Capacity development for underrepresented communities: Research findings are now revealed

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A report with findings from the research phase of the Capacity development for underrepresented communities (CDUC) project was published. The project, run by Shared Knowledge in collaboration with other civic organisations in Macedonia, aims to reach out to underrepresented communities in order to get them involved in the Wikimedia movement. In particular, it involves working with the Aromanian-speaking and Romani-speaking communities as speakers of two endangered minority languages as well as with users of the Macedonian Sign Language who face a real barrier to contribute to the Wikimedia projects.

The research phase aimed to explore the current state of the identified underrepresented communities and was conducted in the period from 1 June to 31 August 2022. Two research tools were used: a survey distributed to members of each community and an interview with experts about each community. The questionnaire consisted of questions divided into three sections—Demographics, Language and Wikipedia—whereas the interview questions aimed at information regarding the current state of the language in the country, availability of printed and digital materials, challenges and needs of the community and the best learning methods.

Survey findings

Amongst the surveyed Aromanian speakers, a vast majority stated that they can speak some Aromanian (88.1%), but only about a third can speak it at a native level. However, when it comes to writing, the figures go down even though the majority still has some proficiency in writing (73.1%), but only a sixth indicated Aromanian writing at a native level. A large majority of speakers opine that Aromanian is endangered in both spoken (84.3%) and written form (85.8%). Most speakers think that Wikipedia lacks topics about the Aromanian culture (77.6%) as well as articles about famous Aromanians (72.4%), and that the articles do not suffice in size (78.4%). Opinions are more divided on the reliability of articles on topics about the Aromanian culture and famous Aromanians, with 42.5% being concerned and 22.4% expressing approval.

A dominant share of the surveyed Romani speakers stated that they have some speaking proficiency in Romani (86.5%) and half of those speak it as a native language (42.3%). With regards to writing proficiency, the figures are lower and 65.4% of the surveyed can write in the language, with a share of 32.7% being able to do it at a native level. Romani speakers in Macedonia tend to use mainly four dialects, with the users of the Kovač dialect constituting the largest share (38.5%). Opinions are divided about whether Romani is endangered in spoken and written form, although those expressing concern are still more than a half. A large majority of the surveyed think that Wikipedia lacks topics about the Romani culture (86.5%) as well as articles about famous Romani people (90.4%), and the articles on topics about the Romani culture and famous Romani people do not suffice in size (84.6%). About two thirds have also raised concerns regarding the reliability of the articles documenting Romani culture and famous Romani people.

Of the surveyed Macedonian Sign Language users, most of the surveyed are native users of the Macedonian Sign Language (82.8%), but 20.7% can use and only 13.8% can write in Macedonian at a native level. All of the surveyed persons use Wikipedia as readers and none have a Wikipedia account. A dominant majority of the surveyed persons read the Macedonian Wikipedia (93.1%), but a significant share also reads the English Wikipedia (27.6%). None of the surveyed have heard of the other Wikimedia projects. A significant majority of the surveyed think that Wikipedia lacks topics about the Macedonian Sign Language and the culture of its community as well as articles about famous users of the language (89.7% each). The same share surveyed stated that the articles on these topics are not sufficient in size and raised concerns regarding the reliability of the contents.

Interview findings

Availability of printed materials in the Aromanian language is scarce, yet increasing in the recent period. There are no bookshops specialised in selling printed materials in Aromanian and the distribution is usually done through personal contacts. Digital materials are made available through websites and social networks. The Aromanian people and culture are well-documented in books in the other languages, especially English and Macedonian. Conservation of the language is the main challenge, whereas opportunities to learn the language is the main need of the Aromanian community.

Printed materials in the Romani language are difficult to find. Books are mostly printed as part of a project run by a non-governmental organisation, but they are not available for retail in the bookshops. There is an organisation owning a private collection of Romani books. Educational videos, documentary films and television shows proved to be the most efficient means of learning the Romani language. Inability to learn the language, lack of Romani textbooks and literature, and difficulty of training language specialists are the main challenges, whereas lowering the criteria for authoring Romani textbooks is the primary need of the Romani community.

Macedonian Sign Language users usually have difficulties comprehending the native language spoken within their family, which is mainly a result of agrammatism due to the different grammatical structures and expressions between the spoken and sign languages. Availability of printed materials about the Macedonian Sign Language is scarce, and most of them are outdated because the language changed over time. Digital materials exist in the form of videos documenting expressions in the language. However, these efforts were subject to criticism as the Macedonian Sign Language community was not involved in their production. Difficulties in communication, comprehension of scientific terminology and discrimination in the society are the main challenges, whereas the use of technological tools as aid is the main need of the Macedonian Sign Language community.

What comes next?

The research findings are used as a basis for planning the activities in the implementation phase, which runs from 1 September to 31 December 2022. This is mostly reflected in the nature of the planned events, as well as the amenities that have to be provided at those events. For instance, given that most Aromanian and Romani speakers do not have writing fluency, there is a necessity to engage fluent speakers who will work on reviewing the content before publishing; in addition, since the majority of the surveyed opine that Wikipedia lacks contents about their communities, topics documenting them are prioritised in the process of enriching the project.

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For a long time, the SignWriting community wants to support sign languages. This is a long running story with the WMF not financially supporting the technical underpinnings necessary.
Thanks, GerardM