Foundation for Endangered Languages
2. Development of the Foundation
FEL Annual General Meeting: St. Patrick's Coll., Maynooth, Ireland, 18 Sept. 1999
1. The first order of business was to elect a chair for the meeting. Karl Teeter nominated Nicholas Ostler as chair. This was seconded by Matthew Stott. Nick was elected by unanimous voice vote.
2. The minutes of the last AGM were passed by voice vote.
3. The chairman noted several activities in which the FEL was engaged. First, a film night was held, as per the recommendation of the last AGM. Second, he noted the FEL website. As it currently exists, it is not laid out very neatly, but it is working. There is certainly room for improvement. Waldo Houia suggested that the website be expanded. FEL could, he noted, put the conference proceedings on the website. The chairman suggested that it would be nice to have a volunteer manage the website; there were no volunteers at the meeting. Finally, he noted that there were a number of organizations with which the FEL cooperates, in particular the Endangered Language Fund and TerraLingua. There is a new group in Germany (Gesellschaft für bedrohte Sprachen). At his own expense but on FEL's behalf, Nick will attend a colloquium on "Language Endangerment, Research and Documentation — Setting Priorities for the 21st Century" to be held at the Karl-Arnold Akademie in Bad Godesberg, near Bonn, Germany, February 12th to 17th 2000.
4. Report from the President:
Matthew Stott suggested that software is available to help with the website. While thanking him, the President and Treasurer both noted that software for the website was not the main problem: what was needed was someone to run it.
5. Report from the Treasurer
There were no questions and the treasurer's report was passed unanimously.
At this point, the order of agenda was reversed.
6. Amendments to the Constitution:
1. - set the maximum size of Executive Committee at 15 (amendment to H1);
Each was approved nem. con.
Election of the Executive Committee.
7. The chairman presented the recommended list of candidates for the executive committee:
Nicholas Ostler, Christopher Moseley, Nigel Birch, Alasdair MacCaluim, Mahendra Verma, Karen Johnson-Weiner, Louanna Furbee, Karl Teeter, Davyth Hicks, Margaret Allen, Heather King, John Clews, Eugene McKendry.
9. Chris Moseley noted that the position of liaison officer is currently unfilled. Unfortunately, at this meeting, there were no volunteers.
The AGM was adjourned with the notice that the executive committee would meet at 1:30, following lunch.
9. The following topics were suggested for future conferences.
a. purity/purism in culture and language revival/the revival and reconstruction of language and culture.
b. literacy/writing--changing/preserving "oral culture"
c. typology of endangerment
10. It was also suggested that we devote one grant each year to fund the attendance of an indigenous speaker of an endangered language to the annual conference.
President’s Report on the Year to August 1998 to August 1999
The Foundation for Endangered Languages is now officially three years old. You are hearing from the Treasurer about our quantitative position, so I shall concentrate on what we have done with your resources over the last year, since our last Conference in Edinburgh in September of 1998.
The main achievement of the Foundation in 1998-9 has been the sponsoring of concrete work in favour of a few of the world’s endangered languages.
Reports were received in 1998 of the results of the previous year’s two grants, for Valentin Vydrine to research the status of Kagoro in Mali, North Africa, and for Mark Donohue to foster dictionary building, cultural archives and some linguistic description of the Yei, Kanum and Morori languages in south-east Irian Jaya. These reports have appeared in Ogmios (#8 and #10).
In response to the last Call for project proposals, there were 29 applications for support, asking for a total of £10,500. All continents were represented in the languages in question, but there was a predominance for languages of the Americas (14 applications). The requests were on the moderate side, since the Call had pointed out that £650 was likely to be the maximum for anyone one award. In the event, almost all of the proposals were well-founded, in the view of the selection committee. Unfortunately, the funds for distribution amounted to no more than £1,550, so the competition was stiff to the point of arbitrariness.
Four applications were successful:
Our then Treasurer, Margaret Allen, surmounted the various obstacles thrown up by the world banking system to make the necessary transfers, and we are now looking forward to the reports on the outcome of the projects.
We have just advertised our new Call. Unfortunately, there is no prospect at the moment of having greater funds to award than in 1998, but our endeavours will continue.
The Foundation’s newsletter Ogmios has been issued three times since the last AGM (##10-12). We try to give a representative conspectus of endangered language news from all over the planet. Original matter published in this period has included reports on language documentation by Mark Donohue in Irian Jaya, Roger Blench in West Africa, Anda Hofstede in South Arabia. We have carried reviews of important books published in our field, and would be very happy to receive more such material. Our current issue also carries an stimulating article by Nancy Dorian on the value of what is lost when a language goes, based on her own knowledge of conversations in East Sutherland Gaelic.
On the campaigning side, we have raised a voice of protest at the decisions of the Northern Territory government in Australia to withdraw funding from bilingual education programmes, and of Radio New Zealand to discontinue daily national news broadcasts in Maori. Despite the rising profile of endangered language news in the world’s media as a whole, adverse decisions like these continue to be taken, based on supercilious or bullying reasoning about what is necessary, what is value for money, what is “good enough”, for other people’s languages, other people’s communities. Now and again, language and language rights may even be the casus belli for physical aggression, most notoriously in 1999 in Albanian-speaking Kosovo. We shall continue to speak up for people’s right to learn and use their home languages, and everyone’s duty to respect others’ linguistic choices and linguistic allegiances.
Last year’s conference focused on the question of the role of the outsider in the struggle for other people’s languages, inevitably an important one for international organizations such as the Foundation for Endangered Languages. We got some answers, which appeared in Ogmios #10: in particular, that we should be concentrating on: aiding the liaison of local communities with their local and national administrations, providing some external influence in support of the local priorities; facilitating links between different local communities, showing that there is the basis for solidarity here.
This year, our conference is focused on the role of Education, both as an asset and a potential threat to the propagation of smaller languages. We trust that new insights will emerge form our discussions, of particular languages, as well as by implicitly and explicitly comparing their various situations.
We have now to consider what our priorities should be for the further development of our work.
And the role of these conferences is central in these deliberations.
At the moment, our conference provides the main source of Foundation funds to supplement our subscription income. Potentially too, it provides the focus for media interest in our cause. All this, in addition to being the main concrete way in which we can build solidarity among communities across the world, by giving people the chance to meet, and see how similar their concerns may be.
These are three strong reasons to continue our series of conferences.
At the same time, the business of organizing the conference, both its programme and increasingly the local administration, has fallen centrally on the President for the last three years. Energy has therefore been diverted from what might be another primary purpose, namely raising funds more directly. There will be a report from the Foundation’s Secretary on the fund-raising situation.
I should like the debate later in this meeting to attend to this general question of priorities, as between focusing on a conference, and concentrating on building up a strategy to gather funds. The debate might end up concerning tactics as much as strategy, if for example a way could be found for the Conference to generate much more in the way of funds.
Another issue concerns publicity and campaigning. There is no doubt that judged, e.g., by our World Wide Web presence, the Foundation is a much more spartan, not to say rough, in its appearance than some of our colleagues in this cause. What is this costing us, in potential impact? Ought we, in fact, to be concentrating our efforts on reaching the media, and persuading the uncommitted, worrying less about building links with those actually working in small language communities?
On the other hand, might it be that we are, after all, neatly sharing the load with our colleagues, leaving them to do what they do well, while we get on with our own strengths: a regular newsletter, a regular conference, and regular (but rather small) programme of grants?
These are issues on which I should welcome your advice, as we set our course into the year 2000. We have made a start, in the first three years of this charitable Foundation. We are beginning to be recognized.
But there is vast amount of work waiting for us. How can we best set about it?
Ogmios hereby throws its columns open to discussion of these points, and those raised in the rest of the AGM. The Committee would value members’ suggestions: they should be sent to the Editor at any of the addresses on the Contents page, noting whether the author would like them published in Ogmios or not.
Executive Committee meeting, Saturday 20 November 1999, 55 Severn Avenue, Swindon, Wiltshire, UK
Present: Nick Ostler (Chair), Nigel Birch (Secretary), Eugene McKendry, Christopher Moseley (Treasurer, i/c Grants), Matthew Stott
1. Minutes of the Executive Committee Meeting held on 27 March and the Minutes of the Annual General meeting held on 18 September
These were approved.
2. Changes to the Constitution and appointment of new officers
The changes to the constitution agreed at the AGM would need to be notified to the Charity Commissioners. It was agreed that Nigel should convert the current version of the constitution into a form that could be amended and then send copies to the Commissioners. Action: Nigel
Members of the Executive Committee needed to sign a Declaration. Those present did so and Nigel agreed to send a copy to the other members for signature and return to him. Action: Nigel
3. Financial matters
Chris reported that on 29 October the Foundation’s assets had totalled £ 5460.01. However most of this had been paid out to cover the costs of the Maynooth conference. The subscription drive did seem to be working however as subscriptions were coming in. There had also been a donation of £ 500. This meant the current balance was £ 953.
It was noted that this time last year there had been more money available. The problem was the lack of members - there were too few new ones joining and there were also lapsed members.
After discussion it was agreed that £ 800 should be spent on new grants.
4. Membership matters
A paper had been received from Heather King.
It was noted that a large number of people receiving Ogmios had still not paid a subscription, despite having had more than one reminder. It was agreed that Chris would liaise with Heather in advance of future mailings
It was also agreed that the subscription page in Ogmios should be made more prominent.
Nigel suggested that if the current arrangements of membership (ie members received four copies of Ogmios) were changed to an annual subscription it would be easier to set up standing orders and direct debits. It would then take a conscious effort not to pay, rather than as now, taking an effort to pay.
Nigel’s paper was discussed.
If finding corporate sponsors was to be a target we needed to be able to give something in return. The obvious one would be to put the appropriate logos and links onto the Foundation’s website.
The question of tax benefits for donors was raised, but no one had any experience of this. It was also believed that rules about donations and tax relief varied from country to country.
It was agreed that the obvious targets would be companies operating in countries where there were endangered languages. However care needed to be taken when dealing with companies who were being criticised for their actions (eg Occidental in Colombia). On the whole it was probably better to avoid contact with these organisations and efforts made to make contact with those who were neutral or positive in their attitudes. Dictionary publishers were also suggested as a group who might be approached.
It was agreed that the Fundraising Subcommittee be approached for idea of who to approach. Action: Nigel
Nick would produce a letter that could be used when making approaches. Action: Nick
It was noted that there were various charitable organisations who could be approached.
6. The next conference
Nick introduced this item. The issues were who was going to run the event, where it should be held and how often it should be run. Organising the event was time consuming and Nick felt that it had taken up a disproportionate amount of his time as President; time that could have been used for fundraising. The involvement of a committed Programme Chair was therefore important.
The issue of timing was raised. As the conference was the main fundraising event and as it also helped to build solidarity between members, it was agreed the current annual cycle should be maintained.
Three firm suggestions had been made as to locations for the next conference. It was agreed that if the volunteers were willing, we take these as the next three events, re-confirming the third nearer the event. It was therefore agreed that Blair Rudes be asked to take on the 2000 event in North Carolina as he had already done some groundwork. 2001 should be in Morocco and it was suggested that Hassan Ouzzate, who had offered to organise the event, be involved in organising the North Carolina conference for the experience. Mckenna Brown had offered Antigua, Guatemala. This should be pencilled in for 2002, but confirmed nearer the time.
Nick would contact the potential organisers. Action: Nick
The discussion turned to the theme of the 2000 conference. It was noted that the theme of the Maynooth conference (Education) had led to several requests from people not attending the conference to request copies of the proceedings – another source of income. A theme was therefore potentially important. Karen Johnson-Weiner had noted some of the suggestions made during the conference. Of these it was agreed to go with literacy/writing.
It was suggested the East Timor was an issue and that efforts could be made to encourage the preservation of the indigenous languages. However as the new government had yet to be installed it was agreed to postpone any action.
Nick reported that Michael Bauer had been designing the new pages. It was important to find a new home for the site as the current arrangement (hosted by Andrew Woodfield) was unworkable as only Andrew could change anything and he was about to go on sabbatical. Michael did not have a permanent host however.
John Clews had reported that he was in discussion with an ISP who were willing to host the site. They also had facilities for dealing with credit cards which might make paying subscriptions easier. Nick agreed to talk to John. Action: Nick
Before the applications were discussed the matter of reports from previous grants was raised. There was concern that the Foundation received only scant information from previous grant holders about what had been done with the money. Getting the information was important however as the Foundation needed to know what had been achieved so that members had a story to tell when seeking donations, etc. Nigel pointed out that the Research Council where he worked made reporting a condition of the grant and that 20% of the grant was withheld until the report had been received. He agreed to send the wording to Chris. Action: Nigel
Chris would also need to look at the current terms of the grant to see what instructions had previously been given. He would also alert grantholders to the need to produce a report. Action: Chris
There was also the matter of payments. Some payments were difficult to make because of the banking arrangements in the countries concerned. This could involved the Foundation in extra expenditure which it could ill afford. As most applicants were based in fairly sophisticated countries, it was suggested that payments be made to them there and it was then the applicants’ responsibility to name any necessary transfers.
Discussion then turned to the grants. From a field of Four were awarded as follows:
10. Any other Business
There being no other business the meeting closed.
The Foundation’s Grants Policy, by Christopher Moseley, Treasurer
It is now three years since the Foundation for Endangered Languages found itself in a financial position where it could start offering modest grants to applicants wishing to do research into languages under threat. As the Foundation’s Group Liaison Officer, I devised an application form which required a detailed description of the language to be the object of the grant and its affiliation, the nature of the threat to it, the applicant’s experience and qualifications, the nature of the proposed research and the proposed budget to be spent on it. We also seek an assurance that the research will have a beneficial effect on the speech community, and we require that the applicant report back to us at the expiry of the research period, with recommendations for further measures to protect the language in question.
In the first year, 1997, we awarded two small grants; in 1998 we made four awards, and this year, 1999, we have again made four awards, but because our own funding was restricted, the grants were correspondingly smaller. So far, in view of the size of our organization, we haven’t been able to meet requests for amounts larger than a few hundred dollars.
Applications are considered by the Foundation’s entire Committee, and we are careful to ensure that every application that meets our minimum requirements is reviewed by at least three committee members. Reviewers are asked to grade the applications in terms of urgency, value for money, presentation and other criteria, on a numbered scale. That way we can eliminate personal prejudices and arrive at a consensus view. When the deadline for applications has passed, then, the applications are circulated among the committee, the results collated and a final decision on grants is reached at a committee meeting.
This method has generally proved pretty satisfactory - especially in view of the modest amount of money involved so far. Having just held our third review of applications, and being aware that our foundation is going from strength to strength in size and influence, this seems like an opportune time to assess whether we can improve the procedure.
Some things have become evident to all the Committee. One is that, although the questions on the application form seem clear enough, the requirement to provide at least two references is not made sufficiently clear. It is not actually stated on the form, but rather on the Call for Applications which is posted on the Linguist List on the Internet - which seems to be the source of most of our enquiries. Including it on the application form is a simple improvement that we can make in future years. Applicants who have not provided references are not considered.
Another point where there is room for improvement is the need to follow up the research with reports. We have not imposed a strict mechanism for following up the research in past years, but it is clear that if the research we fund is to have any beneficial effect, we should insist that the recommendations we request from the researchers are actually made and, as far as we are able, acted upon. What we can at the very least do as a Foundation is to publicize these recommendations. We have a responsibility to our researchers and they have a responsibility to us. Our method of ensuring that these reports are submitted is one that we instituted in 1998: we tell the applicant that 10% of the sum offered is being withheld until the final report on the work is submitted. On the little evidence we now have, this is perhaps not the best solution. There are arguments both for and against this method. The argument in favour of it is that it places the applicant under an obligation to prove that the money was spent properly on valid research work which bore results.
On the other hand, experience has taught our Treasurers past and present that it is difficult enough to get bank payments through to countries where the money is needed for work in the field, and to have to go through the cumbersome banking process twice, especially in view of the small sums involved, can be a nightmare.
A third area where there is room for improvement is that we can encourage more vigorously that successful and unsuccessful applicants for our grants join the Foundation and thus swell the coffers for use in our charitable work. We have not so far insisted that applicants be paid-up FEL members; we have instead hoped that by association with our work they will want to become members anyway. This is in contrast to the situation with conferences, where the right to attend is conferred by membership.
This is a subject that our committee is discussing at the moment. One option might be, in view of what I’ve just explained above, to offer a year’s subscription to the FEL free of charge to the applicant, but only after an acceptable final report is submitted, after a certain period, say 3 or 6 months, from the end of the contracted research period. That is the equivalent of 8 per cent of a £250 grant in any case - almost the same as the 10 per cent now being withheld, but less coercive. The `acceptable’ final report would contain not only a detailed account of the research undertaken but also of how the money was spent.
Failing this, the Foundation might reserve the right to reclaim all or part of the grant awarded to the applicant - no matter how difficult this may prove in practice.
Another option might be to tell the applicant beforehand that halfway through the agreed period of research - say, six months after initial payment, he or she will be obliged to send an interim report, in a standardized format set out by the Foundation, from the contact address given in the application, and if this was satisfactory, the remainder of the grant - maybe 10 or 20 per cent - would be released for use. There would still be a final report on completion as well.
Even this is a bit cumbersome. But the current policy of withholding 10 per cent of the funds until completion, which the committee is currently reviewing, might yet prove the most effective one after all. What does our membership think is the most cost-effective and easily administered way of funding the research?
The last matter I’d like to enlarge on is the quality of the applications themselves. It might be useful here to explain to the membership the criteria on which the applications are judged. Committee members are asked to consider a number of criteria. One is the description or presentation of the language under study. Many of the applications concern obscure and little-known languages - in some cases even their genetic affiliation is in doubt. The applicant has to assume that the reviewer knows little about it, and define the distinct identity of the language and its speech community. What is described as a `dialect’ is likely to be given a lower priority than a distinct language, all other factors being equal.
Secondly, there is the nature of the threat to the language. In effect, our researcher is providing a little of the institutional support that the language might otherwise lack. The number of speakers does play a part, but the status of the language, and the socio-economic situation surrounding it, are given greater weight, broadly speaking.
Then there is the nature of the research. Here the applicant has to convince the committee that the money being sought will be spent on action that will benefit the speech community. Research that merely advances an academic career is likely to be given lower priority than work to provide teaching materials conducted by a non-academic member (or at least ally) of the endangered speech community. The distinction of ‘academic’ vs. ‘non-academic’ is quite a troublesome one, because the applicant does have to convince the committee of his or her qualifications and training in linguistic research. Linguistics is a science that does require training - there is no gainsaying this. But wherever possible we like to provide an avenue where native speakers’ active involvement is possible. At the very least, we expect the native speakers’ approval and co-operation in the project to be assured.
Then there is the matter of the budget. The applicant has to provide costings that are as detailed and accurate as possible. This is in the applicant’s own interest, because later on, reasonable proof of expenditure will be required. Travel expenses that are reasonable and necessary, and itemized, are worth including in the budget; so are necessary expenses on materials. Payment of informants is also a reasonable item to budget for, taking local salaries into consideration. What is less impressive to the committee is `high-technology’ equipment that may be useful to the researcher but of no permanent value to the speech community. We can’t afford to pay for luxuries or vague `incidental expenses’ either.
Referees who are competent to judge the applicant are also expected to submit testimonials. Hitherto, applicants have been asked to name the referees, and if they don’t submit their testimonials in advance, we write to ask for them.
Then the reviewer gives an overall assessment of the application. At this point, it will inevitably be compared with its competitors in terms of overall presentation. The final decision may involve several awards, and the committee consciously tries to spread them geographically and support urgent projects to save or record languages that are acutely endangered.
This year, as in previous years, the standard of applications has been high, and it is heartbreaking work to have to turn down so many worthy causes and write letters of rejection. But the more members we have, the more generous we can be, and the more solidly we can assure our swelling band of supporters that their money is being well invested - in the future of endangered languages.
Chris Moseley, Treasurer
FEL’s Next Conference: Endangered Languages and Literacy: University of North Carolina at Charleston, USA - 21-24 Sept. 2000
The date of our next conference has been determined. Its theme is to be the role of Literacy in relation to Endangered Languages.
Literacy, the ability to read and write a written form of the language, has often been viewed a necessary first step in maintain and promoting use of the language. The introduction of literacy is predicated upon the development of an acceptable written form of a language, a step considered by many essential to:
However, efforts to develop a written language and instill literacy may encounter cultural obstacles and have unforeseen consequences. For example:
Even within communities that are receptive to the introduction of literacy, the development of an acceptable written language may pose challenges:
Modern technologies, however, have brought additional choices to endangered language communities. For example, with tape recorders, compact disk recorders, video recorders, television, radio, and computers, it possible "talking" dictionaries, grammars and books, thereby eliminating the need for a written language and literacy. But these technologies are not without their own limitations:
Prof. Blair A Rudes, who is on the faculty at UNC Charleston, will chair the Organizing Committee.
Crucial dates leading up to the conference will be:
Abstract submission deadline March 21
Presentations will last twenty minutes each, with a further ten minutes for discussion. All presentations should be accessible largely in English, but use of the languages of interest, for quotation or exemplification, may well be appropriate.
Abstracts should not exceed 500 words. They can be submitted in one of two ways: hard copy or electronic submission. They should be in English.
A) Hard copies (or faxes):
One copy should be sent to:
Blair A. Rudes
This should have a clear short title, but should not bear anything to identify the author(s).
On a separate sheet, please include the following information:
The name of the first author will be used in all correspondence.
If possible, please also send an e-mail to Blair Rudes at
B) Electronic submission:
Electronic submission should be in plain ascii text email message giving the following details:
# NAME : Name of first author
and in a separate section
# ABSTR: Abstract of the paper
B) Electronic submission:
Electronic submission should be in plain ascii text email message giving the following details:
# NAME : Name of first author
and in a separate section
# ABSTR: Abstract of the paper