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Q&A: Meet Muhammad Zaman Sagar, Gawri language activist

Portrait of Muhammad Zaman Sagar, Gawri language activist.

Photo courtesy Muhammad Zaman Sagar.

Following last year's successful social media campaign celebrating linguistic diversity online throughout Asia, the collaborative project is continuing in 2020. Every week, a different language activist and advocate will be taking turns managing the @AsiaLangsOnline Twitter account to share their experiences, best practices, and lessons learned from their revitalization work promoting the use of their native languages, with a special focus on the role of the internet. This campaign is a collaboration between Rising Voices, the Digital Empowerment Foundation, and the O Foundation.

Each week, the upcoming host will answer several questions about their background and give a brief overview of their language. This Q&A is with Muhammad Zaman Sagar (@zamansagar) who will provide a sneak preview of what he will be discussing during his week as host.

Rising Voices (RV): Please tell us about yourself.

Muhammad Zaman Sagar (MZS): My name is Muhammad Zaman Sagar. I was born on April 1, 1973 in the Kalam Valley, located in Swat District in northwestern Pakistan. My native language is called Gawri (Ethnologue: Kalami, code: gwc).

I started language documentation work in 1992 as a teenager. My first teacher, mentor and coach was Dr Joan Baart, who came from the Netherlands to work on this language. I started out as a language and research assistant when I was still a high school student.

After a few years, I formed a spelling committee along with some other educated people from the community, and soon we came up with our own writing system. We have also started publications in this language and the organisation quickly grew in popularity in the Gawri language community.

In 2003, I joined an organization called Forum for Language Initiatives (FLI), which used to be known as the Frontier Language Institute. At the moment, I am the executive director of a project called Gawri Community Development Programme (GCDP). We have six mother tongue-based multilingual education (MTB-MLE) schools for children and two for adults (male and female). We have also established a library whose catalogue boasts more than 1,500 books.

I am consultant in training for SIL International on literacy and education as well as community-based language development in Pakistan.

RV: What is the current status of your language on the internet and offline?

MZS: We currently have two websites dedicated to the Gawri language as well as several social media pages, especially on Facebook and YouTube.

RV: What topics do you plan to focus on during the week that you’ll manage the @AsiaLangsOnline Twitter account?

MZS: I will touch on the following topics:

  • Mother tongue-based multilingual education (MTB-MLE)
  • Language development and documentation work in Pakistan
  • Gawri reading campaign
  • Education for nomadic populations
  • Views and comments from parents and elders in the community on the use of mother tongue in education
  • Community-based language development efforts in Pakistan
  • RV: What are the main motivations for your digital activism ? What are your hopes and dreams for your language?

    MZS: According to Ethnologue, Gawri is classified at level 6b* (Threatened) on the Expanded Graded Intergenerational Scale (EGIDS), which measures the vitality of languages. We want to take it up to level 4 (Educational), described as follows: “The language is in vigorous use, with standardization and literature being sustained through a widespread system of institutionally supported education”. We are trying our best to carry out advocacy campaigns and represent the language on digital media and we've already seen a great change in the behaviour of the speakers. This language has been highlighted and promoted a lot in the last few years.

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