The ULB is a multicultural university with a strong international presence. In fact, 20% of ULB students are from other European countries, and 10% come from outside of Europe. Regarding research, the ULB is also present on every continent. The University is an important actor in cooperation to development, especially in Africa. Health is the most present field, but researchers from other areas, such as engineering, urbanism, journalism and law also carry out field research in Africa or elsewhere in the Southern hemisphere. 

Research abroad requires a certain knowledge of local languages: depending on the field and the location, the linguistic skills necessary to fieldwork range from a superficial mastery of a lingua franca, Swahili for instance, to fine-grained knowledge of local medical or botanical terms. The ULB’s presence in Africa, coordinated through the Afric@ULB network, means that our researchers are regularly in contact with languages which are less or little known. 

Over 7000 languages are spoken throughout the world in 2019. However, this large number hides an increasing linguistic impoverishment, because half of the world’s population speaks only 23 of these languages. Furthermore, a third of recorded languages are in danger of extinction, often with under 1000 native speakers left. The UN estimates that an indigenous language disappears every two weeks, and, because of this threat to global linguistic diversity, proclaimed 2019 the Year of Indigenous Languages

Thus, the University’s interest in indigenous languages is twofold: on the one hand, it is stimulated by the pragmatic issue of fieldwork in areas where minority languages are spoken, and on the other hand, by an interest in the promotion of linguistic diversity per se. For these reasons, the Language Year will focus particularly on indigenous languages. 
Updated on September 17, 2019