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A Recap on the CLARIN Café: One Infrastructure for Many Languages

Submitted by Minthe Woudstra on


The May installment of the CLARIN Café series was organised by CLARIN directors Andreas Witt and Francesca Frontini, and was dedicated to a central aspect of the CLARIN infrastructure, namely its being an infrastructure supporting multilinguality in all of its aspects, with resources in over 1500 languages, and serving a multilingual Europe.

This café was an opportunity to reflect on what CLARIN has achieved in this respect, as well as to exchange with two relevant initiatives, the European Language Equality Project (ELE) and the European Federation of National Institutions for Language (EFNIL).

CLARIN as a Multilingual Infrastructure

The café was opened by Francesca Frontini who provided the habitual short introduction to CLARIN for newcomers. The international dimension of this café was made evident by the broad geographical distribution of registered participants, as shown in the map below.

After the introduction, Andreas Witt presented the topic of the day, highlighting the various aspects of CLARIN as a multilingual infrastructure, and stressing the importance of avoiding the situation in which, although all languages are formally equal, some languages become “more equal than others". 

Watch the recording of the CLARIN as a multilingual infrastructure on the CLARIN YouTube channel.

Andreas was followed by Steven Krauwer, former Executive Director of CLARIN and member of the Knowledge Infrastructure Committee, who introduced K-centres and their role in providing expertise and support for various languages.

Felix Rau's presentation provided a clear example of what K-centers can do, focussing on CKLD, CLARIN Knowledge-Centre for linguistic diversity and language documentation, which is a distributed competence centre based at SOAS in London, and in Germany at the University of Cologne, the University of Hamburg and the Academy of Sciences and Humanities. The centre is particularly dedicated to minority and endangered languages, and committed to the support of multilingualism, by offering consultations, training and by conducting specific projects and joint publications. In particular papers such as “Keeping It Real: Video Data in Language Documentation and Language Archiving.” (Seyfeddinipur and Felix Rau. 2020) offer guidance and best practices to researchers working with linguistic data.

While its member institutions' activities are strongly embedded in linguistic research, CKLD services are not limited to linguists, but are open also to language communities and educators.

Watch the recordings of the K-centres Under The Angle Of Multilinguality and of the CKLD K-centre on the CLARIN YouTube channel.


The ELE and EFNIL Initiatives

The second slot of presentations introduced two relevant initiatives not directly related to CLARIN, but with strong links to the infrastructure.

The first one is the recently launched European Language Equality Project (ELE), presented by Georg Rehm from DFKI (Co-Coordinator of the project with Andy Way). ELE, which aims at developing a strategic research, innovation and deployment agenda to achieve digital language equality in Europe, consists of 53 partners from all over Europe covering 77 languages. The core motivation of the project comes from the realisation that several European languages are threatened by digital language extinction, due to the lack of adequate digital resources and technologies. To counter this, European Parliament has voted for a resolution “Language equality in the digital age” [P8_TA(2018)0332]; however, concrete steps need to be taken, with adequate funding at European and national level.

To this respect, the outcomes of the ELE project will be crucial, in that they will provide updates for the 32 META-NET white papers, drawing a panorama of the current situation and formulating recommendations. ELE, which also works closely with ELG, will liaise with relevant organisations and initiatives, including CLARIN, and will deliver its results in June 2022. 

The next speaker of this session was Sabine Kirchmeier, who spoke in her capacity as vice president of EFNIL, the European Federation of National Institutions for Language. This organisation is composed of 40 member organizations from 29 countries, monitoring the official language or languages of their country, advising on language use, or developing language policy. EFNIL activities include analysing cross-state language problems and questions of language policy in annual conferences and publications, offering consultation services in the field of language policy for political decision makers of the EU institutions and member states, and the propagation of the cultural and practical benefits of European linguistic diversity and plurilingualism through relevant actions and publications. Every 4 years EFNIL publishes a new edition of the European Language Monitor, a scientific overview of the language situation in European countries.

The European Language Monitor also includes questions relating to national legislations, such as the existence of official language plans or strategies. 

A second initiative is ELIPS: European Languages and their Intelligibility in the Public Space, collecting information on the materials, instructions, services and tools available in each country in order to help public administration comply with the principles of plain language.

EFNIL is currently collaborating with CLARIN (5 EFNIL member organizations are CLARIN centres) as well as ELE. 

Watch the recordings of the The European Language Equality Project (ELE) and of The European Federation of National Institutions for Language (EFNIL) on the CLARIN YouTube channel.


The Panel Discussion

The panel discussion aimed at identifying possible areas of cooperation between the invited projects and CLARIN. The first panelist was Sabine Kirchmeier herself, who continued the analysis started in her presentation. According to her, despite the number of CLARIN users and members in the EFNIL consortium, some organisations still do not know or use the infrastructure. A greater involvement of CLARIN members in EFNIL and a more formalized exchange of information would be beneficial to both institutions, with exchanges at the respective conferences. Joint projects according to Sabine could involve multilingual language data – written and spoken, open online language teaching environments and grammar and dictionary collections. Other areas of exchange could be plain language and terminology. EFNIL could help CLARIN to better cover minority languages, also by including questions about existing Language Resources in the Monitor.

Georg Rehm commented next, underlining the fact that ELE already liaises with various organisations, among which EFNIL and CLARIN. The real challenge for ELE is to collect the input from these different initiatives, and ensure that it all comes together in a coherent set of recommendations and agenda. CLARIN in particular will contribute to the preparation of the upcoming  ELE survey which will be then circulated soon to CLARIN consortia. 

After these stimulating remarks the floor was given to two CLARIN panelists, representing respectively a national consortium and the central infrastructure. 

Jurgita Vaičenonienė (Vytautas Magnus University), national coordinator of CLARIN-LT, illustrated the benefits to the national language offered by CLARIN membership, now dating back 7 years. During this time, the consortium has grown into one of the leading institutions for Lithuanian language technologies and data storage. Jurgita stressed the role of CLARIN as a gateway to international resources and international visibility for national ones. The CLARIN-LT Repository is regularly visited by foreing researchers and now also contains tools created by researchers from other countries (such as the TED-ELH Parallel Corpus, CLARIN-LT, in English, Lithuanian, and Hebrew, created by the Jerusalem College of technology). One of the greatest values of CLARIN is its orientation towards cooperation rather than competition, ensuring the inclusion of all languages, over or under-resourced. In this sense, an important contribution of CLARIN-LT is its participation in the CLARIN Knowledge Centre for Systems and Frameworks for Morphologically Rich Languages (SAFMORIL).

The panel was concluded by Franciska de Jong, executive director of CLARIN, who began by stressing the fact that CLARIN is an infrastructure for many languages, including non-European ones (resources in 1500 languages are currently listed in the CLARIN VLO); with a large number of resources open to anyone, not only member countries. Crucially, CLARIN also supports  a comparative perspective, which is an important aspect for many researchers. Initiatives such as ParlaMint are a clear example of what it can offer in this respect. Franciska concluded by highlighting the fact that CLARIN, ELE and EFNIL are complementary initiatives, and need each other to grow stronger. Indeed, the current interest towards language diversity is an opportunity not to be missed, and calls for joint efforts, to steer the European strategy for language diversity in the right direction, and to liaise with similar initiatives on other continents. 

Watch the recordings of the panel discussion on the CLARIN YouTube channel.

The presentation slides of this CLARIN Café can be found on the event page

Next CLARIN Cafés

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