Foundation for Endangered Languages

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1. Our Sisyphean Task

The last six months have not been easy for the Foundation.

Since the conference at Charlotte, North Carolina, in September last year, we have been in financial limbo: first, because the accounting with the hotel in Charlotte (the Holiday Inn, as it happens) came very late — three months late, in January; and secondly, because when it did come it revealed a massive deficit. This deficit was due to poor attendance at the conference. Sheer bad luck had meant that many attendees (17% of advance bookings!) had faced a last-minute crisis and so had to cancel; but the cost of attending the conference was high (over double the price in previous years); and the meeting was being held in a continent where the academic term had already started. Policies for advance payment to the hotel, and for refunds, which had proved manageable for the previous three years, turned out to be ruinous this time.

We have learnt our lessons, and future conferences will be run at much lower prices, and with a much steadier eye on the break-even point.

The deficit was large enough to make it impossible for us to give any grants this last year. For this, we apologize to all our members. These grants, after all, provide our raison d’ętre, even if with our very tight finances secured almost totally by membership subscriptions, there is usually very little surplus to distribute in this way.

Our sales of the Proceedings for the conference, (FEL IV: Endangered Languages and Literacy) have continued to make headway, however, and with this, and the generosity of some donors (including some of the conference attendees), little by little we have clawed our way back out of the pit in which we were sunk. At the time of writing, we are poised to pay back all the debt other than to members of the Committee. We can begin to think about another year, another conference (note the Call for Abstracts for the next Conference in Agadir, Morocco), and, I very much hope, another round of grants.

These grants are the much best way of letting the financial boulder roll away — reducing our hard-won surplus to zero again, but (as we hope and trust) securing some small permanent gain for some language, somewhere.



For a new year of progress to be possible, we are very much dependent on a good response to the call to renew membership which will accompany this issue of Ogmios for many of you. (And if not this time, then next time!)

We are taking the opportunity to move to a simpler framework for membership, which will be by calendar year; and we are increasing our membership rates. We also feel that members should be given the chance to subscribe in advance for the Proceedings of our conferences. These can provide a significant extra benefit, since they are always extremely interesting books in their own right: and it should be possible to give members, who provide the firm framework that underlies them, a worthwhile discount. I hope as many as possible will take the opportunity to ask for Full Membership this time, especially if you have not yet ordered a copy of the Proceedings.

But for all our attempts to ‘turn the penny’ fruitfully, and give good value for the charges we make, we remain very much a charity, dependent for our future on the generosity of our members, and all those who care about the future of all the language communities in the human family.

Our cause is becoming better known month by month, and year by year, as “Language Endangerment in the News” shows.

Although there are still all too many moments when the boulder of language revitalization seems to be slipping back down the hill, and the unremitting toil of pushing on it seems to generate more sweat than movement forward and upward, the effort is worthwhile, and the journey up the hill is always a scenic one.

And there is another way of seeing Sisyphus, identifying him with Teshub, the Hittite sun god. Every day the vast orb of the Sun must be pushed on its pre-destined track, all the way to the top of the sky, only to roll down again beneath the horizon. This labour is what makes all life possible, all beauty visible.

Now let’s get back to work...