In February 2018, a visit to Corsica by French President Macron refocused media attention on the issue of Corsican nationalism, a century old movement that seeks Corsican separation from France in “a centralized state with a single, national identity and only one official language.” In the same month, a Voice of America News article reported on Korea, noting that “Sixty Years After Division, Korean Language Has Gone in Separate Directions.” Over the past 10-20 years, language and ethnolinguistic identity issues have come to play an increasingly important role in domestic internal politics across the globe: in Israel, between Hebrew and Arabic speaking populations; in Spain, where Catalan speakers are newly vocal about autonomy; with the Kurdish speakers of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran; and with Libya’s Berber speaking southern minority. The list could go on, and highlights the fact that language is the most important aspect of group identity and a lens through which one can best understand conflicts arising out of national or group self-identification.
In the 21st century, ethnolinguistic factors play an increasingly important role in conflict systems, and must be considered alongside the religious, ideological, economic, environmental, and resource bases of conflicts. This is especially true of long-lasting, apparently intractable “protracted social conflicts.” Ethnic and linguistic nationalism is today resurgent in the face of globalism and centuries’ old ethnolinguistic rivalries. To the extent that one group tries to exclude the language of another group from the socio-political arena language becomes an instrument of divisiveness and conflict. How language conflict is handled provides a good gauge of the direction and momentum of conflict between ethnic groups.
The publication of Language Conflict and Language Rights: Ethnolinguistic Perspectives on Human Conflict (Cambridge University Press, 2018) has opened the door to the construction of an Encyclopedia of Global Ethnolinguistic Conflict, a curated digital source of information about ethnolinguistic conflicts and language rights violations around the world, information not readily available elsewhere. Starting with the few dozen cases presented in the book, this project will be a growing source of information on such conflicts worldwide. Conflict cases will be geo-located, with information about the state/territory of the conflict, the ethnolinguistic parties to it, its history and linguistic background, and relevant language rights issues. Database filters will allow users to compare and contrast conflicts, sorted by conflict type (e.g. indigenous minorities), language family (e.g. Bantu and/or Indo-European languages), or location (e.g. Canada or Burma).
Additional entries to the encyclopedia will developed through student research at the University of South Carolina and invited from those who teach the Language Conflict & Language Rights course on other campuses and who adopt the Cambridge University Press text. Contributed entries will be curated by the archivists and the editorial team, to maintain standards of accuracy and readability. It is hoped that the Encyclopedia of Global Ethnolinguistic Conflict will eventually include several hundred cases, providing useful information to linguists, political scientists, historians, and legal scholars, as well as to the general public.