Foundation for Endangered Languages
2. Development of the Foundation
The Foundation’s Grants in 1999-2000
As in previous years, in 1999 the Foundation attracted applications for its research grants for a huge range of projects all over the world. The Committee had a hard choice to make, sifting through a large number of applications that were mostly of a very high standard, both academically and in terms of the urgency of the endangerment situation. Because of the very limited funds at our disposal (made up of our members’ subscriptions and donations) we had to be ruthless and narrow the choice down to just a few; the ultimate criteria were the degree of benefit to the speech communities and the judicious use of the Foundation’s resources. We had to disappoint more applicants than we would have liked to, and even to disppoint some of the applicants who were granted funds, because we could not grant them in full measure. The following four applicants were awarded grants:
Bruna Franchetto, of the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for compiling a bilingual Portuguese-Upper Xingu Karib dictionary with the aim of preserving and revitalizing the Upper Xingu-Karib language, part of a documentation project and of a training project for indigenous teachers. Ms.Franchetto has been working with Upper Xingu Karib speakers since 1976.
Dr.Elisabeth Gfeller, a bilingual education specialist who is preparing teaching materials for six adjacent and related languages of southern Ethiopia; Dr.Gfeller has worked for several years with the Summer Institute of Linguistics in Ethiopia, documenting indigenous languages. Part of her project is to develop urgently needed language teaching materials.
António Díaz Fernández, who is conducting fieldwork about the last speakers of Tehuelche (own name Aonik’o La’yin) of Santa Cruz province, Argentina. The language is extremely endangered, with only about ten elderly speakers remaining; the applicant plans to prepare teaching materials for passing on the language.
Prof. Nguyen Van Loi, of the Institute of Linguistics of Vietnam, for fieldwork on the phonetic structure, grammar and sociolinguistic aspects of the Khang language of northwest Vietnam. Little research has been done previously on this language, which retains only some four hundred speakers.
From our selection it can be seen that we place high value both on documentation and preparation of teaching materials. Our committee felt that all these projects deserved support because they offered wise use of resources by experienced specialists to try to ensure the preservation and maintenance of highly endangered languages. We are now inviting applications for the next round of grants, due to be apportioned in October 2000.
President’s Report on 1999-2000
The aims of the foundation are conveniently stated at the end of our Manifesto. There are six of them:
(i) To raise awareness of endangered languages, both inside and outside the communities where they are spoken, through all channels and media;
Now is the time of year when we review our joint success pursuing these aims over the last year. And I think that these headings provide a good way of organizing our memories.
Looking first at Raising Awareness, the most effective media here are the broadcast media, mostly radio and television, though increasingly we can reach a large public on the Internet. In the long run, it may be that newspaper and magazine articles — and especially books — will be the most effective, since they remain a source of ideas for journalists.
Members of the Committee have taken part in national radio interviews, starting with Eoghan McKendry on the Irish Raidio na Life at the last conference, which was taken up in an Irish Times article “Republic Policy can Aid Irish in the North” the following day. I myself was approached to take part in Words with Melvyn Bragg (a major serious Arts and Culture presenter in the UK media): the interview, which also featured Jane Freeland on literacy actions in Nicaragua, graced British Airways’ in-flight entertainment across the Atlantic in February, and was mostly about the cultural implications of language loss.
This subsequently led to an article in the UK Lads’ magazine FHM (March 2000), urging its readers to learn some language more interesting and impressive than French — such as U’wa, Dyirbal, Belhare or Cornish. And this then led on to an interview on the BBC’s Scottish breakfast time radio (2 February), where I did my best to pass on the rudiments of conversation skills in Warlpiri. And just two days ago, the Treasurer and the President were together, discussing what can be done to help losing languages, on BBC Radio 4’s Four Corners.
Attempts at a TV series have still eluded us, though we have collaborated with an enthusiastic TV producer, Jane Gabriel, to put together an outline for a series on what is being done, by individuals here and there all over the world, for languages in danger. Most recently, we have been in touch with the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who are putting together (with David Crystal) a series on English, which will give an opportunity for contrasts with the languages in a less triumphal position, especially (it seems) in North America.
Other members of the Foundation are also very much doing their bit. Our first Secretary, Daniel Nettle, has teamed up with Suzanne Romaine to write Vanishing Voices, a penetrating analysis of the endangered language situation, which ties it in with the need worldwide to empower small communities in everybody’s best interest. And this came out in the same month (June 2000) as David Crystal’s Language Death, which makes striking use of many stories that had previously appeared in our newsletter Ogmios. David has kindly put the Foundation in line to receive royalties from this book.
FEL’s work to Support the Use of endangered languages is still concentrated in very few hands. Notable for his efforts here has been Alasdair McCaluim, with his tireless efforts to intervene in policies which affect Scots Gaelic. He has written dozens of letters to support the right to Gaelic medium nursery and primary education, and to promote Gaelic in railway stations and national parks. In the event, Gaelic is now mentioned in the Scottish Education Bill as an education priority, although an amendment to enshrine the right to Gaelic medium nursery and primary education subject to reasonable demand in the bill was not passed.
As for Monitoring Policies and Practices towards smaller languages, our main effort has concerned the U’wa people of eastern Colombia, still locked in a potentially mortal struggle with the Occidental Petroleum Corporation of Southern California. This particular struggle is focused more on a people’s right to continue in peace, than with the right to speak their language, and has been taken up in some high places, not a million miles away from the Democratic candidate for President of the USA. FEL did its bit by inviting the U’wa spokesman Berito KubarUwa to visit the UK during his tour of Europe, and co-ordinating his visits (e.g. to the Foreign Office and various NGOs) and interpreting for him while he was with us.
Supporting Documentation tends to be the main focus of FEL grants, which are awarded towards the end of the calendar year. This year we funded 4 awards, with a combined value of £870 (US$ 1,300). There were 28 proposals in all, of which 21 had met all the criteria to be considered for funding.
The four successful applications, by Elisabeth Gfeller, Bruna Franchetto, Antonio Diaz-Fernando and Nguyen Van Loi are briefly summarized in Chris Mosely’s preceding article.
As for the tasks of Collecting and Disseminating Useful Information, our main contributions here have been made by our publications, Ogmios the newsletter, and the Proceedings volumes of our conferences. Since 17 March 2000, FEL has been a bona fide publisher, with a registered series of ISBN for its Proceedings volumes, and also an ISSN for Ogmios.
The Proceedings Volumes for FEL II (Edinburgh 1998: EL — What Role for the Specialist?) and FEL III (Maynooth 1999: EL and Education) continue to sell steadily, with orders coming in worldwide. It remains to be seen if the much slicker look of the FEL IV volume (Charleston 2000: EL and Literacy) leads to a sales breakthrough.
Since August 1999 there have been three issues of Ogmios, each with its own smørgåsbord of news about Endangered Languages, and a new one is due out as this report is going to press. Ogmios also carries original articles of substance, most recently one by Margaret Florey and Aone van Engelenhoven on the task of documenting Moluccan languages in the Netherlands (in #14 — Spring 2000).
Our web site is also now under serious management, for the first time for many years. Through the enlightened policy of Tony McEnery (head of the department of Linguistics and Modern English Language at Lancaster University), Paul Baker can now work seriously as our web master, and the new professional approach shows through. Do have a look at www.ogmios.org, a new and easier address to remember: this too we owe to the generosity of Lancaster LAMEL.
So much for the past. I should finish with some thoughts about where I believe we should be tending in the coming year and years.
It is clear that the cause of Endangered Languages is becoming ever more present in the world’s conscious, and perhaps the world’s conscience. In the past four months there have been articles in Whole Earth, British Airways High Life, New Scientist and Newsweek, all regretful and elegiac in tone, though usually emphasizing language support activities: all over the world so many quiet struggles to honour and develop the speech and thought of ancestors. In Europe, almost every state has signed the Charter for Regional and Minority Languages, and 2001 has been declared the European Year of Languages.
The Foundation is still a small organization, with no more than 300 members worldwide. It needs to paddle as hard as it can to ride the waves powered by this tide as it gradually rises. We are certainly open to everyone, and have members active in every continent: but we have yet to achieve a membership pattern that looks like the world we should like to serve. A third of us are British; a quarter North American; over a half are European, and two thirds of us live in countries where English is the dominant language.
I think, therefore, that we need to aim in the coming year to widen the participation of friends abroad: possibly this can be done by members actively encouraging their own far-flung friends to join us. Most likely, we need to devise new membership categories, and new means of funding to bring people on board. But anyway, please share your copy of Ogmios with others, and encourage your own institutions to subscribe.
At the same time, the struggle for publicity will go on, to bring these issues before our own monolingual publics largely in the English-speaking world. We shall go on angling for those TV slots, and agitating against injustice to little-heard languages and the small groups who speak them. It will help if people of good will everywhere come to regret their monolingualism, and see what a crass waste it is when people gain command of a majority language only to lose touch with their own.
Please let us know what you think we can do to spread the word. But even more, let us know what you are doing yourselves, so we can tell of it to inspire others.
In other words, in your love of your languages, be like Adam and Eve: be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.
A New Committee
For those of you who were not at Charleston, the new committee looks as follows:
Treasurer Blair Rudes BARudes@aol.com
Secretary Nigel Birch Nigel.H.Birch@epsrc.ac.uk
Membership / Grants Secretary Chris-topher Moseley Chris_Moseley@mon.bbc.co.uk
Campaign Secretary Alasdair Mac-Caluim firstname.lastname@example.org
Ogmios Editor (as of the next issue) Karen Johnson-Weiner email@example.com
to be assigned Mahendra Verma firstname.lastname@example.org
to be assigned Louanna Furbee email@example.com
to be assigned Karl Teeter firstname.lastname@example.org
to be assigned Eugene McKendry email@example.com
Webmaster Paul Baker firstname.lastname@example.org
Publications Manager Patricia A. Shaw email@example.com
to be assigned Davyth Hicks firstname.lastname@example.org.