Foundation for Endangered Languages

Home | Manifesto | Membership details | Proceedings | Grant Applications | Newsletter | Links | Bibliography


4. Appeals and News from Endangered Communities

1st Conference on Bilingual-Intercultural Education in the Sumu-Mayangna Languages - indigenous languages and 'Western' linguistics.

The Sumu-Mayangna are one of the three indigenous peoples of Nicaragua's Atlantic Coast (pop. in Nicaragua c. 10,000). There are also smaller populations in Honduras. In Nicaragua, they come low down in an ethnolinguistic hierarchy, dominated not only by the Spanish-speaking Mestizo culture, but also by two of the minority groups, the Afro-Caribbean Creoles and the Miskitu Indians. Nicaragua's 1987 Autonomy Law, passed by the Sandinista government, entitles them to material, territorial and cultural rights which subsequent governments have not honoured. However, they are part of the Programa de Educación Bilingüe-Intercultural (PEBI) initiated in 1985, which runs in the state school system, although not in all communities, with additional technical and financial support from various European NGOs. The change of linguistic status brought about by the Autonomy Law, and specifically by the PEBI, has boosted ethnic pride and stimulated an interesting programme of linguistic revitalization. However, the position of their language in the hierarchy has led to its erosion in important domains, and presents them with complex problems of language development. It has three mutually intelligible varieties: Twahka, Panamahka and Tawahka (the latter spoken in Honduras) and a fourth (Ulwa), which has undergone serious language shift towards Miskitu. Until the Literacy Crusade of 1980, for which Sumu leaders developed a Sumu supplement, the language had no orthography. As a result of this development, and of its use in the autonomy consultation documents, Panamahka is currently the dominant variety, but there is as yet no agreed standard.

This conference was an historic event - the conference devoted to the Sumu-Mayangna language(s) and culture(s). It was held at the end of January this year, at Mina Rosita, the municipality closest to the main Sumu-Mayangna settlements, and the site of one of the sub-campuses of the recently founded Universidad de las Regiones Autónomas de la Costa Caribe de Nicaragua (URACCAN). It was primarily organised by the Sumu-Mayangna themselves, with financial and technical support from URACCAN, as part of its work in researching and promoting Costeño languages and cultures.

The conference was timed to end the January meeting (encuentro) of URACCAN's distance-taught Licenciatura (BA) in bilingual-intercultural education, for teachers and teacher trainers in the PEBI. It was attended by all students on the course, as well as representatives from Sumu-Mayangna communities throughout Nicaragua and from Honduras, representatives of donor organizations supporting the PEBI, and international researchers on the region: Elena Benedicto from Purdue University, USA, and Tom Green, from University of Indiana, USA, both of whom had been contributing to the course, and me from Portsmouth. Ken Hale, of MIT, who has done major work on the Sumu-Mayangna languages, was unfortunately unable to attend due to ill health.

The first morning was devoted to presentations by indigenous researchers, based on their dissertations for the URACCAN Licenciatura and Masters' degrees. This work is collecting invaluable linguistic and cultural information from the communities: there were presentations on the PEBI itself, on women's lives, on culinary and agricultural terms, and on the history of the Twahka. Some of this research was beautifully assembled in book form, thanks to desk-top publishing and IT photographic processes - another excellent demonstration of what ‘appropriate technology’ can mean in indigenous life.

There followed rather more orthodox papers from the international guests. All sessions included workshops on designated themes of the papers, with reports back to plenary discussions. For me, these plenaries were the most interesting part of the discussion, giving invaluable insights into indigenous perceptions of the linguistic task they are undertaking.

My own paper, on “Sociolinguistic perspectives on the revitalization of indigenous languages in interethnic contexts", aimed to complement the 'autonomous' approach to indigenous language description and development of the MIT linguists, by focusing on the sociolinguistic dimensions of status changes and corpus development in historically subordinated languages, especially in regions like this one, where varieties of the five indigenous and Afro-Caribbean languages (Rama, Sumu-Mayangna, Miskitu, Garífuna and Creole) interact with each other and with Spanish in a complex 'ecology', and where language choice and variation are important in identity negotiation.

The feedback from this session, and the development of the conference as a whole, gave me more insights into the issues than any of our papers, interesting though these were. There were, for instance, intriguing and occasionally quite explosive culture clashes between the ‘Symposium’ format on the one hand, and on the other the asamblea which any Sumu-Mayangna assumes to be taking place when delegates from all communities are gathered together. The Symposium format (which followed that of other indigenous languages conferences and was fostered by the University) required the usual disciplined time-keeping and focused discussion of points arising. Asambleas, however, are political affairs; with no fixed agenda, they last as long as is needed for consensus to be reached. The Symposium therefore appeared to many Sumu-Mayangna to be curbing the expression of their views, and thus defeating its own purpose. Finally, with the timetable all awry, the indigenous participants were invited to decide which format should take precedence, whereupon they voted to continue the Symposium, and chaired the remaining sessions with a rigour which only they had the authority to impose.

Correspondingly, plenary reports from the workshop sessions called into question aspects of both the sociolinguistic and the ‘autonomous’ linguistic frameworks presented in the formal papers. From within the ‘symposium’ framework, this at first seemed to stem from 'misunderstandings' of the argument and content of the papers; from within that of the ‘asamblea’, however, they were indications of how our proffered linguistic frameworks were being constructed by people with very different approaches to language, languages, and their interactions. They were, I believe, the first stage of a long process of argument for which the conference format could not afford the time. They demonstrate how important it is to explore these constructions with the indigenous peoples we intend to ‘help’ when we offer them our analytical frameworks; how these are not value-free 'tools', but rooted in alien 'linguistic cultures', and therefore ideologically loaded. Since I have been invited to contribute a Sociolinguistics unit to a future intensive course, possibly in July this year, I hope to be able explore these perceptions further. They also formed the core of a paper I presented to the Sociolinguistics Symposium 2000 held at the Bristol-based University of the West of England, April 26-29.

Jane Freeland
School of Languages and Area Studies
University of Portsmouth
Portsmouth PO1 2DZ, England

An Independent Academic Study on Cornish by Kenneth Mackinnon

1 Historical Trends in the Development of Cornish

The Cornish language was the speech of Cornwall from Dark Age times through to the late Middle Ages. In late medieval it was weakening in eastern Cornwall but its substantial reverses came with the closer incorporation of Cornwall into the Tudor state. At its maximum size the speech community has been estimated at 38,000 (circa 1300), representing 73% of the total population of Cornwall at that time.

During early modern times Cornish initially held its ground as the majority speech of the Cornish people but the further dislocations of the 17th Century (Civil War) and other rebellions destabilised the language considerably. By 1700, the year in which Edward Lhuyd visited Cornwall he reported the language to be in substantial decline and limited only to the western extremities of the County, where it persisted into the last decades of the eighteenth century. This process of decline was considerably hastened by Cornwall’s early industrialisation and the inter-penetration of a previously autonomous speech community by adventitious economic enterprises reinforcing a new language. Economic change from the later eighteenth century brought about a process of emigration, with the opening up of new mines abroad providing a strong pull factor.

Nevertheless, knowledge of Cornish and some extent of speaking ability continued to be transmitted through family networks and individuals. These were the sources whereby scholars in the 19th Century compiled the first dictionaries and learners lessons in the language. A landmark for the language revival was Jenner’s "Handbook".

The beginnings of the revival pre-1914 produced a number of persons able to use the language - especially in writing. The inter-war years witnessed the formation of key institutions for the revival (Gorsedd, the Old Cornwall Societies) and the establishment of classes both in Cornwall and in London.

After the dislocations of the Second World War the language revival made initially slow but steady progress which gathered impetus as new journals were established. At this period the revival continued with Nance’s revision of Jenner’s original Cornish, which came to be called Unified (Unys). The developing needs of the language grew beyond its patronage by the Gorsedd and a Language Board was established in 1967 whose constitution was later reformulated to make it representative of the body of speakers and users.

Disquiet with Nance’s system was being voiced by the early 1980s. This was addressed linguistically by Dr. Ken George with regard to spelling, pronunciation and lexical problems. Also, at this time Richard Gendall was developing his ideas of basing the revived language upon its later vernacular and written forms. These were the seeds of the "tri-partite split" between: Unified Cornish, which was based upon the late mediaeval classic texts; Gendall’s Late/Modern Cornish; and those who adopted Ken George’s version of Common Cornish (Kemynn). The debate over the revival versions was addressed by public meetings and the Language Board adopted Kemynn.

The language controversies appear to have had a stimulating effect upon public awareness of the language and have attracted a new generation of learners. Linguistic research has been greatly stimulated in all three varieties, as has output of language resource publications and general reading material. The bulk of this publication has been in Kemynn, the language community which has produced most language activity and supporting institutions in terms of volume.

2 Mode of Use

Traditionally, historically spoken Cornish extended across the whole range of uses when it was the majority speech of the Cornish people. In late mediaeval times it produced a literature which was chiefly religious drama and verse. Cornwall had significant trading links with Brittany, and Cornish was thus used in the tin trade in commercial and economic life.

The events of the 16th Century resulted in the anglicisation of upper orders of society especially as members of this class were replaced by English speakers and the language became general in Cornwall’s ruling classes. In its last phase when the language was obviously fast retreating, efforts were made to secure its prospects by the production of a written literature in its Late/Modern form. This was developed by a class of professional people.

New industries implied the strengthening of English, but Cornish evidently remained strong amongst fishing communities in western Cornwall which comprised its last body of speakers. There are reports of the language being used at sea into the 19th Century. It continued to be used for specific purposes even into the 20th Century.

In the revival, its early use was chiefly written and from the beginning a conscious effort to produce a quality literature is evident. This has continued to strengthen from the pre-1939 period - as has the resolve to ensure Cornish as a spoken language.

Today, the language is spoken in a wide variety of situations: the conducts of business in Cornish organisations; in cultural events; in a wide variety of social activities when speakers congregate; and most importantly in the homes and families of what is still a small number of cases. A reasonable estimate of the number of speakers able to use the language effectively for everyday purposes is around 300, including about 30 in the London area. There may be, perhaps, 10 families using the language in the home.

Cornish is also used increasingly in public worship and in public ceremonies and ritual, and it has recently begun to be used again in broadcasting media. The arts continue to be an important domain for Cornish-language use. They operate as opportunities for Cornish speakers and learners to come together and use the language either as performers or audiences. As is the case with other Celtic languages, they form an important overall part of the "scene".

Public signage and language display represents a domain of particular importance for the "visibility" of Cornish, with many towns now displaying or incorporating a Cornish welcome in their nameboards. The naming of new streets and public buildings also constitutes a contemporary domain for Cornish language.

3 Availability and Take-Up of Learning and Study of Cornish

At the present time, there are 36 formal classes in Cornish at adult education level, which encompass all three language groups, and it is estimated that over 350 people attend these classes. The majority of these are held in and organised by FE Colleges. Otherwise, they are locally organised by language activists and held in a variety of venues, such as village halls and pubs. Other informal classes and self-help groups were also reported, as well as language events organised by the three language movements. It is therefore estimated that there are approximately 450 people involved in learning activities provided by the three main language groups. There are also classes in London and overseas, as well as a correspondence course organised outside Cornwall.

At school level, Cornish was being taught as early as the pre-1939 period in local authority schools. After the war it featured in a private school at Camborne and subsequently developed in the local authority sector. A GCSE Examination incentivised Cornish at primary and secondary level.

At the time of the study, 12 schools reported the teaching of Cornish (both within and outwith the school day) at primary level and 4 secondary schools reported Cornish as an extra-curricular activity. Although the number of schools reporting the teaching of Cornish at some level has increased in recent years, the cessation of the GSCE scheme (due to the low numbers involved) and the introduction of the National Curriculum and local management of schools is seen by respondents to our research as a set back to further development. For the language to progress within the education system, it needs to be more clearly indicated within the schools curriculum, as the other Celtic languages are within their own systems.

In terms of Cornish language playgroups for pre-school infants, there has not been the sufficient critical mass in any one area to sustain a viable group. However, organisations such as Dalleth and Agan Tavas have developed support materials to help overcome this. Without a developed playgroup stage, the prospects for the wider provision of Cornish in primary schooling may be difficult. However, Cornish as a second language should be a feasible proposition, as has long been the case for the other Celtic languages in their respective countries.

4 A Body of Cornish Literature

Old Cornish is represented solely by a vocabulary and glosses in the Bodmin Gospels. A late mediaeval literature of religious verse, a charter, a mystery play cycle and two other dramas represent this period. Late/Modern Cornish is said to commence with a collection of mid-16th Century homilies. It continued in the subsequent two Centuries with an extension of genres into secular verse, letters, and essays on various subjects including the language itself.

Revived Cornish literature has increasingly developed in quantity and quality. There have been a number of literary publications which have developed the essay, the short story and poetry in Cornish. More recently novels have been produced, along with an increasing amount of children’s publications. In terms of output and publications per head of language users this may constitute a record even higher than Icelandic. The medieval drama has been revived in modern performance.

5 Organisations Which Promote Cornish

There is a wide range of organisations involved in, or connected with the language. Our research has identified a total of over 40 such bodies, which can be broadly categorised as follows:

* Language organisations (for example, Gorseth Kernow; Cornish Language Fellowship; Agan Tavas; and Teer ha Tavaz). These represent the three main forms of the language and all are represented on the Cornish sub-committee of EBLUL.
* Culture organisations (for example, Federation of Old Cornwall Societies; Cornish Eisteddfod; Lowender Peran Folk Festival) and bodies co-ordinating music and dance.
* Political and public life. The majority of local authorities have adopted a policy framework supportive of the language. Political organisations include Mebyon Kernow, COBER and The Celtic League.
* Media. Examples of organisations using media include small film and video enterprises, Celtic Film and Television Festival, local radio stations and the press, including Cornish language periodicals.
* Private sector enterprises. These relate primarily to Cornish language literature activities, with three specialist bookshops setting up throughout Cornwall since 1997, and a small business wholesaling in Cornish language materials.
* Religious life. This is co-ordinated by the Bishops Advisory Group and services are held across a number of denominations.

The first two of these groups of organisations are: in the main, quite longstanding; have cross-membership; and exist on slight or very slight financial resources. Very active inter-Celtic links have been developed by the Gorseth, the Eisteddfod; the Celtic Congress; the Celtic League; and the Cornish Sub-Committee of EBLUL.

6 Funding and Support

It appears that organisations and individuals involved in the promotion and development of the Cornish language have received little in the way of funding over the last 20 years. We have identified third party funding of approximately £50,000. This probably reflects the generally small scale nature of these organisations over this time. However, there has been some funding activity during the 1990s, albeit for relatively small amounts. One of the main sources of funding has been local authorities; while South West Arts has provided the largest single source of funding, supporting Verbal Arts Cornwall entirely with £21,000 annual funding. There have also been a small number of successful applications to the European Commission DG XXII, under the Minority Languages programme.

Whilst there has been a range of cultural funding programmes available through the European Commission during the 1990s, our consultations suggest that Cornish language organisations would have been able to access very little funding over the period, particularly as projects assisted tend to require partnerships between organisations from two or three Member States. Our research indicates that over the last 20 years, Cornish language activity has not really been at the stage of critical mass where it could link up and exchange information with organisations in other Member States. Further, these initiatives generally have relatively small budgets, with the bidding process being very competitive.

In addition, funding programmes delivered under Objective 5b (eg ERDF) and LEADER II during the 1990s generally required assisted projects to demonstrate an economic benefit for the area; it is therefore unlikely that Cornish language organisations would have had successful applications specifically for language-related activities over this period.

The Department of Education and Employment (DfEE) was also consulted as part of the research. It advised of two funds that could potentially be sourced for Cornish language related activities: the Study Support Programme; and the Standards Fund.

The Study Support Programme, which is managed by the DfEE and administered at a local level by the local education authorities, provides funding to schools for various activities. Discussions with the DfEE indicate that the fund could provide a potential source of funding for the learning of the Cornish language out of school hours, as well as associated staffing costs. However, take up of funding is likely to depend on the priorities of local schools and the local education authority.

There are a number of institutional and funding changes currently taking place. For instance, RDAs have recently been established in England; and the Cornwall and Scilly Objective 1 Programme will commence during 2000. Discussions with the South West RDA, whose remit does not include cultural activities, indicate that it would be unlikely that funding would be available to Cornish language organisations for language-related activities.

In addition, a programme has been developed called Culture 2000, which has been designed to replace some of the cultural programmes operated by the European Commission during the 1990s. It will operate from 2000 to 2004, and has a total budget of 167 million ECU over its five years of operation. However, the eligibility for funding from this programme includes partnership activities involving cultural operators from at least three eligible countries, and it may be difficult therefore for Cornish language organisations to secure such funds given the current level of critical mass.

© Kenneth MacKinnon

Alasdair MacCaluim, our Campaigns Manager adds:
In case you are interested in Cornish politics, here is the URL for an online petition for Cornish home rule:

TV Breton: Fest Noz Cathodique
(© La Libre Belgique 11 / 09 / 2000)

Le paysage audiovisuel français compte un nouveau membre : TV BREIZH. Cette télévision régionale, la première du genre, confirme l'attrait d'une région symbole du renouveau celte.


Lancée le 1er septembre dernier à l'initiative de Patrick Le Lay, P.D.G. de TF1, TV Breizh est la première télévision régionale à voir le jour en France. Ce projet, soutenu par tout ce que la France compte de Bretons étoilés (de Patrick Poivre d'Arvor à François Pinault en passant par Olivier de Kersauzon) n'est pas uniquement le résultat d'un caprice de capitaine d'industrie, soucieux d'affirmer haut et fort ses racines.

Derrière le romantisme de l'histoire officielle (le patron de TF1 réaliserait avec TV Breizh la promesse qu'il avait faite à son père de "faire un jour quelque chose pour sa terre natale"), c'est tout un contexte socio-économique qui a rendu possible cette initiative iconoclaste dans un pays où le centralisme reste la loi.

Prenons le terrain économique. On peut être Breton et savoir où sont ses intérêts. Patrick Le Lay a ainsi pris soin de tester l'attachement des Français à sa région avant de se lancer dans l'aventure. Résultats: en plus des 4 millions de Bretons de Bretagne, 12 millions de personnes en France se déclarent "tout à fait Bretons" ou "très attachés à la Bretagne". De quoi donner ses apaisements au président de TF1 sur le potentiel de la première chaîne celte qui arrosera dans un premier temps, via le satellite et le câble, quelque 3 millions de foyers, soit 10 millions de Français. Et puis surtout, Patrick Le lay ne s'est pas embarqué seul. En professionnel éclairé, il s'est entouré d'autres magnats de la presse, certains partageant la même foi celtique (François Pinault ou Rupert Murdoch) d'autres juste une sympathie (Sylvio Berlusconi notamment). Un tour de table solide comme une falaise de Brest, qui lui permet de compter sur un budget annuel de 80 millions de francs français (environ 500 millions de FB). Un matelas pour le moins confortable.


L'autre ingrédient qui devrait assurer le succès de la télévision régionale, c'est l'engouement actuel pour tout ce qui touche à la celtitude. Dans la foulée de groupes comme Manau, le public français a redécouvert les piliers de la musique bretonne que sont Alan Stivell, Denez Prigent ou Dan Ar Braz. Un intérêt qui n'est évidemment pas étranger au besoin croissant des gens de renouer avec leurs racines, ou à défaut, avec celles des autres. La Bretagne constitue à cet égard un réceptacle idéal pour toutes les angoisses identitaires. Elle n'a pas la réputation sulfureuse du pays Basque ou de la Corse, et s'est toujours montrée fière de ses traditions sans pour cela remettre fondamentalement en question le modèle républicain - à quelques exceptions près bien sûr. Preuve que l'attrait de la côte sauvage du Nord-Ouest dépasse le cercle des seuls Armoricains, la diffusion cet été du festival interceltique de Lorient sur TF1 a recueilli 50 pc de parts de marché en France, et 89 pc en Bretagne. La seule inconnue tient sans doute à l'accueil que réserveront les spectateurs au bilinguisme. Une pratique qui a toujours répugné les français. Ils auront toutefois le choix entre deux canaux (l'un français, l'autre en breton) pour l'ensemble des programmes. Ce qui paraissait indispensable dans la mesure où seules 240 000 personnes parlent la langue... Quant au contenu, il devrait faire l'unanimité puisqu'à côté des entretiens politiques et économiques, la chaîne diffusera des programmes musicaux et des films qui ont un rapport plus ou moins lointain avec l'identité celte. U2, James Bonds (Sean Connery oblige) se piqueront ainsi aux embruns de al mer du Nord.

Article signé Laurent Raphaël

Campaign to Site Language Body in West Belfast

The Belfast-based Irish language newspaper Lá has initiated a campaign to ensure that the Northern Ireland headquarters of the new cross-border language body, An Fhoras Teanga, is based in West Belfast.

The Celtic League supports this campaign and all branches of the League will be asked to communicate their support. A petition has been launched by the paper and this will be presented to Irish Minister of State Eamon O Cuiv and his northern counterpart Michael McGimpsey. Individual League members are also being urged to express support by contact Lá at the address below: 301 Bóthar na Ghleanna, Bal Feirste, Fon: 01232 501111, Facs: 01232 501112

An e-mail petition is also under-way and this can be supported by contacting the e-mail editor Eoghan O Neill on

Bernard Moffatt
Secretary General

A translated text of the Lá editorial is set out below. The Irish language version of the front-page opinion can be read at:

"Next week, the cross-border language body, An Foras Teanga, will discuss proposals before it about the location of its new Northern Ireland offices. Let there be no beating about the bush: The Northern offices of the Body should go to West Belfast, that vibrant district where Irish is widely spoken. The Body is already planning to locate its offices in Belfast but a decision should be taken to place the initiative at the heart of the area already known as the Irish language capital of Ireland. The Language Body should be active among that pioneering community which has ensured Irish lives. In that way, the Foras would be at the heart of the language revival and not looking down at it. The Foras has a role to play in the regeneration of the North. Indeed, that is the very basis of the body. If it operates as a part of the Irish language cluster in West Belfast, it will add to the dynamism and energy of the language groups and Irish language community of the area. Imagine the power of an Irish language cluster which would boast the Cross-Border body as well as the head offices of Glor na nGael, Cultrlann McAdam-O Fiaich, Ionad Uibh Eachach and Gaelscoil na bhFl, the new Telecottage, An Telelann, Menscoil Feirste, the Irish language unit of the Queen's University at St Mary's College and much, much more. The location of the Foras in this area would send out the signal to the Irish school parents and to Irish activists that the Body supports the work they are doing and is proud of their efforts. The Foras will also be saying that West Belfast is a great area where the community has kept the language alive despite years of discrimination and neglect. That is a crucial message when so many of the suits at Stormont cling to the old agenda. The rivers and loughs' commmission will go to Derry, the cross-border tourism body to Coleraine, the cross-border enterprise body to Newry and Armagh will host meetings of the Inter-governmental body. It's only sensible then that the Language Body should be based in the area where Irish is strongest.



There are reports that the Body may be located in South Belfast. That would be a shameful blow to the Irish-speaking community of West Belfast. Though the South Belfast 'ghetto' is well known for the fortunes made there during the worst years of the Troubles, it will not go down in history as an area which cherished the Irish language. It must be admitted that 'nice' people live there, people who have little in common with the 'natives' of Ballymurphy or Andersonstown. That's why the area received only buttons from the old Stormont. But times are changing. This is the time for the two putative ministers Michael McGimpsey and Eamon O Cuiv to make a decision, which would give recognition to the long hard struggle of the Irish language community. They should insist that the Northern offices of the Foras go to West Belfast. Let the future begin today"

The Celtic League has branches in the six Celtic Countries of the western British Isles and Brittany. It works to promote cooperation between these countries and campaigns on a broad range of political, cultural and environmental matters. It targets human rights abuse and monitors all military activity within these areas

TEL (UK)01624 627128 MOBILE (UK) 07624 491609 Internet site at
News updates at:

Canadian Indians Could Force Bankruptcy on Anglican Church in Canada
30 May 2000
Edward Alden, Financial Times, Toronto

The Anglican Church of Canada is warning that it faces the possibility of financial failure as a result of the growing number of suits brought by indigenous Canadians, seeking damages for the abuses that they suffered in boarding schools run by the Church.

More than 10,000 Canadian Indians will bring proceedings against the Church and the Federal Government and damages could easily exceed a billion Canadian dollars (US$ 665 million).

The boarding-schools, operated by the Anglican Church of Canada for more than 100 years and abolished at the beginning of the 80s, are considered one of the darkest chapters in the relations between the Europeans and the indigenous inhabitants of Canada.

The schools were originally seen by the Church and by the Government as a benigne medium to "civilize the natives", assimilating them to European culture. But they had a devastating effect on the indigenous peoples.

The Federal Government apologized for its role in the process in 1998, recognizing that the schools prevented the natives from speaking their languages and, in the worst cases, permitting physical and sexual abuses against the pupils.

The apology provoked a wave of legal actions both against the Government, which supported the schools financially, and against the Churches, which ran them in the name of the Government.

Protest on behalf of Funding for Sorbian

The Government of the Federal Republic of Germany is going to cut financial support for the "Foundation for the Sorbian people", an institution by which a substantial part of the cultural activities of the Sorbian minority in Germany is financed.

In response, the GBS (the German Association for Endangered Languages) has sent the following letter to the German Chancellor and a number of other officials involved in the affair:

Dear Sir

The "Gesellschaft für bedrohte Sprachen" ("Association for Endangered Languages") was most perturbed to learn that the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany is planning to cut the financial support for the "Stiftung für das sorbische Volk" ("Foundation for the Sorbian people") in the year 2001 by one million DM, and by a further 500.000 DM in each of the years 2002 and 2003.

Given the financial situation and the economic difficulties of the states of Saxony and Brandenburg it seems rather unlikely that these federal states will be in a position to cover this loss in the budget of the "Stiftung". Thus, the danger is immanent that a substantial part of the cultural and scientific activities by, and on behalf of, the Sorbian people will have to be abandoned due to the lack of funds.

Even though we recognize the present need for thriftiness, we call upon the Federal Government to continue the financial support of the "Stiftung" at its present level. The Sorbian people represent a unique cultural and linguistic minority within the boundaries of the Federal Republic of Germany. The Federal government and the governments of the states of Saxony and Brandenburg have so far acknowledged their special responsibility for this small group of Slavonic people, as is demonstrated by their financial support of the "Stiftung" since German Reunification. Without this support, however, the Sorbian people will be in a situation in which not only their culture but also their language - which has been an endangered language within Germany for a long time - is doomed to die. The ongoing loss of minority languages and the loss of cultural diversity accompanying this loss is one of the severest cultural and intellectual problems of our time. As a society that aims at the preservation and documentation of endangered languages, we appeal to the German government and to the governments of Saxony and Brandenburg to do everything possible to continue the financial support of the "Stiftung für das sorbische Volk" at its present level and thus to safeguard the linguistic and cultural identity of the Sorbian people.

Signed by:
Prof. Dr. Hans-Juergen Sasse (President) Dr. Anke Beck, Dr. Werner Drossard, Prof. Dr. Otto Jastrow, Dagmar Jung Ph.D., Eva Schultz-Berndt, M.A., Prof. Dr. Gunter Senft (managing committee)

Gesellschaft für bedrohte Sprachen
Institut für Sprachwissenschaft, Universität zu Köln, D-50923 Köln, Germany

The Foundation has added its own voice. On 18th June 2000, Chris Moseley, the then Liaison Offcier and Campaigns manager wrote to Edelgard Bulmahn, Minister of Education and Culture with copies to: Dr.Matthias Rossler, Staatsminister, Sachsisches Staatsministerium fur Kultus and Dr.Wolfgang Hackel, Minister fur Wissenschaft, Forschung und Kultur des Landes Brandenburg.

German School Atlases will Carry Sorbian Placenames
Maximilian Hartmuth, of Vienna reports

The council of the German regional culture ministers (Kulturministerkonferenz der Länder) agreed on Tuesday 1/7/2000 that the atlases used in German schools will list Sorbian names (in addition) for places in Germany inhabited by this indigenous Slavic minority. The aim of this innovation is "to make pupils in other parts of Germany aware of the existence of the Sorbian minority". The Sorbs are a west-Slavic minority in eastern Germany. About 4,000 Sorbs live in Saxony and some 20,000 live in Lower-Lusatia (Brandenburg).

The proposal was originally made by the former chairman of the "Domowina-Bund Lausitzer Sorben" (founded 1912), Jakob Brankatschk.

The Last of the Tofalar: a People's Identity Lost to Soviet Rule
By Michael Slackman (
syndicated from Newsday, July 23, 2000 —brought to our attention by Robert Chandler

Tofalar is also known as Karagas, Kamass or Sayan Samoyed, and had 600 speakers in the 1959 census, according to SIL Ethnologue (1994). - Editor

Nerkha, Russia — Luba Shibkeyeva quickly wrapped a scarf around her head, threw on a blue dress decorated with fake white fur, plastic beads and medals cut from a tin can and bolted out the door, barefoot through the mud and manure.

She met her older sister, Zena, wearing a similar costume as she bent over, winded and wheezing by the dash from her house hundreds of yards away.

"We want to dance," Luba Shibkeyeva hollered as she struggled to keep her footing. "Can we dance? Please, we want to dance!" The sisters had heard a visitor had arrived in their village deep in the Siberian taiga and they were eager to perform a native dance, one their ancestors might have performed to welcome guests hundreds of years ago. They were joined by two other women in similar attire and the quartet stood in the muddy grass, arms at their sides, staring at each other. Finally, a man arrived with a handmade drum, and began pounding, bang, bang, bang, constant and monotonous.

The women started to twirl and shuffle, and for a brief moment their radiant smiles lit up their faces. Then one woman bumped into Luba, before wandering off in the wrong direction. Zena's hands went up over her head, while everyone else's stayed by their sides. One woman went left, another went right and soon the group looked like a wind-up toy with a broken spring. They were out of step, out of sync, out of sorts.

Embarrassed, Luba finally stopped and tried to explain.

"You see, we are Russified, we do not even know our own language," she said. "We want to sing traditional songs, but we don't even know how. Our clothes," she paused, looking at the filthy costumes, "we cannot find the embroidery so we use plastic beads." Then in a non sequitur that served to underscore their dual loss, to their material as well as their inner lives, Luba leaned forward and said: "We want to know, can you send a dentist? I am only 42 but my teeth are already gone.

Doctors don't come here. I have not seen a doctor in 10 years. The children are not checked. We just stay here and we die." For thousands of years, a people called the Tofalar roamed this region in southern Siberia, living a nomadic life, hunting elk, trapping sable, herding reindeer. Legend has it that thousands of Tofalar fought in the armies of Mongol warlord Genghis Khan before falling out of favor and taking refuge in the isolated Siberian Sayan Mountains until 1927 when Josef Stalin forced them into crude, makeshift villages.

Today, there is virtually nothing left of their heritage, or the people, nothing but a few hundred souls like Luba and Zena, genetically linked to the past, but in all other ways blind to what was. They exist in a twilight zone of uncertainty, literally on the edge of extinction, their desperate lives the by-product of one of the boldest and ultimately treacherous experiments in modern history -the effort of the Soviet Union to wipe away the cultural identity of hundreds of millions of people and replace it with a new, modern, Soviet identity.

With the Soviet Union relegated to the pages of history, and the Tofalar's cultural practices found nowhere but on a library shelf, they have no means to support themselves. They receive little aid from the impoverished state; their collectives were shuttered long ago and, even if they knew how to extract a living from the wild, their access to ancestral lands is limited by state law.

The only commodity they receive in abundance is cheap vodka.

As a result, their life expectancy is 47 years-at least 13 years less than the already low average for Russian men-their monthly income is $4, about one-tenth of that of the rest of the local region and their homes, ramshackle huts built of timbers and planks 73 years ago, which hardly offer protection from the unforgiving Siberian winters. Further, no one under the age of 40 speaks the native language, a guarantee of the speedy demise of what is regarded as the bedrock of every nationality.

"The Tofalar are doomed to extinction," was the bleak assessment of the Irkutsk Charity Foundation for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms in a recent report. "The internal system of the national community has lost any tradition of self-regulation. From the social memory of this national minority any experience of administrative rule is completely wiped out." The failure of the Soviet attempt at remaking its people was one of the fundamental weaknesses of the once powerful empire, ultimately leading to resurgent nationalism and cries for independence within many of its constituent ethnic parts. But where the Soviets failed in larger regions, like Ukraine and Georgia, the Baltics and Central Asia, they proved more successful in Siberia.

For many years, the Tofalar were taught that their ancestral lifestyle was primitive and that, thanks to the Soviet Union, they would leap across 1,000 years of development into civilization. They were given schools, and health care and jobs and the chance to travel. While the truth was far murkier, with many Tofalar unable to make the cultural adjustment, virtually all members of the community deferentially cast aside their heritage in order to be accepted as "Soviet" at least in name. When Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev spoke of perestroika, and with that the right of ethnic people to once again pursue their ancestral ways, the Tofalar did not hear words of emancipation.

They heard words of doom.

"In Soviet times we didn't think of ourselves as Tofalar — it just didn't come to mind," said Prokopiy Ungushtaev, 62, who studied agriculture and traveled all over the Soviet Union to work. "We lived as everybody else. Now they [the authorities] tell us we should learn more about our culture but it is difficult. No one remembers. The old generation has died and all of our culture was lost. It went with them." The Tofalar are among at least 30 so-called "small nations," totalling about 200,000 people, whose culture and existence were nearly wiped out by the Soviets. Some of those groups, such as the Evenks in northeastern Siberia, have economically miserable lives but do not face imminent extinction. The government says, however, at least 10 Siberian groups face the same peril as the Tofalar and perhaps sooner.

Pavel Sulyandziga, deputy president of the Russian Association of the Indigenous Peoples of the North, a Moscow-based advocacy group, said the situation facing the Tofalar is dire, but not unique. "In fact," he said, "what is happening to the Tofalar is happening to all our people." Newsday recently visited two of the three Tofalar villages in the Sayan Mountains, the first trip ever made there by a Western journalist, according to local officials. There is only one way to get to the region informally known as Tofalari; a six-hour flight from Moscow to the regional capital of Irkutsk, then 12 hours by train to the Siberian city of Nizhnyudinsk. From there, a 20-year-old biplane or a rickety helicopter is on stand-by for the hourlong flight. During Soviet times, this plane made daily trips, dropping off food and other essentials. But today, the state has little money to cover the cost of the flight, which can be as much as $2,000, so the plane travels at most once a week. When it does bring in goods, the added cost of transportation pushes the price up beyond the ability of most people to pay. Food prices, for example, are 10 times higher in Tofalari than in the closest neighboring city.

In the winter, the Tofalari villages can be reached by driving along frozen rivers but in the summer this relic of an aircraft is the only link that the approximately 1,000 people have to the outside world. Maybe one in five is Tofalar, the rest the result of mixed Russian-Tofalar marriages. When the plane lifts off the runway it makes a loud clank, as though something fell off.

Within an hour, the mountains part, exposing a valley, its sharp stone cliffs and jutting hills walling off the village below. Tall, slender cedar trees soften the landscape.

This is Alygdzher, the nominal capital of the region, a hostile place selected by Soviet engineers only because it was possible to land a plane here.

The runway is a marshy grass field. From above, the village is like a camping site in the Adirondacks. Small wood structures dot green fields, curls of black smoke rise from the chimneys.

But on the ground, the roads, or paths, are rutted and flooded. The houses collapsing. It is impossible even to purchase glass here, so most windows are boarded over. Rusted and abandoned machinery is tossed here and there. Children wander around, their faces smudged with dirt, their clothing mismatched and threadbare, their feet often bare or covered in rubber slippers. Adults wander aimlessly, many appearing drunk, hungover, ill. The whole place has an otherworldly feel.

A man in thin black socks, his words thick and his balance wobbly, wanders through the mud and rain, approaching everyone in the road. "Smoke, smoke," he says over and over, his fingers motioning toward his mouth. "Smoke, smoke," he said, wandering off in the mud and rain.

Yuri Antsiferov, 61, was born and raised in this village, and returned after 20 years as an officer in the Soviet army. He is Russian and he serves as the local administrator. He explains how during Soviet times, the government tried to turn the Tofalar traditional practice of herding reindeer into a communist-style enterprise. They created a cooperative, paid the shepherds a salary, and produced a herd of about 1,000 reindeer. Meat and skins were sold all over the country. But when the Soviet Union dissolved, so did the cooperative. Today there are only 250 reindeer in the herd and the few people tending it have not been paid in years. Nothing has taken its place.

Fifty-year-old Anatoly Adamov lives in a filthy shack with his two elderly aunts. They sit on a thin mattress black with dirt. A bare bulb hangs from the ceiling and stale pieces of bread litter the small table. He has not had a job in 10 years and survives mostly on humanitarian aid and the few squirrels he shoots.

"I am unemployed now," he said. "I was a shepherd looking after the calves 10 years ago. There is no other work here." Up the road, Sergei Amastaeev, 53, lives in a similarly rundown shack with his wife and two children. He is one of the few people here who still works with the reindeer. In the winter months, he straps a saddle on one of the four he keeps tied to a post and rides it into the forest, where he hunts and tries to guard the herds. He has not received any salary for four years, and only survives by bartering furs he catches with the few traders who make the winter journey along frozen rivers to the region.

"Our life is like this," Amastaeev said, his 10-year-old daughter Katya by his side. "What else can I do? What would I do without the deer? To live without deer would be to live without legs." With his focus on basic survival, Amastaeev does not have the time, or inclination, to worry that his children don't speak the native language, which has some Turkic roots, or that he doesn't know traditional customs. And even if he cared, his 18-year-old son, Dmitry does not.

"We don't want to speak Tofalar," Dmitry said, "Only Russian. Everyone speaks Russian." Pavel Unguchtaev is Dmitry's grandfather. He lives on the other end of the village in a shack barren, but for a metal bed, crusty blanket and stove built into the wall. He sat on a stool hunched in the corner of his shack, his forehead resting in his hands, a wood fire crackling in the stove a few inches away.

"We had a good life in the former Union," the 80-year-old lamented, as he gently rocked on his elbows, his soot-stained sleeves draped over frail arms.

"They gave us everything. Taught us how to live. Brought us electricity. Food supplies were good. We liked the former Union. They gave us everything." He slowly lifted his chin, exposing narrow, sunken cheeks, lips that folded over empty gums and a right eyelid that jumped and flickered on its own. But as much as he mourns the loss of his Soviet life, he is upset over the price he too willingly paid to achieve that life. He is troubled that his grandchildren do not-and will not-bother learning their native tongue.

"We abandoned our language," he said, a distinct bitterness hanging on the end of each word. "We had our own traditions. None of it is anymore. No union.

No traditions." Antsiferov, the administrator, is sympathetic to the plight of the Tofalar.

His wife, Natalia, a lifelong resident of the village, has set up a small "ethnographic center" where she hopes the few remaining seniors will teach what they do know of the culture to the children-though she concedes mostly they make native-looking crafts, costumes, bowls, decorations, that have no solid connection to the Tofalar.

But despite their sympathy, Antsiferov and his wife are frustrated by what they say is the population's affinity for alcohol, a thirst that is so strong they say people will trade away what little they have-even food and clothing-for vodka.

"The main reason for their bad lives is themselves," he said. "They get all this aid, warm blankets, clothing, and I see none of it anywhere. They used it all to buy vodka. I work hard to get them to bring the aid. Then in a week it is all gone. Traded for vodka." Just 10 minutes away by air is another village, Nerkha, where vodka is a big problem as well. Unlike Alygdzher, though, Nerkha does not even appear picturesque from the sky. It is a jumble of sheds, strewn along either side of a mud- and dung-covered path. Animals wander aimlessly. Children and adults walk around barefoot in the filth. There are 230 residents of the village, half are Russian and an estimated 10 percent Tofalar by both parents, the rest the product of mixed marriages. In the winter, the children are shipped out to boarding school in the nearby city of Nizhnyudinsk. In the summer, there is nothing for anyone to do here. Nothing but drink.

"People only spend money on salt, sugar, cereals and the rest goes to vodka," said Prokopiy Ungushtaev, a Tofalar and lifelong resident of the village. "That's why Tofalar life is miserable here." In government offices in Irkutsk and Moscow, officials say they are all too aware of the problems with aboriginal people of the north, including the Tofalar. But those in charge have never even visited the region. They also admit that given the dire needs of the Russian population at large, and the nation's poor economic status, there is little likelihood they will be able to stave off the Tofalar slide into extinction. The only hope, they said, is to require firms interested in mining the natural resources in Tofalari, which include gold, to turn over some profit to the local community-though so far that has not worked.

President Vladimir Putin has demonstrated the low priority he attends to the problem, officials said, when as one of his first acts in office he dissolved the Committee on the Affairs of the North, the organization responsible for dealing with these issues. More than three months later, officials are still unsure who will assume the committee's responsibilities The only chance the Tofalar or other endangered people have of longevity is in an encyclopedia of indigenous people being put together by the Ministry of Nationalities, more than 2,000 miles from Moscow.

"It will be quite dramatic if they disappear; each of these minorities over thousands of years have developed a unique cultural voice," said Lidija Nimajeva, an official with the Ministry of Nationalities. "These problems of these people, their history, their culture will not just disappear. At least they will be registered in a book."

New Kyrghyz-Uzbek media launched in Osh, Kyrghyzstan

"Alliance-Press" is the name of a newly founded press agency that started its work in Osh last month. According to its director Makhmudjon Kazakbaev and his deputy Alisher Toksonbaev, the news agency was registered in the Ministry of Justice of Kyrghyz Republic in July and is going to work closely with already exisiting press institutions.

The agency will publish two national newspapers: "Demos Times" in Uzbek language and "Jash Muun" ("New Generation") in Kyrghyz language. The first issue of the newspapers (1,000 copies each) is expected to appear on 11 August and is going to be distributed in all provinces of Kyrghyzstan.

The agency and the newspapers, which will receive initial financial aid from a non-proft organization based in the U.K, are believed to become self-sustainable in one year. Nickolas Megoran, a technical adviser for the agency, believes that such an intiative can bring Kyrghyz and Uzbek journalists to work productively together, to share information, experience, and to serve as examples for the integration of their communities.

Konstantin Khaitbaev, an ethnic Russian from Osh, believes the news agency is not only a start for developing dialogue between a numerous number of ethnic groups inhabiting Kyrghyzstan, but it is also an example to be followed by journalists of neighbouring republics of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Nearly all those surveyed shared the belief that the this initiative can play a significant role for the future development of the press in southern Kyrghyzstan and country in general.

In a separate development, a private Information and Commercial Center DDD (abbr. Dostuk-Druzhba-Dustlik; "Friendship" -translation from Kyrghyz, Russian and Uzbek) launched its radio broadcasting on 576 short-wave frequency on 1 August.

According to the director of the centre, Mamirjan Shakirov, "DDD" pursues a goal of promoting a dialogue between different ethnic groups living in Kyrghyzstan in order to foster solutions for existing problems. The new radio broadcasting of "DDD" is in Uzbek and in Russian, and it was possible due to assistence rendered by the Russian TV and Radio broadcasting Company "Sodruzhestvo."

The Information and Commecial Center "DDD" has also a TV programming on UHF - ultra high frequency (mainly in Uzbek language) that covers the town of Osh and neighbouring area. Apart from Radio and TV broadcasting, the center publishes a weekly newpaper titled "DDD" with a circulation reaching 1,500 copies. v For more information, contact:
Alisher Khamidov, Director, Osh Media Resource Center
tel/fax: (996) 3222 208-58

OFTEL Publishes Consultation Document on Welsh Language Scheme
4 August 2000

OFTEL, the body regulating telecommunications in the UK, has today set out its proposals to enable consumers in Wales to have access in Welsh to OFTEL's and the Welsh Advisory Committee on Telecommunications' consumer publications and general consumer services.

OFTEL's proposals are contained in the consultation document'OFTEL's Welsh Language Scheme' published today.

Proposed measures to meet the needs of Welsh language speakers include:

· improved arrangements for responding to phone calls and correspondence in Welsh;
· information leaflets published by OFTEL to be made available in Welsh and English;

· a commitment to provide translation arrangements, if requested, whenever public meetings in Wales are hosted by OFTEL or the Welsh Advisory Committee for Telecommunications.

The document can be found in both Welsh and English on OFTEL's web site at More information about WACT, the Welsh Advisory Committee on Telecommunications can be found at

Adding Extinction to Extortion: Eircom withdraws Irish language service
Dublin 13/9/00, by Alex Hijmans (c/o Eurolang News Service)

Irish language activists today demonstrated at the annual shareholders' meeting of Ireland's main telecommunications company, Eircom, in Dublin.

The protest was called in response to Eircom's decision to cease issuing Irish language versions of bills to customers.

While the demonstation, organised by two Irish language groups, Conradh na Gaeilge and Gael-Taca went on outside, some fifty Irish-speaking shareholders voiced their anger about the disappearance of the Irish language billing service at the meeting itself.

When Ireland's main telecommunications company, Telecom Éireann, was privatised and changed its name to Eircom last year, Irish language billing was discontinued. Irish-speakers now receive their bills in English, with just a few lines of Irish, which Irish language organisations have described as 'purely ornamental'.

Seán Mac Mathúna, Chief Executive of Conradh na Gaeilge, Ireland's largest Irish language organisation, is outraged at Eircom's discontinuation of its Irish language service.

'We will be demonstrating outside the Eircom shareholders' meeting because they plainly refuse to continue even a rudimentary Irish language service. Eircom says they can't afford to provide the service: it would probably only cost them a couple of thousand pounds to change their software, but meanwhile they are paying out large sums to shareholders,' Mac Mathúna told Eurolang.

The demonstrators will carry placards featuring enlarged bills of British Telecom, in Welsh. 'If British Telecom can provide Welsh bills, surely Eircom can provide Irish ones,' Mac Mathúna said.

Eircom claims providing Irish language bills under the new billing system would be too costly. 'Eircom is unable to continue providing a complete Irish language version of phone bills, due to the fact that the appropriate investment in software would be cost prohibitive, given the number of customers who request this service,' Pauline Madigan of Eircom told Eurolang.

'The Irish language customer base represents 0.14% of our total number of customers. Re-formatting the Irish bill and maintaining this service would have required support levels almost equal to that required to support the remaining 99.86% who receive the English bill version,' Pauline Madigan said.

Seán Mac Mathúna from Conradh na Gaeilge believes that the demonstration will have an effect. 'If Eircom doesn't want to provide Irish language billing I am sure that one of their competitors, NTL or Esat, will. They could gain a couple of thousand Eircom customers,' Mac Mathna said. (EL)