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7. Overheard on the Web

Languages Charter Warning

From: Mr B Moffatt B.Moffatt(at)
To: celtic_league(at)
Date: 05 March 2000 18:48

The UK has joined France in signing the Euro Charter on Minority languages. However, the Celtic League believe practical implementation will be the true test of the veracity of the Old Nation States towards language rights.

Speaking during the first Gaelic debate in the new Scottish Parliament Gaelic minister, Alasdair Morrison, said on Thursday: "There are many precious components in the heritage of Scotland. But none is as ancient, profound and worthy as the Gaelic legacy."

Despite the comparatively small number (3) of Gaelic speakers in the Parliament the debate was historically important and marked the continuing reversal in fortunes of all the Celtic languages.

As if to reinforce this on the same day the United Kingdom finally got around to signing the European Charter for Regional or Minority languages, an issue the Celtic League has been campaigning on for many years.

However, the UK's reluctant signature is only the first step and ratification and implementation will be the true test of cultural equality between the peoples of these Islands. We need to press vigorously for ratification and implementation and also spell out clearly that the provisions of the Charter are not to be dissipated by neutralising qualifications.

We already have the worrying example of France. Its signature, and ratification, of the Charter was so hedged around with qualifications as to clearly indicate that the cultural genocide which the French State has exhibited towards minorities within its frontiers is not yet extinguished.

The Council of Europe (CoE) drew up the Charter in 1992 for the purpose of encouraging the preservation and the promotion of indigenous minority languages in Europe. So far a disappointingly small number, 16 of the 40, of CoE members States have signed.

The Old Nation States of Europe such as England and France are not stupid, they are aware that stimulating linguistic self determination is a catalyst for political self determination. Their commitment to the Charter will be lack-lustre unless the Celtic languages groups present a united front to pressure the signatories.

Bernard Moffatt
Secretary General Celtic League 5/3/2000

About élites among language minorities

About 30 years ago the Slovene minority in Carinthia (Austria) was provided with a "Bilingual" secondary school - a "Gymnasium" - to which a small portion of the minority population has ever since been sending their children. (The word "bilingual" is in quotes because Slovene is used much more than German in class).

The (considerable) contribution towards the maintenance of Slovene (which has for 150 years been under intense pressure from German) in Carinthia has been described. What interests me is the potential opposite effect: that one result of having such an educational establishment is, at least in theory, the creation of an élite - a minority among the minority population - which speaks Standard Slovene much better (and also perhaps in more functional domains) than the rest. In particular, I am interested in one possible further development - that this small élite may become (socially, and at least partly) split from the remainder of the Slovenophone population, with the result that there is no longer any *general* tradition of language maintenance: the intelligentsia prefer to use the standard, the others do not, and they do not communicate (even, no longer wish to communicate) as much as before with each other. The intelligentsia may be considered snobbish, and the non-élite may be thought of as "hicks." And so on. - I have some evidence of this, and am collecting and analyzing more.

I have heard, mostly at third hand, that in some minority/endangered language communities the same kind of process has been observed. Sometimes, efforts at standardizing the minority/endangered language have backfired, because most minority members, for one reason or another, do not wish to use such a variety.

If any readers of ELL have personal experience of such a thing, and/or can direct me to literature on this kind of phenomenon, please respond ***OFF LIST***. If the responses are sufficiently interesting, and not too long, I will summarize them for anyone who is interested.

Thanks in advance,
Tom Priestly
Modern Languages and Cultural Studies
Slavic and East European Studies
200 Arts Building, University of Alberta
Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2E6
phone (780) 492-5688
fax (780) 492-9106
e-mail: tom.priestly(at)

Breaking a New Mexico Language Bar 2 Feb. 2000 Assoc. of Trial Lawyers of America :

The adage "a jury of your peers" just became a little more meaningful in New Mexico. The state Supreme Court held that non-English-speaking people cannot be eliminated from jury duty because of their language skills. Chief Justice Pamela Minzner quoted the New Mexico Constitution, which expressly states that the right of any citizen to sit on a jury shall not be restricted on account of "religion, race, language or color, or inability to speak, read or write the English or Spanish languages."

Elizabeth Amon, National Law Journal, 2/3/2000

For complete story, see

Zimbabwe: Promote Indigenous Languages First For National Development

Harare (Zimbabwe Standard, March 5, 2000) - After 20 years of independence, it is indeed unbelievable and embarrassing that a sovereign nation like Zimbabwe has nothing to show for its language and national cultural policy.

I know that bits and pieces have been done here and there, but a vivid and yawning gap of a comprehensive language and national cultural policy has always remained for everyone to see-policy makers included! Language and cultural issues may sound abstract and useless, but sooner or later, especially with the winds of globalisation blowing no better than the storms of Cyclone Eline, a nation with neither a language nor a cultural policy shall find itself rolling in the deluge of cultural and conceptual confusion.

Surely if we are to develop as a nation, time has come for all proud and patriotic Zimbabweans to redefine and reconceptualise themselves accordingly. Although policymakers have always pretended to be baffled by the link of language to national development, the answer to this simple puzzle is as clear as the Babylonian towers-return to the source, return to your languages. By returning to the source I don't mean that each language community in Zimbabwe should be cocooned and inward looking, but that we need, as a nation, a very clear language and cultural policy framework that does not only recognise that indigenous languages are living languages, but also empowers those languages to be the engine of national development.

For more than a hundred years, local indigenous languages suffered brutal inditement and denigration by the colonial regime. English became the only language enjoying official recognition and naturally, a hegemonic project to entrench the language in all institutions of socialisation was undertaken by the colonial government. English became the language of instruction for both elementary, secondary and university education. It became commonsensical that English was the language for enterprise as well as a measure of excellence.



Now 20 years after independence, the status quo still remains intact, with English still at the centre of our lives and invariably shaping the perception of ourselves and that of the world. Mbuya Nehanda, Sekuru Kaguvi and Lobhengula would surely laugh their lungs out if they woke up from their graves to find black primary school pupils grappling with English syntax and grammar. They would no doubt, be tongue-tied to find the University of Zimbabwe still teaching Shona and Ndebele in English.

The biggest question they would probably pause to our wise vice chancellor, is whether the university is a University of Zimbabwe or just a university in Zimbabwe? There are some people, among them some who claim to be serious African scholars, who see nothing wrong with the present state of affairs. These lily-livered, light weight scholars argue that indigenous languages are underdeveloped and can not competently handle topics on modern sophistication in technology and science. They have this religious commitment to English and praise it for being a global language and above all, want it to be spoken with an accent. Most poignantly, some even discourage their children from speaking their mother languages. These people must not be taken seriously by anyone because they themselves are not serious.

But why is the language issue so important? First and foremost, it must be understood that language is not only a means of communication, but also a carrier of a people's culture, history, identity and above all, people's worldview. Through language, a society reproduces itself and claims its space in history. The death of a language is the death of a people and the demise of a nation. Language is therefore central in self identity, self realisation and self actualisation, which are very important intangibles in building a confident and innovative citizenry who can be agents of national development. Needless to say, nations such as Japan, Norway and France are shining examples of how a sound language and cultural policy empowers and builds a strong nation.

Our problem in Zimbabwe is that some policy makers in government are either conceptually lost as to the meaning of their jobs, or are just simply clowning in public office. Honestly, it is a travesty of our national dignity and pride to have primary school pupils taught in English as if they were born without a mother tongue and worst of all to teach our indigenous languages in English.

The language issue was one of the most burning issues that Zimbabweans raised during the Constitutional Commission's outreach programme last year. People did, in no unequivocal terms, stress the recognition and promotion of indigenous languages as evidenced by the 10 provincial reports compiled during the nationwide evidence gathering exercise.

Although the Constitutional Commission might have missed the crux of most of people's sentiments concerning other things, it must be acknowledged that its final draft, however, had to a greater extent, managed to lay ground for a comprehensive language policy for our nation. Unfortunately, all this is now water under the bridge, but certainly not the end of history as far as the language question is concerned.

So what has to be done, and by who? As Zimbabweans, we need to learn to solve our national problems in a systematic way. We must learn not to cross the bridge before we get there.

Zimbabwe is not an English nation and will never be, no matter how proficiently some people may speak the Queen's language. A systematic solution to our problems should obviously be cognizant of the history and legacy of colonialism. As such, language and cultural policies that we should be having are those that do not only seek to decolonise the mind, but are also therapeutic in the restoration of the soul and heartbeat of the nation. Any other shortcuts-and mark my words-will be a vicious circle and waste of resources.

One way of developing our indigenous languages at grass roots level is through their institutionalisation in formal education and also the promotion of related activities such as translation, interpretation and terminology development. It is in this light that the recently launched African Languages Research Institute (ALRI) deserves mention in this article. This is because my village morality taught me that good work must be held in high esteem and that those who do well must be praised.

The ALRI, inspired by a strong sense of patriotism and an unwavering vision to the development of Zimbabwean languages, has already started digging a deeper foundation on which to predicate an enduring and truly sustain- able development for this nation.

The institute, which is already in the process of producing an advanced Shona dictionary and a Ndebele dictionary, aims at researching into African orature and literature and also coming up with dictionaries for the minority languages in Zimbabwe. Kalanga, Shangani, Tonga and Nambia have already been earmarked for the second phase of the project.

According to its acting director, Dr Herbert Chimundu, who is also the Dean of Faculty of Arts at the University of Zimbabwe, the institute is inspired by "the need for a healthy and balanced, multi-lingual and multi-cultural Zimbabwean society where each language has a space in the formal and informal spheres of our social lives as Zimbabweans".

As a tripartite project between the University of Zimbabwe, University of Oslo and University of Gothenburg, the institute provides a splendid example of how donor funds can be mobilised to help a true and genuine African cause.

The onus remains on government to create a more enabling and encouraging environment through creating a congenial language and cultural policy framework. The academics can publish as many Shona and Ndebele dictionaries as there are people in this country, but as long as there are no centrally stimulated clear policies that promote a meaningful existence of all languages in education institutions and the general lifeworld, then such grass-root actions like that of the ALRI, would be null and void. Last Madiwa Moyo

Copyright © 2000 Zimbabwe Standard. Distributed via Africa News Online.

Non-technical Obligations in Choice of Recording Technology

From: Katherine Hoffman khoffman(at)
Subject: technology in the field
Sender: owner-linganth(at)

As we discuss which of the available technologies best suit our scholarly needs (downloading into our laptops, transferring via internet, presenting to classes and at conferences), I am left wondering how to best integrate newer and cassette recordings into the field experience and relations with consultants.

In places where taping is potentially viewed with suspicion, such as Morocco where I work, recording on cassettes and playing/duplicating tapes for the local communities has been an effective way of allaying fears and giving something back that people appreciate. Cassettes are best suited for this purpose because most families have a tape player radio or know someone who does. Often when I recorded, especially ceremonial music, my consultants wanted to play back the recording right away.

How would I have done that if I'd been recording on digital or other recorder? Would I have been able to transfer the digital to standard cassette and then distribute the cassettes? ...

Katherine Hoffman
Department of Anthropology, UCLA