night of Monday May 9. It began at the Trafford Centre shopping complex when a man in black walked into the centre of the main foyer and shouted “Allahu Akbar” – “God is great” – several times at the crowd. Moments later, an explosion rocked the food hall. The 800 volunteers dropped to the floor or ran into cafes and shops screaming for help, many of them made up to look as if they had horrific injuries.

The reaction has been largely negative, with many making the point that using the words “Allahu Akbar” reinforced the stereotype that terrorists are primarily Muslim. They rightly said that in reality, anyone can be a terrorist. By enforcing the Muslim stereotype, the exercise divided rather than united people and could increase anti-Muslim hate crime.

The police force was quick to put up a senior officer to respond. Stressing that “Allahu Akbar” was not scripted, he called the phrase “unacceptable” and apologised on behalf of the force since it “vocally linked this exercise with Islam”.

End of story? Actually an important point has been overlooked. The commentary has focused on the fact that the attack associated Islam and terrorism, but something else was associated with terrorism, too – the Arabic language. Spoken by an estimated 422m people, it is one of the most common languages in the world. Have we become so used to associating politics with particular languages that the matter is not considered exceptional or worthy of discussion?

UK connotations

This issue goes much wider than Arabic. Staying with the UK, other languages are associated with political ideologies, too. I worked in Northern Ireland for 11 years and could not fail to notice the political stereotypes around the Irish language. I worried that my beautiful Irish language name would generate the perception that my intentions were political – although friends assured me that given I was from the South, the issue did not arise.

Since the days of the hunger striker Bobby Sands, who taught himself and other fellow prisoners Irish in the H-Blocks, Sinn Féin has often been accused of politicising Irish. Linking Irish with political intent makes it uncomfortable for some people without nationalist aspirations to speak it in public.

Last year, for instance, the Belfast Telegraph columnist Claire Harrison wrote that she stopped her university course in Irish partly because of “a growing discomfort with a general assumption that I was a raving republican”.


Sinn Féin conference in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. Niall Carson

The perception that Irish is political has been greatly enhanced by politicians from non-nationalist parties seizing the opportunity to score a point at the expense of the Irish culture. Linda Ervine, a prominent unionist Irish-language speaker, last year accused Nelson McCausland of the unionist DUP of politicising the Irish language in exactly the same manner he claims republicans are guilty of. It’s not as if it has to be this way. Many of my friends in Northern Ireland who speak Irish on a regular basis do not associate it with politics and are motivated only by a love of Irish culture.

Over the Irish Sea in Scotland, we are seeing signs of something similar. In my recent TEDx talk on living heritage I noted that Scots has gained a new visibility and credibility as the culture has become more self-confident in the wake of the 2014 independence referendum. Pro-independence daily The National now features a weekly column in Scots, for instance. Yet the emergence of Scots cannot escape the political undertones. As the culture scholar Scott Hames wrote a few months ago, the “question of Scots is now becoming hyper-politicised in crude and distorting ways”. He argued that “national identity is undoubtedly part of the picture; but it needn’t be the whole picture”.

Many of us have heard the slogan that “a language is a dialect with an army and a navy”. Languages now considered “neutral” or “official” have often gained their visibility and credibility with the support of political structures – a fact often forgotten at the beginning of the 21st century.

So how to respond? The Irish-language activist Aodán Mac Poilín has suggested that, rather than attempting to depoliticise languages and break their link with specific communities, we should think about making them appropriate for many communities and in many spheres – multi-politicising them, if you will. With this in mind, it is good to read about the latest Arabic initiative in London, in which “Subhan Allah” (or “Glory be to God”) is appearing on posters on the sides of the red buses. This initiative by Islamic Relief is designed to change the negativity about Islam and foster understanding between different communities.


Sadiq Khan. Dominic Lipinski/PA

A few days ago, London elected its first Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan. The most recent winner of the Great British Bake Off was the Muslim Nadiya Hussain. With more events like these and fewer ill-conceived terror drills and such like, it raises the possibility of multi-politicising Arabic. Perhaps there will come a time when we don’t immediately think of terrorism when we hear the word “Allah”. Perhaps we might think instead about justice, human rights and good food.