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5. Allied Societies and Activities

The Asmara Declaration on African Languages and Literatures (Jan. 2000)

We writers and scholars from all regions of Africa gathered in Asmara, Eritrea from January 11 to 17, 2000 at the conference titled Against All Odds: African Languages and Literatures into the 21st Century. This is the first conference on African languages and literatures ever to be held on African soil, with participants from East, West, North, Southern Africa and from the diaspora and by writers and scholars from around the world. We examined the state of African languages in literature, scholarship, publishing, education and administration in Africa and throughout the world. We celebrated the vitality of African languages and literatures and affirmed their potential. We noted with pride that despite all the odds against them, African languages as vehicles of communication and knowledge survive and have a written continuity of thousands of years. Colonialism and neocolonialism created some of the most serious obstacles against African languages and literatures. We noted with concern the fact that these obstacles still haunt Africa and continue to block the mind of the continent. We identified a profound incongruity in colonial languages speaking for the continent. At the start of a new century and millennium, Africa must firmly reject this incongruity and affirm a new beginning by returning to its languages and heritage. Therefore, the question of culture, literatures and languages cannot be separated from the economic problems of African countries created by colonial and neocolonial forces and their local allies. Decolonization of the African mind should go hand in hand with decolonization of the economy and politics.

At this historic conference, we writers and scholars from all regions of Africa gathered in Asmara, Eritrea declare that:

1 African languages must take on the duty, the responsibility and the challenge of speaking for the continent.

2 The vitality and equality of African languages must be recognized as a basis for the future empowerment of African peoples.

3 The diversity of African languages reflects the rich cultural heritage of Africa and must be used as an instrument of African unity.

4 Dialogue among African languages is essential: African languages must use the instrument of translation to advance communication among all people, including the disabled.

5 All African children have the unalienable right to attend school and learn in their mother tongues. Every effort should be made to develop African languages at all levels of education.

6 Promoting research on African languages is vital for their development, while the advancement of African research and documentation will be best served by the use of African languages.

7 The effective and rapid development of science and technology in Africa depends on the use of African languages and modern technology must be used for the development of African languages.

8 Democracy is essential for the equal development of African languages and African languages are vital for the development of democracy based on equality and social justice.

9 African languages like all languages contain gender bias. The role of African languages in development must overcome this gender bias and achieve gender equality.

10 African languages are essential for the decolonization of African minds and for the African Renaissance.

The initiative which has materialized in the Against All Odds conference must be continued through biennial conferences in different parts of Africa. In order to organize future conferences in different parts of Africa, create a forum of dialogue and cooperation and advance the principles of this declaration, a permanent Secretariat will be established, which will be initially based in Asmara, Eritrea.

Translated into as many African languages as possible and based on these principles, the Asmara Declaration is affirmed by all participants in Against All Odds. We call upon all African states, the OAU, the UN and all international organizations that serve Africa to join this effort of recognition and support for African languages, with this declaration as a basis for new policies.

While we acknowledge with pride the retention of African languages in some parts of Africa and the diaspora and the role of African languages in the formation of new languages, we urge all people in Africa and the diaspora to join in the spirit of this declaration and become part of the efforts to realize its goals.

Asmara, 17th of January 2000

European Centre for Minority Issues (ECMI) - Evaluating Policy Measures for Minority Languages in Europe
Towards effective, cost-effective and democratic implementation. Flensburg, 22-25 June 2000

As part of a project initiated in December 1999 with support from the European Commission (DG X), the ECMI organised a conference on 22-25 June 2000 on the implementation of minority language policies. The conference was attended by some 40 persons, including representatives of major international organisations and NGOs, representatives from member states of the Council of Europe, and scholars (see list of participants).

The conference was organised in close co-operation with the Council of Europe and the European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages.

Whereas many of the conferences organised on such topics emphasise issues of language rights in a legal perspective, legal aspects were not central to this conference, which focused instead on principles of "good policy". The emphasis was placed instead on the policy measures to be adopted in favour of regional or minority languages, with particular reference to the Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. The Charter itself is an instrument which focuses not on minority rights, but on minority languages, and emphasises the catalogue of policy measures that can be adopted by parties to the Charter.

However, because of the extreme diversity of cases and situations, the programme of the conference looked not at the specific measures adopted by some states, but stressed the issue of how states can ensure that the measures adopted meet three criteria, which are relevant across cases and situations. These three criteria are effectiveness, cost-effectiveness and democracy, and they are discussed, in relation to minority language policies, in the background paper prepared for the conference. This approach also builds on earlier work published by the ECMI (Monograph No. 2, November 1999).

At the end of the conference, a set of recommendations was adopted. These recommendations, reflecting the results of discussions during the conference, are intended as a means to draw attention to relevant principles in the selection, design, implementation and evaluation of policies in favour of regional or minority languages, as well as an instrument assisting authorities in implementing the Charter, with a view to helping states that have not yet ratified (or signed) the Charter to assess the practical implications of doing so, and to offering assistance to other organisations, particularly NGOs, involved in minority language policies.


With the active help of the participants at the International Conference on Evaluating Policy Meas‹ures for Minority Languages in Europe: Towards Effective, Cost-Effective and Democratic Implementation, convened on 22 to 25 June by the European Centre for Minority Issues (ECMI) in Flensburg, Germany, the ECMI has formulated the following Recommendations. These Recommendations are based on the firm conviction:

(a) that regional or minority languages constitute a crucial element of Europe’s linguistic and cultural heritage;

(b) that linguistic and cultural diversity is valuable resources contributing to the overall quality of life of all residents in Europe, and must therefore be recognised as a contribution to general welfare;

(c) that the maintenance and revitalisation of regional or minority languages, al‹lowing for their vitality in the long term, represents a core element of the identity of individual speakers of these languages, and as such represents a relevant policy goal in a human rights perspective;

(d) that the maintenance and revitalisation of regional or minority languages requires committed and tangible support from states and international organisations;

(e) that the maintenance and revitalisation of regional or minority languages is an issue taking on increasing saliency, as evidenced among others by the declaration of 2001 as the European Year of Languages, both by the Council of Europe and the European Union.

Participants at the Conference further note that there is a need, beyond the political dimensions and legal issues involved, for developing analytical and technical guidelines for the selection, design, implementation and evaluation of policy measures. While these guidelines must take account of the considerable diversity of cases and conditions, it is possible to formulate gen‹eral principles and guidelines of good governance towards the management of linguistic diversity, with particular regard for regional or minority languages. These Recommendations therefore aim at contributing to the necessary bridge-building between analytical principles of good policy and practical modalities for the selection, design, implementation and evaluation of policies.

Participants at the Conference share the view that the resulting guidelines can be useful for states considering, planning or evaluating policy measures for regional or minority languages. Furthermore, such guidelines can also be useful for the communities using the regional or minority languages concerned, as well as for the civil society organisations also concerned with the preservation and promotion of linguistic diversity in Europe.

These ECMI Recommendations are formulated with particular reference to the implementation of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages of the Council of Europe opened for signature on 5 November 1992. States are therefore urged to accede to the Charter as soon as possible while ensuring that accession is rapidly followed by the adoption of policies reflecting the guidelines in these Recommendations, in compliance with the spirit and letter of the Charter.

It is the belief of the participants that the principles for the selection, design, implementation and evaluation of policy measures outlined in the present Recommendations can also be relevant in a broader range of policy contexts. The Participants at the Conference therefore underline the relevance of:

(a) the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities;

(b) the Oslo Recommendations Regarding the Linguistic Rights of National Minorities;

(c) the Hague Recommendations Regarding the Education Rights of National Minorities;

(d) the Lund Recommendations on the Effective Participation of National Minorities in Public Life;

(e) the relevant resolutions of the European Parliament;

(f) the relevant recommendations of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe In order to meet the obligations to which they subscribe by acceding to the Charter, states are urged to take into consideration the following guidelines.

I. Recognising the role and importance of minority language policy

1. Minority languages and linguistic and cultural diversity: In addition to their relevance in the definition of human rights and minority rights standards, regional or minority languages should be explicitly recognised as essential elements of linguistic and cultural diversity as well as an important aspect of the identity of users of the regional or minority languages.

2. importance of minority language policy: In line with the standards developed in international instruments as mentioned in the Preamble, and taking account of the intrinsic value of linguistic and cultural diversity, governments should recognise the selection, design, implementation and evaluation of policies in favour of regional or minority languages as necessary tasks making a crucially important contribution to the good governance of modern societies.

II. Identification of and agreement on clear aims and principles

3. Clarity of aims: The successful implementation of minority language policies requires their aims to be clearly identified, defining in particular the criteria to be used to assess the attainment of policy goals by a particular set of measures.

4. Clarity of principles: Realising these aims requires good policy principles for the selection, design, implementation and evaluation of the corresponding policies, as described in particular in the following paragraphs of these Recommendations.

III. Recognising and applying good policy principles

5. Principles of good policy and their adaptation: ÒGood policyÓ is to be understood as an approach to public policy stressing in particular, though not exclusively, the effectiveness, the cost-effectiveness and the democratic nature of policies.

6. Effectiveness: Policies selected should be demonstrably effective, promising to result in a significant improvement in the position, status, use (or other relevant criterion) of the regional or minority language(s) being promoted.

7. Analysing and spelling out effectiveness: Effective policies require proper identification of the aims pursued, of the resources used, and of the processes through which policies can realise these aims. This requires in particular the proper identification of the needs and demands of the regional or minority languages for which policies are intended, and the supply, by the state or its surrogates, of appropriately defined facilities for minority language learning and use.

8. Recognising urgency: The issue of the effectiveness of policies must be given particularly sustained attention in the case of particularly threatened languages, with a view to restoring, wherever possible, the conditions for the natural maintenance and development of all regional or minority languages.

9. Cost-effectiveness: Policies should be demonstrably cost-effective. The principle of cost-effectiveness, which is only a means to an end, is entirely compatible with adequate provisions for regional or minority languages, and requires a well-managed use of resources towards achieving desirable results. Cost-effectiveness favours the transparent use of resources allocated to minority language policy and demonstrates the authorities’ commitment to good policies; it is therefore a key factor for the acceptability, among majority opinion, of minority language policies. Demonstrated cost-effectiveness should be seen as an opportunity for increasing the aggregate volume of resources made available to minority language promotion.

10. Democratic processes: Policy measures must be adopted through a demonstrably democratic policy process. Throughout the policy process, it is necessary to ensure broad consultation and participation, including through non-formal channels complementing the normal institutions of democratic states. Civil society organisations, including in particular non-governmental organisations, as well as the general public should therefore be encouraged to play an active role at all stages of this process, ensuring that the dynamic evolution of social and economic needs over time is duly taken into account.

11. Available experience: Throughout the policy process in any given context, it is important to learn from the experience in good practices and from the successes already achieved in other contexts through appropriate measures in favour of regional or minority languages.

IV. Establishing the necessary structures

12. Analysis and research: In order to develop States’ capacity to adopt appropriate policy measures in favour of minority languages, particularly in the context of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, it is important for the authorities to provide facilities and support, including through applied academic research, for the study of the corresponding policies.

13. Sharing, exchanging and disseminating information: Civil servants and other social actors involved in the selection, design, implementation and evaluation of minority language policies can gather considerable and valuable information and experience in the course of their activities. It is essential for this information and experience to be regularly exchanged and disseminated through widely accessible publications, meetings, etc. In particular, the attention of public opinion must be drawn to success already achieved in the revitalisation of regional or minority languages.

14. Expert advice: The Council of Europe, possibly with participation of the European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages (EBLUL), the OSCE, UNESCO, and other relevant organisations and research institutions, should establish a panel of independent experts whose services would be available to help governments and communities in the selection, design, implementation and evaluation of regional or minority language policies.

15. Independent evaluation and monitoring: All policies should be evaluated at appropriate intervals, and their implementation and effects monitored by independent experts. As a general rule, these independent evaluations should be made widely accessible to the public and the media.

16. Democratic debate: States should establish the institutions and structures, for example in the form of regularly held Estates General of minority language policy, which will provide the necessary fora for such discussion. These fora must be open and accessible to individuals and organisations, including those emanating from the minority language communities concerned, and place particular emphasis on ensuring that relatively powerless individuals and groups have unrestricted access to these fora.

17. Integration in actual policies: Authorities, with the support of international organisations, in particular the Council of Europe, should ensure that the inputs from academic research, expert panels, independent evaluators, as well as from open democratic debate on successive stages of the policy process, are efficiently integrated into the actual selection, design, implementation and evaluation of policy measures.

V. Further recommendations

18. Sign languages: Due recognition should also be given to Sign Languages. The Council of Europe and other international organisations should consider the desirability and feasibility of preparing a legal instrument to safeguard these languages and the rights of their users. Likewise, the European Commission is requested to sympathetically consider the inclusion of actions to support Sign Languages in their language programmes.

The ECMI is a non-partisan, bi-national institution founded in 1996 by the Governments of the Kingdom of Denmark, the Federal Republic of Germany, and the Land of Schleswig-Holstein. Its three main missions are information, constructive conflict management, and practice-oriented research in minority-majority relations.

Schiffbrücke 12, D-24939 Flensburg, Germany
tel.: (+49) 461-14149-0
fax: (+49) 461 14149-19

The cost-effectiveness evaluation of minority language policies: case studies on Wales, Ireland and the Basque country’, by François Grin and François Vaillancourt, ISBN 3-932635-12-4. These publications can be obtained from the European Centre for Minority Issues (ECMI), Schiffbrücke 12, D-24939 Flensburg; tel: +49 461 141 49 0; fax: +49 461 141 49 19; e-mail: or downloaded in PDF format from

‘EU-Catalogue on basic rights’

Regulations for the protection of and promotion of the national minorities and endangered lingual and cultural communities must be incorporated in the EU-Catalogue of Basic Rights.

This decision was reached by the Federal Union of European Nationalities' (FUEN) Presidium in July 2000.

The recognition of the duty of the individual states to retain languages still spoken in their territories in addition to the national language or languages is one of the foundations of Europe which will continue to excel by its variety of languages and cultures.

The FUEN-Presidium, together with other NGOs, will try to stress the urgency of this demand. For further information, please contact: FUEN, Schiffbrücke 41, D-24939 Flensburg; tel: +49 461 12 85 5; fax: +49 461 18 07 09; e-mail:;

Indigenous Rights, according to the UN

Date: Tue, 22 Aug 2000
Pamela Munro writes:
Here's what the UN has up on the web about indigenous human rights:
This document affirms many times the right to language preservation by indigenous peoples.

The world community has long acknowledged that the distinct cultures and languages of indigenous peoples form part of the cultural heritage of humankind and deserve protection. Much more important than a means of everyday communication, language is the vehicle of culture and identity. Yet organizations defending indigenous peoples' rights cite cases where educational systems are being used to forge nations with one language, history and culture.

(See this same site, and the section Places to Go, on the Web and In the World later in this issue of Ogmios, for the UN’s multilingual publication of these rights.)

NATO Advanced Study Inst.: Language Engineering for Lesser Studied Languages

This gathering took place between 3 and 14 July 2000, in the spacious surroundings of Bilkent University, Ankara, Turkey.

The proceedings were kicked off by Nick Ostler, who gave a wide-ranging introduction to the linguistics aspects of language engineering. He derw attention to the changes which are expected to take place in the relative economic and social status of various world languages, and emphasized the value to minority language communities of their languages being well supported by information technology. The following afternoon, Sergei Nirenburg introduced the computational side of language engineering, covering the field from manipulation of writing systems, through analysis and generation of morphology and syntax, to disambiguation of the meaning of texts.

On the second day, Remi Zajac spoke on tools and resources for NLP, giving a detailed and thorough description of computational techniques used in text encoding, markup, tokenization, and on corpora. Ken Beesley was the following day's speaker, with a very practical talk on finite state machines and their implementation, with particular reference to their application in more difficult cases, such as handling non-concatenative morphotactics of languages such as Malay and Arabic. Our host, Kemal Oflazer, followed on with a discussion of two-level analyzers and morphological disambiguation techniques, illustrated by their application to Turkish morphology.

Svetlana Sheremetyeva then gave a thorough grounding on formal grammars and techniques for analyzing and representing syntactic structure. On the final day of the first week, Jim Cowie talked about work on practical information extraction and retrieval, leading into a discussion of question answering systems, including an entertaining communal effort to break "Ask Jeeves"!

The second week began with a description of statistical techniques, complete with their derivation from first principles, by Christer Samuelsson. He then went on to show how these could be applied in the field of corpus linguistics. The following two mornings were filled by Victor Raskin and Sergei Nirenburg, who collaborated in presenting work on Lexical Acquistion, focussing on the practical techniques used for ontology acquisition.

The area of syntax and grammar development was then rounded off by Svetlana Sheremetyeva, with a detailed coverage of context free phrase grammars and dependency grammars, and a discussion of syntax knowledge acquisition. On the final two mornings of the conference, Harold Somers spoke on the varying fortunes of machine translation over recent decades, described the solutions to a number of problems which had arisen, and drew attention to some of the resources relevant to minority languages.

During the second week, 10 of the delegates gave presentations on work in which they had been involved. We were appraised of developments in NLP in Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Turkey and Uzbekistan, and heard about research projects on dictionary generation, psycholinguistics, courseware development and machine transliteration. The final session of the fortnight was a panel discussion, in which the major topics aired were the pros and cons of machine-tractable dictionaries, and the linguistic vis-a-vis statistical approaches to machine translation.

We are all grateful to the NATO Scientific Programme for arranging the ASI, and to Kemal Oflazer and his postgraduate students for making us feel at home in Bilkent University.

Keith Richard Potter

The Major African Languages in the 21st Century - Les Langues Africaines De Grande Communication Au 21e Siecle

The Major African Languages in the 21st Century was a symposium held within the 3rd World Congress of African Linguistics (WOCAL 2000) at the Université du Bénin, Lomé – Togo, from August 21st to 25th 2000. The symposium was sponsored by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, Germany.

Scholars from Ethiopia, Benin, South Africa, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Botswana, Senegal, Kenya, Côte d'Ivoire, Mozambique, Ghana, and Nigeria discussed aspects of the language situations of their countries, fundamentally diverse as they are, with a focus on the major African languages.

Most African languages spoken by small speech communities are very likely to vanish, in that their speakers are now deliberately abandoning them in favour of other languages which enjoy higher prestige. By contrast, it is increasingly evident that speakers of major African languages are actively trying to resist marginalisation by European languages. In-depth analysis of the current settings of major African languages, as well as of their future, is needed to strengthen them against the challenges from globalisation.

Corpus planning to allow for the use of African languages in a wider range of functional domains is essential, but even more important is the planning of the future status of these languages, i.e. their envisaged role within African societies and nation states. Different language policies in African nations have had various outcomes and this needs to be discussed, taking into account the remarkably diverse linguistic profiles of African states. What language repertoires for citizens can serve national development aims best, while respecting cultural heritage and values?

Most African countries with an English colonial past use African languages as medium of instruction for the initial years of primary education, but many other countries have also started to use their African languages in school. The experience gained in countries with a long tradition of mother-tongue education in African languages will be considered, as will the possibility of applying it within other African countries.



The participants, together with the scholars from the WOCAL 2000, could discuss all the topics most relevant for the future of the major African languages. These included language use in education, the media and politics, as well as in economic and social development programs.

For information concerning the Symposium and the publication of the proceedings contact:

Matthias Brenzinger
Institut für Afrikanistik, Universität zu Köln
50937 Köln Germany
office: 0049-221-470-46 99
home: 0049-221-43 56 94

Summaries of the presentations

Herman M. Batibo (University of Botswana)
The paper highlighted the socio-historical factors which made Setswana a dominant lingua franca, and later the de facto national language and symbol of nationhood, following Botswana’s independence in 1966.

The paper then discussed its current roles and future prospects, particularly in the face of English, the highly regarded ex-colonial language which has not only monopolized most of the official functions, but also gained prestige as a symbol of modernization, technological advancement and globalization.

The paper also described how ethnic awareness and sense of self-determination, among the 20, or so, minority languages are affecting the process of Tswanalization.

Mary Esther Dakubu (University of Ghana)
Akan is the largest community language of Ghana, almost half the population, has been established for school use for at least 150 years, and it seems to be spreading as a second language. At the same time, Hausa is a major second language and lingua franca. The functional relations between these two languages and between these languages and English will be the main burden of the paper.

Norbert Nikièma (Université de Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso)
La présente étude décrit la situation linguistique du Burkina ainsi que la politique des langues nationales depuis l’indépendance du pays en 1960, avec une attention particulière sur les langues de grande communication que sont le mooré, le jula et le fulfuldé. Il ressort que les langues de grande communication ont reçu une attention particulière et jouent un rôle important dans l’alphabétisation des adultes et dans les médias écrits ou oraux.

Il apparaît également que ces langues vont jouer un rôle plus important dans l’avenir dans la mesure où la question de leur officialisation, soulevée lors des Etats Généraux de l’Education en 1994, est de nouveau à l’ordre du jour. Mais les obstacles ne manqueront pas, avec l’exaltation de la francopholie et les hallucinations de la globalisation.

Okoth Okombo (University of Nairobi, Kenya)
This discussion investigated and drew conclusions on the demographic factors impacting on the major African languages of Kenya: Kiswahili, Kikuyu, Luhya and Dholuo. The examined factors included school education, rural-urban migration patterns, speaker attitudes, intermarriage, career ambitions etc.

The findings were used to make projections on language growth patterns and the chances of language survival in the same environment. Where major international languages have a good chance of survival alongside such languages may get into some of the prestigious domains of English? Generally what lessons can we learn from these observations?

Spinoza Research Program: Lexicon and Syntax

The history of the research program

At the end of 1998, Professor Pieter Muysken was awarded the Spinoza stipend of the Netherlands organisation of Scientific Research (NWO) to set up a research program entitled ‘Lexicon and Syntax’. By the autumn of 1999 the first members of the Spinoza research team were appointed. In the following months, the number of researchers in the Spinoza team increased gradually, from around 15 in the spring of 2000, to 25 by beginning of 2001.

In the Spinoza program we focus on the relation between Semiotics (the ability to create sign systems — such as the lexicon) and Syntax (the ability to create and process linguistic structures — such as sentences

Areal studies in a typological perspective

In the first phase of the program, started in September 1999, areal studies are carried out from a typological perspective. The overall aim is to construct data bases for particular language groups and linguistic areas that link genetic, typological and areal information. The research is organised in four main areal groups: Bolivia/Rondonia, Balkan, Eastern Indonesia, and Benin/Suriname. Additional strands of areal research, concerned with languages in the Indo-China Peninsula, and possibly the Kaukasus and Turkey, are planned to start in the autumn of 2000.

It is expected that the analysis of the samples in the database will help to deepen our understanding of the interaction of lexicon and syntax in situations of language contact and change. The central issue here can be stated in terms of the following questions:

(a) What are the features of, and the limits on, syntactic differentiation in a lexically homogeneous language group?
(b) What are the features of, and the limits on, syntactic convergence between lexically separate languages?

The typological data base

In collaboration with other researchers we are setting up a large typological data base. Within the Spinoza project, we develop a database containing areal typological data for approximately the following number of languages: Bolivia/Rondonia 17, Eastern Indonesia 12, Balkan 12, Indo-China Peninsula 6, mixed languages, Suriname creole/Benin 11, European Colonial Languages 5.

The different areal samples will consist of a basic inventory of the geographic, sociolinguistic, and demographic data, including standard and alternative name(s) of the language; geographic region; number of speakers; genetic affiliation; and relevant sources on the language, including written sources and information about informants and the researchers who entered the data into the database.

The linguistic data for each language will include primary and secondary data. The primary data for each language will be a text sample and a word list. The text sample will be as naturalistic as possible. The word list of roughly 200 words, based on the Swadesh list. Both types of data are entered into the database in orthographic and phonemic transcription, and provided with morphological glosses. The abbreviations used in the glosses follow the list established in the ESF EUROTYP project. The exact reference of the source from which the text and the vocabulary items originate is given, preferably per line or word. In this way we ensure that all the information in the database can be verified, and can be traced back to its original source.

In addition, the database contains typological data for each language, which involves a higher level of linguistic analysis and/or abstraction on the part of the researchers. For example, we will look at the structure of the language’s lexicon; in particular addressing the question which word classes (verb/noun/adjective/adverb/ particle/...) the language has. We will also consider the morphology of the language and indicate the types of morphological processes it has, and whether it is a head-marking language or a dependent-marking one. Basic typological properties of the syntax of the language will also be included, including word order, grammatical relations, and clause combining strategies. And finally, we aim to provide phonological information on the language, including a phoneme inventory, syllable structure, and stress patterns.

Between October-December 1999 a pilot of our database was built by a professional database developer in cooperation with the program coordinator. The database was built in MsAccess 97, with a user interface to ensure uniform input of the primary data (text and vocabulary). This pilot version has been tested by members of the Balkan group and has been evaluated in May 2000. In June 2000, Elisabeth Mauder will join the program as database coordinator to deal with all issues concerning the database.

The Spinoza database is meant to become a sub-part of a large typological database to be developed by LOT researchers in Leiden, Amsterdam (VU, UvA), Nijmegen (KUN,MPI), Tilburg, and Utrecht. Within this larger data base, the data gathered by the Spinoza team will provide the areal sample. The larger database will also contain a genetic sample (consisting of about 50 languages), and smaller subsets of languages with more detailed grammatical information. The data base will ultimately be used to set up the Language Typology Resource Center – a web-accessible electronic archive with typological data.

Areal studies
South America: Bolivia and Rondônia (Brazil)

In South America, there are several regions with languages which diverge quite a bit lexically on the one hand, but which show profound grammatical similarities on the other hand. In addition, some language families show considerable structural divergence despite the great lexical similarities they share. This linguistic configuration enables us to investigate the interaction between syntax and lexicon from a historical and descriptive perspective.

The area we will be focusing on comprises the Bolivian lowlands and Rondônia. Strictly speaking one could say that it is the Mamoré-Guaporapé area, the big area drained by the two rivers, Mamoré and Guaporé, their tributaries and headwaters. The language families represented in this area include Panoan, Chapacuran and Tupí, three families which are represented in Bolivia as well as in Rondônia. In addition we encounter Tacanan in the north-west of Bolivia and a bit more to the south Arawakan, and smaller groups like Nambikuáran and Jabutí in Rondônia. The most striking feature of this area, however, is the high number of unclassified languages or language isolates.

The following eight unclassified languages or language isolates are to be found in the relevant part of Bolivia: Leko, Mosetén (Chimane), Movima, Cayuvava, Canichana, Itonama, Yuracaré and Chiquitano. Mosetén and Chimane form a small linguistic family called Mosetén and actually may be the same language. Three more unclassified languages or language isolates are to be found in Rondônia: Aikana, Kanoê and Kwaza.

Language descriptions in general, and descriptions of sofar undescribed unclassified languages in particular, may be a way to offer some answers to linguistic, ethno-historical, and cultural issues. It is well-known what state the indigenous languages of Rondônia and Bolivia are in, and the velocity with which speaker numbers are decreasing. It goes without saying that the loss of language goes hand in hand with the loss of the most effective transmission of knowledge about one's surroundings and one's cultural traditions. These are additional reasons why we primarily want to focus on the unclassified languages or language isolates in this area. In order to get a better insight into the complex linguistic melting-pot of the Mamoré-Guaporé area we will need to work on i) a number of language descriptions; ii) study the socio-cultural factors which may have had an impact on the languages in the area; iii) study their mutual interaction. We will initially do this by:

· Research on the practically extinct Bolivian language isolates Canichana and Itonama
· Research on the moribund Rondônian language isolate Kanoê
· Contributing to the database mentioned above
· Studying the culture complexes in the area

The choice to work on Canichana and Kanoê has partly been prompted by ongoing research in the area financed through other sources. The research on both Canichana and Kanoê are expected to result in a comprehensive sketch of the languages, including some text samples, a vocabulary list, and a description of the phonology, morphology, syntax and discourse features. Moreover, the research on Kanoê carried out by Laércio Bacelar, a Brazilian PhD student, is intended to lead to a doctoral thesis to be defended at Leiden University.

In spite of the big linguistic differences, the majority of the ethnic groups in Rondônia, such as Aikana, Kanoê, Kwaza, and the Tupí groups Makurap, Salamain and Tuparí, must have shared a common culture. Maldi (1991) has coined the Marico cultural complex, after the marico, the Brazilian word for the characteristic carrying net made of fibres from the leaves of the tucum palmtree which is common among these groups. Moreover, Lévi-Strauss (1963) argues that unlike most South American rivers, the Guaporé river does not form the axis of a homogeneous culture area, but is rather a frontier between two culture areas: on the one hand the Mojo culture area, stretching from the left bank of the Guaporé towards the Andes, and on the other hand the Amazonian culture area of the heterogeneous tribes living on the right bank. A better insight into these culture complexes may shed some light on some of our linguistic puzzles.

In The Netherlands the Spinoza researchers form an integral part of the research team on Amerindian languages supervised by Willem Adelaar and Pieter Muysken, which, in addition to our own researchers, consists of Simon van de Kerke (Leko), Hein van der Voort (Kwazá and Arikapú), Eithne Carlin (Trio), Astrid Alexander (Cholón), Lucrecia Villafañe (Yuki) and Harry de Haan (Chiquitano).

In addition, close links are maintained with the team supervised by Leo Wetzels (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) which focuses on the Nambikuáran languages (Stella Telles, Latundê) and some other Brazilian languages (Odileiz Sousa Cruz, Ingarikó), as well as with Sergio Meira, working at the Max Planck Institute in Nijmegen.

In Europe, the Spinoza group collaborates furthermore with researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig (Jeanette Sakel on Mosetén, who will defend her doctoral thesis in Leiden, Pilar Valenzuela on the Panoan languages), and in South America with the research groups of Rodolfo Cerrón Palomino (University of San Marcos, Lima) and Luis Enrique López (PROEIB/Andes, Cochabamba). Furthermore, contact has been established with the following researchers who have extensive knowledge of the ethnic groups and languages in the area: Hans van den Berg (Universidad Católica, Cochabamba), Jürgen Riester (APCOB, Santa Cruz) and Xavier Albó. At Groningen University Helène Brijnen is doing archival work on Brazilian languages in various German collections.

Eastern Indonesia: Moluccas and the Bird’s Head

The complex relationships of mutual influence between the languages of the Eastern Indonesian provinces Halmahera and the Bird's Head have led to a melting pot of Austronesian (AN) and Non-Austronesian (NAN, Papuan) features in these languages. On the one hand, AN lexical items have been borrowed into the NAN languages of north Halmahera, and lexical and syntactic AN influence is found in all languages of the eastern Bird's Head region. On the other hand, the so-called AN-languages also seem to have adopted features from NAN-languages. In sum, the typological versus genetic affiliations in the large Papuan-Austronesian Sprachbund are unclear. In addition, there also seem to be links between these languages and the geographically remote NAN languages of Alor and Pantar near the island of Timor, and between the separate group of the southern Bird's Head languages and the languages along the south coast of Irian Jaya. And last but not least, there is intense interaction between the regional languages and the local variants of Malay (an AN language), which was the lingua franca throughout the entire region: first as the trade language, later as the vehicle for mission activities. To unravel some of the complex interplay between genetic relationship and diffusion in this linguistic area, we plan to establish a broader, more integrated, updated data set of AN vs. NAN features than the one that is presently available, investigate structural-linguistic and socio-historical factors in the development of a number of individual languages, and study their mutual interaction.

We do this by:

1. Contributing data from (known) languages of the Bird's Head (mainly NAN), Cenderawasih Bay (mainly AN) and North-Halmahera to the database described above.

To this database, the following areal features may be added because they are expected to be relevant for the AN-NAN distinction:
· word taboos;
· categorial multifunctionalism (noun/verb/adjective;
· hybrid transitivity);
· counting systems;
· classifiers;
· number and gender marking;
· spatial deixis and orientation (demonstratives and relational nouns);
· possessive constructions;
· nominal compounding;
· experiential verb constructions (linguistic expressions of mental and physiological states and processes);
· negation (formal expression;
· scope);
· the expression of Temporality relations (by Sequential/Non-sequential markers) between clauses;
· clausal complements, esp. of verbs of perception and speech.

2. Given the suspected historical role of the Biak-Numfor language in the area, the availability of a description of Biak-Numfor is crucial. Apart from a linguistic description, the study of Biak will also address such as: to what extent is Indonesian (=local Malay) used locally instead of Biak?

3. An inventory of the local variants of Malay/Indonesian in/around the urban centres of Sorong, Manokwari, and Biak. Given the role of Malay/Indonesian as lingua franca throughout the region (historically and presently), such an inventory may well show interactions between local AN and NAN languages: on the one hand, substrate influences on Malay; on the other hand the borrowing of Malay prepositions and conjunctions into local languages.

4. An inventory of language contact and multilingualism in the southern Bird’s Head Area, particularly:
(a) an inventory of forms and functions of the Malay used on the Bird’s Head’s south coast;
(b) an inventory of the synchronic interaction and historical contacts between the AN contact languages Patipi and Malay, and the NAN language Inanwatan;
(c) links of Inanwatan to NAN languages of the New Guinea south coast (especially Marind).

New data will be gathered through field work (a description of Biak, study of local variants of Malay). Close contact and consultation is anticipated with other researchers who have knowledge of the languages in the designated area: Bert Voorhoeve (Papuan languages), Hein Steinhauer (Biak), Aone van Engelenhoven (Leti), Don van Minde (Malayu Ambon), John Bowden (Taba; affiliated to the Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University), Margaret Florey (Alune; La Trobe, Melbourne), David Gil (Max Planck Institute Leipzig/Jakarta), and various members of the Summer Institute of Linguistics working in the Moluccas and the Bird’s Head.


There are structural relationships between Gbe languages of West Africa and Surinamese creole languages (the ‘trans-Atlantic Sprachbund’). It is known that words in the creole languages usually take on meaning of those of the substrate languages. So 'redi', the Sranan word for red (from English) is used to refer to fair-coloured people, just as is done in the Gbe-speaking area. More particularly, the structure of the creole languages has been shown to be more similar to those of the substrate languages. Two clear examples are those of complex adpositional phrases and serial verb constructions.

The research focuses on the extent to which the similarity in structure of Gbe and Surinamese creoles, e.g., in terms of argument structure, double object constructions, complex adpositional phrases, unaccusativity and serial verbs constructions, can be traced to the lexical properties of Gbe. It also explores the influence of the lexifier languages and diachronic change in accounting for some divergences.

The Balkans

On the Balkans, many languages of different genetic affiliation are being spoken. The Indo-European languages spoken include:
(i) Slavonic languages (Serbo-Croatian (Serbian/Croatian/Bosnian), Bulgarian, Slovenian, Macedonian, South Slavonic Sinte, Slovak, Rusyn, Czech, Polish, Ukrainian, Russian),
(ii) Romance languages (Romanian, (Daco-)Romanian, Vlach, Aromanian (Macedo-Romanian), Megleno-Romanian, Istro-Romanian, Italic, Italian, Istro-Romance, Judeo-Spanish,
(iii) Germanic languages (German, Judeo-German, Yiddish). Other Indo-European languages spoken on the Balkan are Greek ((Modern) Greek, Pontic Greek, Tsakonian Greek), Albanian (Tosk, Gheg, Arvanitika, Arbanassian) and Romani.

Non-Indo-European languages that are spoken on the Balkan include Turkic ((Osmanli) Turkish, Gaugauz (Gagauzi), Crimean Turkish (Crimean Tatar)) and Hungarian.

Each of the listed languages has accepted features from and given features to a number of the other languages. There are, however, two major language contact areas:

(a) The Balkan Sprachbund area proper, and (b)Languages of the Vojvodina region. The project will primarily concentrate on the contact between the languages of the first group, the Balkan Sprachbund. In the second phase, the contact phenomena in the languages of the second group might also be examined.

Linguistic discussion on the Balkan Sprachbund has centered around five properties:

1. Substitution of the synthetic declension markers by analytic ones,
2. Grammaticalization of the category of definiteness, through postpositive definite article clitics,
3. Analytic expression of futurity – often with the aid of ossified clitic particles,
4. Loss of the infinitive and its substitution by tensed nominal clauses,
5. Pronominal clitic doubling of (direct and indirect) objects.

The manifestations of these phenomena in eight of the languages of the Balkans – Macedonian, Bulgarian, Serbo-Croatian, Romanian, Aromanian, Megleno-Romanian, Greek, Alabanian and Romani – will be examined. The clausal clitic clusters of these languages will be analyzed in depth.

"Contact" phenomena will be contrasted with their correspondents in languages which belong to the same genetic family as the Sprachbund languages.

The dialects of the Sprachbund languages, in which the contact phenomena are abundant or unusual will be specifically studied.

Special attention will be given to Aromanian and Romani dialects, and to the Turkish spoken in Macedonia.

The Indo-China Peninsula

The many different languages spoken in the region made up of Southern China (China south of the Yangtze River), Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam belong to such language families, such as Tibeto-Birmese, Austro-Thai and Austro-Asiatic. Southern China alone is home to several languages belonging to these families. Aside from the Sinitic varieties such as Yue (Cantonese), Hakka and Min (Hokkien), we find Austro-Thai languages such as Zhuang, Miao and Yao, Tibeto-Birmese languages such as Hani, Tibetan and Buyi, and Austro-Asiatic (paricularly Mon-Khmer) languages such as Wa and Blang.

Within the Spinoza-project, we will look at a number of syntactic constructions (yet to be defined) and see whether any areal cross-family features can be found. We will concentrate on the bigger languages of the region, particularly Yue, Vietnamese and Thai, but occasionally other languages will not xcluded. In view of the "contact" bias of the Spinoza project, special attention will furthermore be given to Zhuang, the language of the largest minority in China, which is solely spoken within China's borders and whose speakers are virtually all bilingual.

In preparation, a comparative-syntactic study will be made of the Sinitic language family, comparing Mandarin (North-Sinitic), Yue (South-Sinitic) and Wu (middle). We expect that the results of this study will enable us to determine which features are typically Southern Sinitic instead of Sinitic in general. This study, which will be conducted by Rint Sybesma in collaboration with Lisa Cheng, will deal with topics in the nominal domain (e.g., mass and count nouns; classifiers; possession) as well as the verbal domain (e.g., negation; modal verbs; tense/aspect particles).

Research partners

The program collaborates with research groups in the Dutch Research School for Linguistics (LOT), the North-Western Centre for Linguistics in the United Kingdom, the Max Planck Institutes at Nijmegen and Leipzig, the CNWS and the IIAS in Leiden, and the Research School of Pacific Studies of the Australian National University.

For more information, including opportunities for researchers to join the project, see:

COCOSDA Report on Technology in Local Languages: Appeal for Information

I am preparing a report on technological activities concerning local languages (i.e. languages which are not used on a global scale), including minority and endangered languages, for the international Coordinating Committee on Speech Databases, COCOSDA.

I would be very grateful if you would send me an outline of activities known to you with the following types of information about specific local languages on which technology-aware work is going on or planned in your region. I will circulate the report to those who supply the information and, at a later stage, distribute the report more widely:

1. Region
2. Name of local language (name used by speakers; names used by others)
3. Linguistic classification of local language
4. Widespread, minority, endangered
5. Function of the local language (e.g. standard language, official language, vehicular/trade language, village language, domestic language)
6. Identifiable varieties of the local language
7. Sources of information about the local language (books, web, ...)
8. Type of work going on (electronic documentation, ASR and/or speech synthesis, materials for alphabetisation and literarisation ...)

Informal and general information will be sufficient as an initial step; I plan to systematise the information in cooperation with other organisations later on. If any of the categories above do not apply or if knowledge is uncertain, simply note this fact.

Many thanks, Dafydd Gibbon

Prof. Dr. Dafydd Gibbon, Fakultät für Linguistik und Literaturwissenschaft, Universität Bielefeld
P 100131, D-33501 Bielefeld Germany
Phone: +49.521.106.3510/09
Fax: +49.521.106.6008
Mobile: +49.171.680.6327