Foundation for Endangered Languages

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8. Places to Go, on the Web and in the World

Numeral Systems of the World's Languages
by Eugene S.L. Chan euslchan(at)

The existing 6,000 or so languages in the world are a common cultural treasure of human beings. In order to preserve global linguistic diversity, the United Nations set 1992 as "the Year of Endangered Languages". Urgent actions to rescue and document the endangered languages have been undertaken by some countries these few years.

The surviving thousands of the world's ethnic groups use a variety of different numeral systems: duodecimal systems, decimal systems, quinary systems, quartary systems, tertiary systems, binary systems, incomplete decimal systems, mixed systems, body-parts tally systems and so on. Certain South American indigenous languages even only distinguish the numbers "one" and "many". These fascinating phenomena, like a Kaleidoscope, reflect the different evolutionary steps of human counting concepts. Needless to say, these invaluable linguistic data should also be documented as soon as possible, as the indigenous numeral systems of minority ethnic groups are particularly prone to be replaced by neighbouring politically and economically predominant languages. The younger generations tend to give up the traditional numeral systems and adopt the borrowed ones; this phenomenon is especially prevalent in Melanesia, South and South-East Asia, Central and South America and certain areas of Africa. The principal purpose of this web site is to document the various numeral systems adopted by the currently existing 5,000 to 6,000 human languages, focusing especially on those little-known, undescribed and endangered languages, to record and preserve the traditional counting systems before they indeed pass into history. Research on numeral systems is not only a very interesting topic but also an academically valuable reference resource to those involved in the academic disciplines of Linguistics, Anthropology, Ethnology, History and Philosophy of Mathematics.

The author of this project is especially interested in the genetic classifications, phonological systems and counting concepts of human languages, and has spent over fifteen years recording and analyzing the numeral systems of the World's languages, and so far has successfully collected basic numeral systems and data from about 4,000 languages in the world. Most of the data were kindly provided by linguists including members of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, the Bible translators of New Tribes Mission and other missionary organizations, and linguists, anthropologists and related scholars working on their respective fields. The majority of the data were written in standard IPA symbols or phonemic transcriptions.

Yinka-Dene (BC Athabaskan) site 29 Jan 2000:
A Web site for the Yinka Dene Language Institute (YDLI), located on the Saik'uz First Nation Indian Reserve just south of Vanderhoof, BC, has been added to the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council Web site.

The site was created by Bill Poser, a linguist trained at MIT, who specializes in the Athabaskan languages and is currently working for the Yinka Dene Institute, a First Nations organization affiliated with the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council.

The site provides information about YDLI, its activities and publications. A distinctive feature of the site is the large amount of linguistic information that it provides. The focus is on Carrier and the other Athabaskan languages of YDLI's service area, but information is included on the native languages of British Columbia in general. At the site are:

bibliographies on all of the Athabaskan languages of Northern British Columbia
bibliographies on various topics relevant to native languages,
endangered languages, and language maintenance and teaching
a list of the native languages of British Columbia classified by language family
a list of communities in British Columbia giving the native language of the community
a description of where Carrier is spoken and what its dialects are
grammatical information about Carrier
a chart comparing features of Carrier dialects
a chart comparing Carrier words across dialects
Carrier texts with interactive annotation and translation
descriptions of the writing systems used for Carrier

Old Grammars of Canadian Languages On-Line


A number of years ago the Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproductions started collect early books relevant to Canadian history, in order to put these Early Canadiana on microfiche. More than 3000 pre-1900 books with Canadian relevance were thus made available to the public.

Now the whole set of books is also available on-line via a well-organized website. All pages of these old books can be viewed on one 's own computer screen, and they can also be downloaded in PDF-format. This means that many otherwise hard-to- find and rare books are now within easy reach of researchers.

For linguists it is good to know that many dictionaries, grammars, vocabulary lists of Native languages can now be consulted without cumbersome library searches. There is linguistic work on the following languages, and undoubtedly more: Abenaki, Bella Coola, Chinook Jargon, Chipewyan, Cree, Eskimo (several varieties), Flathead, Gwich'in, Haida, Kalispel, Klamath, Maliseet, Micmac, Mohawk, Ojibwe, Onondaga, Plains Sign Language, Seneca, Siksika (Blackfoot), Sioux, Slave, Tlingit, Tsimshian. The quality varies from excellent to amateuristic. Texts are also available, many of them of religious nature. One can find linguistic works by people like Boas, Horatio Hale, Hunter, Lacombe, Lahontan, Petitot, Pilling, Rand and many others.

Even though the focus of the website is on Canada, one can also find sources on other parts of North America (a.o. Alaska, the Aleut islands, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana).

An early description of the linguistically relevant part of the collection was made by David Pentland in 1993 ("North American languages of Canada, 1534-1900." Facsimile Newsletter/ Bulletin Facsimil, 10: 5-16).

One can search the website, in English and French, for words in the titles, authors, subjects and even free text search. This very valuable research tool can be found at: http:

Peter Bakker linpb(at)

Language Planning Guatemala: Strategy Document Available

R. McKenna Brown wrote on 12 Feb 200:

I have been asked by my colleagues in the Academia de Lenguas Mayas de Guatemala (ALMG) to get the word out that they have recently completed a draft version of the ALMG's strategic document on language planning in Guatemala.

This is intended to be the official guiding document for setting language policy in post-war Guatemala.

They make this draft available to anyone interested, and welcome feedback. The document is a bit over 200 pages long, written in Spanish, including sections on historical background, the framework of the Peace Accords. and implementation.

If interested, contact R. McKenna Brown at mbrown(at) who can send it as email attachment for free, or a hard copy for small fee to cover photocopies and mailing costs.

R. McKenna Brown, PhD
Associate Professor of Spanish and Director, International & Area Studies Program
Virginia Commonwealth University
PO Box 842021
Richmond, Virginia 23284-2021
fax +1-804.828.9510
voice mail 804.278.0216

Comanche Language & Cultural Preservation Committee

The official site of the Comanche Language and Cultural Preservation Committee, which was formed in 1993 "with the vision of reviving the Comanche language into a living language once again." The site features a list of accomplishments during he past seven years, including a recently developed Master-Apprentice program.



FIL: a Strange Coincidence?

At 8:04 am 1/3/00, centro di documentazione sui popoli minacciati wrote to me:

Dear Nick,
... I recently came across a foundation I didn't know. Maybe you do, anyway I give you the details:

Foundation for Indigenous Languages
205 Franklin Street
Harrisonburg, VA 22801-4018, USA
telephone: 1-800-510-5784
fax: +1 (540) 574-3376

I replied:

No I don't know them. But evidently I should -- not least because the similarity to my own charity's acronym, and even phonology, is striking.

FEL Foundation for Endangered Languages
FIL Foundation for Indigenous Languages

I have looked at the pages, and they are very slick. There's something a bit worrying, about it though, don't you think? They describe in a very non-informative way the sources of their finance,

How is FIL financed?

FIL is a non-profit organization with 501(c)(3) status with the IRS. 90% of our operational budget comes from tax-deductible donations from individuals and community-based organizations. The remainder of our operations funding and all project income is derived from grants or contracts with agencies served by FIL.

and their approach to publishing seems likely to bleach any individuality from the work that goes on in different cultures. Apparently sympathetic, but rather soul-destroying, to my mind.

There is also a gratuitous reference to The Creator at one point.

Do you think FIL might in deed, if not in word, be closer to those people we know by another three-letter-acronym, viz SIL?

CD-ROM game techniques can be useful in language restoration From Julian Granberry (nalserv(at) 4 Mar 2000:

I would like to add my voice to those who feel that Microsoft's suggestion of adding Native American cultures and languages to its games repertoire is a very positive gesture -- one which should not simply be rejected out of hand. I say this on the basis of our experience at Native American Language Sevices in our work with tribal education and cultural departments on the preparation of language restoration materials. We have found a tremendous interest on the part of Native American peoples in using CD computer games as a method of teaching their languages, particularly to their younger generations. We are currently working with a number of tribes on precisely this kind of project.

In conjunction with a professional multimedia design firm, we are de- veloping user-friendly CD language courses which do not use English as an intermediary medium and which teach grammar not overtly but through phrase patterns. These "courses" reward the learner with a variety of positive feedback techniques for the succesful completion of various kinds of "exercises". The courses use video scenes filmed in the tribal territory with tribal members as speakers, and take the user on a journey through various aspects of tribal life, each aspect utilizing the vocabulary necessary for that particular life-activity. We find that users -- young, old, and in-between -- are fascinated by the "no pain" game technique used (dare I mention "French Without Tears"?). They are eager to try the CDs, internalize the materials rapidly, and, what is more, use their new information increasingly in everyday life.

If Microsoft can help us do this, my response would be "More power to them (and, not so indirectly, to us in our language stabilization efforts)!"

--Julian Granberry, Language Coordinator
Native American Language Services
Horseshoe Beach, Florida

Laura Graham on Xavante verbal performance

Laura Graham (laura-graham(at) has had her work with expressive genres in Xavante, a language of central Brazil, featured on US National Public Radio's "Pulse of the Planet" program. She discussed and illustrated her work with Xavante songs and ritual speech in five short segments that were broadcast in February. Descriptions of each segment are available on the Web at: To hear audio recordings of the segments go to:
and search for "Xavante".

Polyglot version of Polish poetry by Mickiewicz

From Zbignien Wolkowski (zww(at) 22 Feb 2000:

I am preparing for publication a polyglot compilation of 20 lines of the best known poetry in Polish literature, by Mickiewicz. I have received 70 translations so far. I wish to contact motivated and competent linguists to expand the project into missing languages, and am especially interested in contacting persons willing to help with translations into Native American languages. The only currently present is Quechua. For those unable to work with the original, on line literal translations are available in French and English. You may also wish to visit my website:

Thank you for your help. --Dr. Z. W. Wolkowski, University of Paris, France

A Smorgasbord of British Views on Minority Languages:

focused by the recent debate on/in Gaelic in the Scottish Parliament.

Robert Beard's Web of On-line Grammars

If you would like to reach a broader audience, you might also want to consider letting host your grammar. Our new website, which we hope to launch in a few weeks, will contain an Endangered Language section where we will be collecting contributions for the ELF and posting its notices. We hope to bring corporate tools to the struggle to record languages before they vanish and help as many as can survive.

The new website, which I hope to launch in a few weeks, will contain an Endangered Language section where I will be collecting contributions for the Endangered Language Fund and posting its notices. I hope to bring corporate tools to the struggle to record languages before they vanish, and help as many as can to survive.

Anyone else with grammars or dictionaries--or even poignant stories about endangered languages or squibs on interesting linguistic points, are also invited to contact me about on-line publication.

Robert Beard
Russian & Linguistics Programs
Bucknell University
Lewisburg, PA 17837
Telephone: 570-577-1336 (office)
Telephone: 570-524-9240 (home)

Chetco-Tututni discography

A short discography that lists and annotates all the known recordings in the languages of the Southwest Oregon Athabaskans has been put on-line by Don Macnaughtan of the Lane County Library in Eugene. The ethnic groups include the Tututni, Chetco, Chasta Costa, and Galice-Applegate. Although most of the recordings are unique wax cylinders, acetate discs, or aluminum discs held in archives in Washington DC and Seattle, in many cases the Lane County Library has tape recordings available for tribal members and researchers. This is a special project of the Confederated Tribes of the Lower Rogue as a resource for tribal ceremonies and rituals.