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Tuesday, 12 December 2023 12:37

The Crossroads between Language Rights and Technology - Just. Journal of Language Rights and Minorities, Revista de Drets Lingüístics i Minories

Guest editors:

Deborah Giustini & María Jiménez-Andrés

Language rights encompass the right to choose and use one’s language in various spheres, including legal, educational, and media contexts (De Varennes 2007). Globally, minority language speakers and their associated language rights face threats from factors like national language dominance, assimilation, and colonialism, leading to declining usage (Romaine 2007). In particular, the rapid advancements in information and communication technology (ICT) and artificial intelligence (AI) are significantly impacting language rights and multilingual societies.

Language policy and planning increasingly attend to the role of technology in the revitalization of endangered languages and more widely, in the governmental promotion of multilingualism and social justice (Gazzola et al. 2023). International organizations such as at the EU level are often at the forefront of preserving language rights as fundamental rights of people and essential components of their cultural heritage. Initiatives like the Digital Language Equality and European Language Equality projects aim to support languages for them to prosper in the digital age (Gaspari et al. 2023). International organizations, NGOs, and humanitarian groups as well prioritize managing communication and preserving linguistic diversity through technologies to enhance information dissemination in crisis settings (Tesseur 2018; O’Brien et al. 2018; Federici & O’Brien 2019; Jiménez-Andrés & Orero 2022).

However, digital services remain unevenly accessible to vulnerable communities like migrants and refugees, reliant on supporting organizations (Jiménez-Andrés & Orero 2022), and facing obstacles related to digital literacy, potentially exacerbating social exclusion. Additionally, NGOs and humanitarian aid groups encounter limited adoption of translation and interpreting technologies (Rico 2019). Machine translation is often reserved for donor and official publications (Hunt et al. 2019), with limited support for minority languages since it is primarily designed for commercial and organizational use (Nurminen & Koponen 2020). Although many organizations endorse video remote interpreting (VRI) as a cost-effective solution, technical infrastructure limitations constrain use in humanitarian settings (James et al. 2022). Furthermore, technology use in organizations raises ethical and quality concerns, notably seen in the increasing reliance on AI-powered translations in asylum and immigration systems (Giustini 2024a, 2024b).

Recent developments in the field of generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) and large language models (LLMs) could aggravate the already disadvantaged situation of certain languages. LLMs often perform badly in non-standard languages, yet they play a growing role in life-altering decision-making settings, such as justice, asylum, and healthcare. Trained on human language, LLMs perpetuate racial and gender biases (Wang, Rubinstein & Cohn 2022), impacting accountability and necessary corrective measures as machine-made mistakes remain opaque.

This issue relates closely to tech companies’ role in language rights. Current LLMs are mostly property of a few tech giants (most of them from the Global North), raising ethical concerns about AI resource concentration, transparency, and open science criteria (van Dis et al. 2023). Developers prioritize LLM applications for languages with more reliable performance, perpetuating lower model performativity and exacerbating under-representation of languages and social groups from digital spaces (Weidinger et al. 2021; Rozado 2023). While LLMs can level language barriers, they may be exploited by high-income countries and privileged groups. In the Global South, tech firms based in the Global North are leveraging economic disparities to create products that further entrench Western hegemonic dominance in AI, and thus digital colonialism (Healy 2023, 4). Unequal internet access and hardware requirements also mean that LLM benefits are seldom accessible to all (Sambasivan & Holbrook 2018).

Finally, technological advancements in remote interpreting (Fantinuoli 2018; Giustini 2022), computer-assisted interpreting (Fantinuoli 2023), gig translation/interpreting models (Fırat 2021; Giustini forthcoming), AI/LLM training (Healy 2013), and machine translation (Rothwell et al. 2023) have raised questions about fair employment rights in the language industry. These changes also led to a re-evaluation of working conditions, roles, and identities, enhancing efficiency and flexibility but requiring professionals to adapt to machine integration, with implications for skills, labor pricing, and job satisfaction.

Against this backdrop, the special issue illuminates the critical need to address concerns at the intersection of language rights and technology, especially as we delve into the complex challenges faced by vulnerable communities across various contexts. Furthermore, it emphasizes the call for increased research to unravel the intricate societal, political, humanitarian, and organizational factors that amplify language-related power imbalances, specifically in the context of technology’s evolving landscape.

Just. Journal of Language Rights and Minorities, Revista de Drets Lingüístics i Minories is seeking submissions for a special issue on the topic of language rights and technology. The special issue aims to propel a debate on the dynamics and challenges surrounding the intersection of language rights and technology, exploring how advancements in (but not limited to) artificial intelligence, machine translation, machine interpreting, and digital communication impact linguistic diversity and accessibility, as well as language communities and policies, in our increasingly interconnected world.

Researchers are invited to submit articles in English, Spanish, or Catalan. Articles are expected to represent research across a wide range of disciplines, as well as inter- and transdisciplinary studies. The special issue aims to foster more interdisciplinary discussion among scholars from translation and interpreting studies, social sciences, political sciences, development studies, human-computer interaction, and science and technology studies, among other fields. We welcome any article that contributes to our understanding of the crossroads between language rights and technology. In preparing their submission, authors may wish to consider and address the following guiding questions:

 

Organizations, technologies, and vulnerable communities:

  • How can technology ensure equitable language access and safeguard linguistic diversity for vulnerable communities in a variety of contexts, including humanitarian and crisis situations?
  • How can translation and interpreting technologies better support minority language speakers and non-standard language varieties within and beyond organizational settings?

Ethical and quality concerns in technology use:

  • What ethical safeguards can be implemented to address potential biases and inequalities arising from AI-powered language technologies?
  • How can technology-driven decision-making processes be made more transparent and accountable, especially in life-altering situations?

Tech companies and language rights:

  • What roles should tech companies play in promoting language rights? How can their near-monopoly on language models be ethically managed?
  • What strategies can ensure equitable access to language technologies for marginalized languages and communities, in line with language rights principles?

Impact on language professionals:

  • How can language professionals negotiate fair working conditions in an increasingly technology-driven landscape?
  • What are the implications of technology integration for language professionals, particularly concerning skills and job security?

Language, human rights, and technologies:

  • How does technology contribute to sustaining or disrupting gendered and ethnolinguistic communities?
  • What role can technology play in safeguarding ecological knowledge and cultural heritage, and/or preserving and transmitting indigenous knowledge through language?

AI and linguistic communities:

  • What concerns are associated with bias in natural language processing and AI systems, particularly as it pertains to language rights?
  • How does the use of machine translation services affect linguistic communities, and what are the implications for languages with limited digital representation?

Digital linguistic landscapes:

  • How does language use in digital spaces reflects power dynamics and language rights, and are there any strategies and tools that have been successful in promoting language rights activism?
  • What are the legal and ethical dimensions of language rights in the context of the internet and digital communication, and how can linguistic diversity online be protected?

Just. Journal of Language Rights & Minorities, Revista de Drets Lingüístics i Minories is a journal dedicated to disseminating scholarship on the protection, enforcement, and promotion of the rights of linguistic minorities as well as related themes arising from the confluence of language, the social dynamics of dominance and oppression, and the law. Interested authors are invited to send 500- to 700-word proposals (excluding references) and inquiries directly to the guest editors: Deborah Giustini (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) and María Jiménez-Andrés (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) by May 1st, 2024. Please include a brief 150-word bionote about the authors, their affiliations and contact details in a separate file. All abstracts and manuscripts should use the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) for both citation (https://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide/citation-guide-2.html) and drafting. A summary of the drafting CMS guidelines is available in Just’s author guidelines (https://ojs.uv.es/index.php/JUST/about/submissions). Authors of abstracts that are accepted for consideration will be invited to submit a full manuscript that is between 6,000 and 8,000 words in length (exclusive of abstract and references but including footnotes). Every manuscript will be submitted to a double-blind peer review that includes at least two referees.

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