FEL 2020 grant: Blablanga orthography and literacy materials development workshop

This is the fifth in our series of posts on FEL grants awarded for 2020.

Overview. Blablanga (also called Blanga) is an endangered Oceanic language spoken by approximately 1,150 people Santa Isabel Island, in the Solomon Islands. It includes a communalect called Zazao or Kilokaka that was previously considered a different language. Blanga lacks a standardised orthography and spelling system. There have been sporadic attempts at writing it, but speakers use conventions developed for a neighboring vigorous language (Cheke Holo) which has a different phonological system. This project comes as a response to a request from the community to establish a practical and emblematic orthography, and to publish literacy materials. These would be used by children and adults to learn how to read and write in their own language, including, but not limited to, a primer, and a collection of oral literature. To prepare for this there will be a two-day workshop during which community members, chiefs, elders, catechists, teachers, youth leaders, and interested others will come together for the first time to discuss and decide on orthography and spelling issues. The FEL-funded workshop will be integrated within a larger project funded by a British Academy Postdoctoral Research Grant, which investigates Information Structure and Intonation in Blanga.

Grantee. This project is led by Rados Voica.

Rados (or Radu) Radu (a.k.a. Rados) is a post-doctoral researcher at SOAS, University of London. He holds an MA in Language Documentation and Description and a PhD in Field Linguistics from SOAS. Between 2007 and 2010 he was an Endangered Languages Documentation Programme grantee (ELDP grants IGS0048 and IGS0048-supplement) and did fieldwork on Santa Isabel Island, Solomon Islands, where he documented Blablanga and Kilokaka, and subsequently showed that the two are varieties of a single language. Rados’ British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellowship involves fieldwork and analysis of Blablanga, aiming to elucidate aspects of intonation and information structure. He has also taught Descriptive Linguistics and Field Methods at SOAS. His main research interests are in language documentation, endangered languages, field linguistics and linguistic theory, information structure, syntax-semantics-pragmatics interfaces, predicate-argument relations, Role and Reference Grammar, prosody, autosegmental metrical models, historical linguistics, Austronesian languages, and Romance languages.

FEL 2020 grant: Using Northern Paiute stories as online teaching tools

This is the sixth project funded by an FEL grant in 2020.

Overview. This project aims to support revitalization efforts for Numu, or Northern Paiute. Numu is a Uto-Aztecan language spoken in the Great Basin of the United States, which includes the state of Nevada, where this project is based. The main focus is on the documentation of stories in Numu, and the development of online resources for learners based on those stories. To achieve this, we are recording, transcribing, and translating stories as told by an elder who is well-known for his storytelling and teaching. We are then using these stories to develop a set of multi-level lessons (beginning, intermediate, and advanced) that build directly from linguistic, cultural, and narrative components of the stories. In order to ensure that the stories and lessons are readily available to learners, we are creating an online website that integrates all the materials. For each story, a learner will be able to listen to the audio, read a translation, read information on vocabulary and grammar, and answer comprehension questions. In this way, this project builds on the local Indigenous community’s goal of supporting educational efforts in the language by providing additional materials for use by those interested in teaching and learning the language.

Grantee. This project is led by Ignacio Montoya.

Ignacio is an assistant professor at the University of Nevada, Reno. He earned his PhD in linguistics at the City University of New York. Prior to his postgraduate work in linguistics, he taught in a wide variety of elementary and middle school classrooms and was motivated to pursue a PhD. in linguistics in part by his experiences as an educator. As a linguist, he approaches theoretical problems from functionalist perspectives in which findings in applied fields inform theory. His current research interests include a focus on Indigenous languages of North America. Since arriving in Reno in 2018, he was been studying Numu (Northern Paiute) and has been working with members of the community to preserve and fortify it.

FEL 2020 grant: Signs and games: strategies for involving youth in the revitalization of two varieties of Mixtec

This is the fourth in our series of reports on FEL grants for 2020.

Overview. The goal of this project is to involve younger members of the communities of San Sebastián del Monte and Yucuquimi de Ocampo, in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico, in revitalizing their Mixtec language, and to motivate all members of the towns to do the same. The project will engage middle school and high school students in creating materials in Mixtec for the towns, in order to boost the interest of the community in preserving their language and teaching it to the younger generations. For example, they will create signs for the local health clinic showing terms for body parts and helpful information to aid older members of the community in communicating with the clinic staff. They will create signs that will be placed around town to encourage people to communicate in Mixtec, and to preserve knowledge of the traditional plants of the region and their Mixtec names. Finally, they will create games to share with other students.

Grantee. This project is led by Iara Mantenuto.

Iara is a PhD student in the Department of Linguistics at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). She has been training in linguistics fieldwork for the past eight years, at Syracuse University, at UCLA, and the Institute on Collaborative Language Research (CoLang). She has worked on San Sebastián del Monte Mixtec for the past three years, and it is the subject of her dissertation. With Mr. Félix Córtes she has written an alphabet booklet for Mixtec, and they are working on an online dictionary. Iara has led three workshops in the town, dealing with language loss and identity, orthography, literacy, and tones. For the past two years she has been collaborating with Octavio León Vázquez of Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social (CIESAS), and they have run a workshop on literacy and tones in Yucuquimi de Ocampo.

FEL 2020 grant: Documenting mumuh, traditional singing storytelling in Lun Bawang, Sarawak

This is the third in the series of reports on projects funded by FEL in 2020.

Overview. In many societies, storytelling has been the main method of transmitting knowledge inter-generationally. Mumuh is a traditional method of storytelling in the form of recited songs among the Lun Bawang people of Sarawak. Apart from the language itself being endangered, the performance of mumuh is also a dying art. After searching for singers, I was told that there is one elderly lady called Ina Ladu who lives in Long Semadoh settlement, Lawas division of Sarawak, East Malaysia, who is still able to sing mumuh. This project will document performances of mumuh with her. Note that mumuh contains not only a lesser-known form of melody but also archaic lexical items. The project will also train one local participant to continue recording other traditional songs and stories in Lun Bawang.

Grantee. This project is led by Jey Lingam Burkhardt.

Jey lectures in English and Communication Skills at the Centre for English Language Studies, Sunway University, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She received her MA in Applied Linguistics from Charles Darwin University, Australia, and has worked with language development projects in mother-tongue literacy, orthography development, and training of trainers among various minority language communities in Sarawak. Her research interests are Borneo studies, discourse analysis, language documentation and description, and self-regulated learning in higher education. She has recently co-authored a paper entitled Then and now: changes in social organisation and livelihood of the Berawan community since the formation of Malaysia.

FEL 2020 grant: The collaborative documentation, development, and publication of a Chone Tibetan story book

This is the second in a series of posts on the grants awarded by FEL for 2020.

Overview. The Chone Tibetan language is a local variety of Tibetan spoken in Chone County, Kanlho Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Gansu Province, China. It has become marginalized, stigmatized, and subjugated due to two main factors: the promotion of the national language, Mandarin Chinese, since the 1950s, and the spread of the regional standard language, Amdo Tibetan, since the 1980s. As a result, the number of the Chone Tibetan speakers has now fallen to around 3,000, and is continuing to shrink dramatically. The aim of this project is to audio-record and document local spoken Chone Tibetan oral literature, develop a story book, and distribute it among community members. The story book will be presented in three languages: Chone Tibetan (the heritage language), Mandarin Chinese (the national language), and English (the second language in schools). In doing so, it will help Chone Tibetans to be exposed to their heritage language, and raise their awareness towards the value of it for expressing local linguistic and cultural identity.

Grantee. This project is led by Bendi Tso.

Bendi is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. Her research interests include linguistic identities, documentation of oral tradition, and language revitalization. Her current research examines language shift of Chone Tibetans in relation to their Tibetan identity formation and social imagination. With Mark Turin she has co-authored a paper Speaking Chone, Speaking ‘Shallow’: Dual Linguistic Hegemonies in China’s Tibetan Frontier.

FEL membership

The following is a blog post written by Steven Krauwer, FEL Treasurer

A look at the profiles of my colleagues on the FEL Executive Committee will reveal that language endangerment has many different dimensions, and that the people on the Committee have a variety of different interests and priorities. The same applies to our members. Recently, I collated the special interests of past and present members, as indicated on their membership forms, and I was impressed by the variety of themes, languages, and combinations thereof. The list of interests is anonymous and organised as an alphabetic and unstructured sequence of entries that appear on the forms, with many repetitions and overlaps in topics, however it gives a good idea of what our members are concerned about. Looking at the list, I feel that it would be valuable for us to think of better ways for FEL to capitalise on what members tell us about their interests, and what they could contribute to FEL, other than what they pay for their membership. If you are already a member do get in touch and give us your feedback.

My hope for the coming years is that we manage to attract and sustain more members and donors, so that we can expand our grants programme and especially do more revitalization work. Just to give you an idea of what we need: for every 25 people who join FEL as a paying member we can give out one extra grant in the next round, so please join us if you are not already a member and encourage your friends, colleagues, and students to do so.

FEL 2020 grant: Development of Northern Pomo language revitalization camps

This post is the first in a series on the grants awarded by FEL for 2020.

Overview. This project focuses on the development of Northern Pomo language revitalization camps in order to expand efforts to revitalize what is now a dormant language that was traditionally spoken north of the San Francisco Bay and surrounding Clear Lake in northern California . Although the last speaker passed away in 2005, there is still a community who identifies with the language and wishes to learn and revitalize it. However, given the lack of speakers, documentation records, such as audio recordings, play an even more central role in the process of language revitalization. There are four main foci of this project, which are informed by our past endeavors: (1) developing activities and games for all ages, ranging from younger children to Elders, (2) integrating digital technology in effective and appropriate ways, (3) incorporating traditional stories and texts into language revitalization, and (4) exploring the effects of the language revitalization camps.

Grantee: The project is led by Edwin Ko.

Edwin is a Linguistics Ph.D. student at the University of California, Berkeley with a Designated Emphasis (equivalent to a minor) in Language Revitalization. His research focuses on Northern Pomo and Crow, which are indigenous languages of California and Montana. He also serves as a co-organizer of Berkeley’s Fieldwork Forum and the 40th Siouan and Caddoan Languages Conference, and as a Graduate Research Associate at Berkeley’s Social Science Matrix.

FEL Executive Committee member Steven Krauwer

This post introduces another Executive Committee member

Steven Krauwer

My home base is Utrecht University in the Netherlands. I studied mathematics and general linguistics in Utrecht and Copenhagen. Until my official retirement in 2011, I worked in the Institute of Linguistics at Utrecht University as a lecturer and researcher in mathematical and computational linguistics. I participated in and was coordinator of a number of projects funded by the European Union, many of them focusing on machine translation and other themes related to language and speech technology. During this period, I developed a special interest in the creation, development, preservation and re-use of digital language resources as crucial instruments in many research areas where language plays a role, such as linguistics, literature studies, history, and language and speech technology.

After my retirement I became the first Executive Director of CLARIN ERIC, the governing body of CLARIN, the Common Language Resources and Technology Infrastructure. CLARIN’s mission is to create and maintain an infrastructure to support the sharing, use, and sustainability of language data and tools for research in the humanities and social sciences. Today, 24 European countries participate in CLARIN, 21 as members and 3 as observers. When I stepped down as Executive Director in 2015 I became Senior Advisor to CLARIN’s Board of Directors.

My first encounter with the FEL was in 2005, when I happened to see an announcement for the FEL IX conference in Stellenbosch, South Africa. I didn’t know anything about endangered languages and didn’t (and still don’t) speak one, but I decided to attend the conference just to get an idea of what was happening in the field and, being involved in language technology, to find out whether language and speech technology could be used to strengthen threatened languages. From the very first day, I was fascinated by what I saw and heard, both by what I learned about particularities of languages that I had never heard of, by the causes of endangerment and possible remedies, and also by the passion with which people spoke about their languages. In some mysterious way I was immediately co-opted as a member of the FEL Executive Committee and have been serving on it ever since. My activities in those years have been centered around membership administration and the finances. I am currently Treasurer and try to ensure our financial health, so that we can keep our annual grants programme and other activities running.

For me personally the most interesting aspect of FEL’s activities is language revitalization (in contrast with, e.g., advocacy, policy and documentation – all very important for FEL, but just not my cup of tea, and I am very pleased that other committee members are taking care of them).  If one looks at the FEL grant reports it becomes clear that many of our grants go to bottom-up language revitalization activities, which I personally think is the best and most exciting way to spend the money contributed by our members. It is impressive and promising to see how much can be achieved on the basis of the modest amounts (maximum US$ 1000) we give per grant.

FEL Executive Committee members

The Foundation for Endangered Languages is governed by an Executive Committee which meets on a regular basis in person and by electronic communications. The 2020 membership of the Executive Committee is as follows:

Peter AustinBlog Co-editor, Facebook Co-editor

McKenna Brown

Serena D’agostinoFacebook Co-editor

Maya David

Eda Derhemi

Sebastian Drude

Hakim ElnazarovGrants Officer

Tjeerd de GraafRegional Interest Groups

Fazal Hadi

Steven KrauwerTreasurer

Salem Mezhoud — Secretary

Chris MoseleyAdvocacy and Campaigns Officer

David NathanWebsite Editor

Joseph Babasola Osoba

Ichchha Purna Rai

Nicholas OstlerChair

Muhammad Zaman Sagar

Cassie Smith-ChristmasBlog Co-editor

Emilius Sudirjo

Mujahid Torwali

Jakelin Troy

FEL 2020 grants awarded

The Foundation for Endangered Languages has just awarded eight grants worth US$7,570 for 2020. The awards cover projects in Mexico, USA, China, Malaysia, Solomon Islands, and Congo with a focus on revitalisation work, including story and song book publication, youth engagement, orthography and literacy development, and online teaching materials production. There is a full listing of the grants awarded on our website. Congratulations to all the successful applicants.

Note that members of FEL with a current subscription of any type may apply in future grant rounds. If you are not yet a member then please join before applying (see our Membership page). Priority is given to projects that focus on the revitalisation of an endangered language and/or support the use of an endangered language in its community. In general, we award up to US $1,000 for successful proposals. Proposals for smaller amounts may have a better chance of receiving funding.