Foundation for Endangered Languages

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1. Editorial: Light and Shade

We should love to believe that in many parts of the world there is growing revulsion at the forces which endanger languages, and growing determination and enthusiasm to cherish and promote traditional tongues.

The Western media are now full of stories that cast doubt on the long-term value of “progress” as promoted by multi-national companies or Westernizing, “modernizing”, governments. (Genetic modification of crops, and the arbitrary constraints imposed by cash economies on care for the environment and small communities — as in Indonesia and Brazil — have loomed particularly large in the UK media over the last quarter.)

Here in the UK the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement refers explicitly to the rôles of Irish Gaelic and Ulster Scots in healing that land; and the present government has reversed the stance of its predecessor by announcing an intent to accept the European Charter on Regional or Minority Languages for Welsh, Scots and Gaelic, wherever in the Kingdom they are spoken.

And especially, in attending small gatherings such as the FEL conference in Edinburgh this year, one is easily moved by the natural sympathy that flows among so many people, independently involved in local struggles and construction work, but touched and inspired by one another’s commitment.

Most recently, we ourselves have managed to find a little money (little enough, but 50% more than last year) to support four active efforts to make the world a little more friendly to, and knowledgeable of, endangered languages.

So there is food for hope in many places.

But even where there is relative wealth and a free flow of information, the news is not always good.



Last June California voted to abolish bilingual education in state schools; this December the Northern Territory Government in Australia has announced its intention to do likewise. The conscious motives may vary: California seems to have been thinking mostly on right-wing political lines; the NT government more just to save money. And whereas the former resolution was aimed mostly against use of Spanish, the latter decision will strike squarely against indigenous languages. But whatever the motive or the target, the result will be a lessening of respect, and self-respect, for the traditions that these languages continue, and a life-time loss for the people that could grow up speaking them.

A slighter act of similar callousness was the recent banning by AOL of the use of Irish on its “Peace in Ireland” computer newsgroup, an egregious act that combined misguided commercial judgement with political naïveté and unintended insolence. (And that’s putting it charitably: others might see this as AOL doing its bit to make “the Irish problem” go away.)

There is still much to be done to disseminate good sense and decency, clearly. Chris Moseley, our Liaison Officer, is even now writing on FEL’s behalf to the Northern Territory officers and AOL. But any member of the Foundation is urged to make their own point. In this issue you will find the information, and the addresses to send them to to make them count.

Please write to us, as well as to those who need to get the message. There must be so many cases, both of encouragement and recent ignominy, that we all need to know about, but have yet to hear of. And Ogmios can still reach some places where the Internet cannot.