Getting to know Andria Piciau: A Q&A with a Sardinian language activist

Photo provided by Andria Piciau and used with permission.

Europe’s linguistic diversity is increasingly reflected in online spaces, where regional and minority language speakers and their communities leverage digital tools and media to preserve, promote, and revitalize their language heritage. In this spirit, Rising Voices’ online campaign @EuroDigitalLang has been curating a rotating X (formerly Twitter) account. Here, language activists and advocates narrate their personal stories in their own words, engaging directly with their audience and sharing ongoing challenges as well as successes.

In this email interview, upcoming host Andria Piciau of the Acadèmia de su Sardu APS, who has been working with the Sardinian language, shares a preview of APS’ language work. More info can be found at their X account: @academiasardu. Andria will be managing the account the week of April 8–14, 2024.

Rising Voices (RV): Please tell us about yourself and your language-related work.

Andria Piciau (AP): I am responsible for language technology at Acadèmia de su Sardu APS, a charity focused on promoting and protecting the Sardinian language and its speakers’ rights. Our charity is a diverse community made up of linguists, language experts, teachers and students who share the same passion for the Sardinian language and culture.

At the Acadèmia I developed “,” an interactive platform for the documentation of Sardinian. The first project hosted on this platform is called “LemONS” (“the Vocabulary of Sardinian with Standard Orthography”) and involves extensive research into word variants categorized through our standardization proposal, “Su Sardu Standard.” This initiative enables users to document their local word variants, pronunciations, and expressions, supported by interactive maps that showcase the geographical distribution of these variants. This marks the beginning of our Language Atlas of Sardinian, a significant endeavor outlined in our charter.

A crucial aspect of our work is the standardization of Sardinian into two norms (for the Campidanese and Logudorese-Nugorese macrovarieties, which are groups of dialects with a certain internal unity and consistency and which serve as a practical reference for students and institutions, acknowledging the language's variation and richness. Our proposed norm for Campidanese Sardinian is official in the south of Sardinia already, and last year I helped present the whole work at academic conferences in Wales and Germany.

RV: What is the current state of your language both online and offline?

AP: UNESCO classifies Sardinian as a “definitely endangered” language, on the brink of becoming “severely endangered.” Not part of the school curriculum, it is mainly divided into two macrovarieties: Campidanese in the south and Logudorese-Nugorese in the north.

Over half of Sardinian speakers use the Campidanese macrovariety, which is disappearing in favor the use of the Italian language, especially in major cities like Cagliari and Quartu Sant’Elena, where it has nearly vanished from public spaces. In contrast, the Logudorese-Nugorese variant, including the Nugorese sub-variety spoken around Nuoro, tends to be more conservative and remains prevalent especially in smaller urban centres.

Recent years have seen a growing interest in preserving and promoting Sardinian, although efforts have been hindered by debates on standardization, notably the failure of the Limba Sarda Comuna proposal, which sought a one-norm standard. This fact has demonstrated the need for a more inclusive approach to the discourse around our language, a realization that is gradually gaining acceptance among speakers and institutions.

Online, Sardinian enjoys a robust presence on Facebook in specific groups and pages, although conversations often revert to Italian due to a general lack of literacy in Sardinian. This situation highlights the ongoing challenges in revitalizing and promoting the language in the digital age.

RV: What are your motivations for seeing your language present in digital spaces?

In a connected world like ours, what sociolinguists call “the linguistic landscape” is quickly changing. This landscape doesn't only mean having the written language in public spaces or places of business, such as road signs, business signs, adverts, placards, etc., as it was originally defined. It also includes an ever-growing “digital language landscape” of social media and other online content. At Acadèmia de su Sardu APS, we think it is important to foster the presence of the Sardinian language in all these places for two main reasons.

First, anybody interested in helping the revitalization process must find all the support they need as easily and quickly as possible.

We think this is essential for younger generations, for whom Sardinian has shifted from a community language to a heritage language, and whose lives are increasingly more digital. These speakers need to find learning opportunities and a community in this digital landscape so that they can help it grow, in the same way that they should be able to find support in the area where they live.

Second, the Sardinian language must not be far from the place where our economic life occurs, which is mostly online. By avoiding the separation, we hope we can help contrast the exclusion of Sardinian from the public sphere and normalize the language.

RV: Describe some of the challenges that prevent your language from being fully utilized online.

AP: The main problem that we see at Acadèmia de su Sardu APS is the lack of literacy in the Sardinian language, stemming from decades of neglect or even hostility from local institutions. This problem extends beyond the transcription of dialects to the basic ability to read and write in Sardinian, including simple sentences or engaging in brief written exchanges. Native speakers, unaccustomed to seeing their language in written form, often experience “language fatigue” and struggle to read short texts.

Additionally, there's a notable lack of exposure to dialects outside one's own, especially among the baby boomer generation, which complicates finding a common linguistic code for online communication. Younger speakers, less familiar with their dialects, are more inclined to explore language variation.

Another significant challenge is the presence of strong language ideologies, such as the “one-people one-language” ideology advocated by a minority. This viewpoint pushes a one-norm standardization approach, often leading to online texts in artificial Sardinian, characterized by inaccuracies in vocabulary and syntax. Similar issues can sometimes be found in the work of well-intentioned heritage speakers trying to contribute to the community. Unfortunately, such low-quality Sardinian content puts native speakers off from participating in the community and poses challenges for learners.

RV: What concrete steps do you think can be taken to encourage younger people to begin learning their language or keep using their language?

AP: Sardinian, the most widespread historical minority language in Sardinia, is predominantly a heritage language today, with many young people from Sardinian-speaking families not actively speaking it. These individuals often have a notion of what constitutes “good Sardinian” but feel discouraged from learning or using the language due to not meeting their own expectations and a lack of educational resources and opportunities for practice. Acadèmia de su Sardu is addressing these challenges by developing teaching materials and creating an inclusive environment for language practice through initiatives like “Su Sardu Standard,” the “LemONS” project, and online courses and meetings. These efforts aim to provide a solid grammatical foundation while exploring the language's variation. In the past few years, we have been scaling up our efforts greatly to reach as many learners as possible.
However, Acadèmia de su Sardu recognizes that a comprehensive language policy from the Sardinian government is crucial to revitalize Sardinian. Such a policy should decisively support the language while respecting its variation, moving beyond counterproductive ideologies.

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