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3. Language Endangerment in the News

Vanishing tongues: Scientists fight to save world's disappearing languages - from the Boston Globe

The following story, by Gareth Cook, ran on page A01 of the Boston Globe on 5 November 2000. © Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.

This summer, on a high grassy plateau in western Mongolia, framed by the Altai mountains, linguist David Harrison chased yaks with a digital video camera.

All around him were Tuvan yak herders, dressed in high leather boots and multicolored silk robes, urging the beasts to pasture with plaintive “domestication songs.” They speak a language called Tsengel Tuvan, which Harrison has been scrambling to document before it vanishes.

We are living, scientists say, in the midst of an unprecedented, worldwide linguistic collapse. Of the 6,700-odd languages now spoken, at least half - and perhaps as many as 90 percent - will be extinct in a century's time, as younger generations reject traditional tongues for a few dominant languages.

With a language dying roughly every two weeks, said Harrison, a visiting lecturer at Yale University, “we are missing an incredible opportunity. You can still go out there and find an entire language that not a single scientist has documented. It's like adding a new element to the periodic table.”

Amid a growing sense of alarm, linguists, archivists, and computer scientists plan to gather at the University of Pennsylvania in December to plot the rebuilding of the Tower of Babel before the bricks turn to dust. Their plan, together with a loose, worldwide collection of institutions, is to convert as many of the world's languages as possible into detailed digital records, including sound files, and then post the results on the Internet in a common, searchable format.

Anthropologists bemoan the language massacre, saying that each language is like a soaring cathedral: a thing of beauty, the product of immense creative effort, filled with rich tapestries of knowledge. Interviews with traditional healers, for example, have identified new drugs. And comparing disparate languages reveals clues to the fundamental building blocks of human thought, as well as echoes of what scientists call our “deep history” - the vast, prehistoric movements of peoples across continents and the relation of one tribe to another.

“All of a sudden, we can have a much more complete picture of the science of language,” said Steven Bird, the conference organizer and associate director of the Linguistic Data Consortium, an organization of 850 institutions. “At the present time, there is an amazing convergence, with the ability to store large amounts of data cheaply, and the ability to share it.”

Flowing through the digital switches and fiber optic cables of the Internet, many world languages would live on in at least some form, organizers say, available to researchers, or to descendants who want to reconnect with a past they rejected as children.

But many anthropologists and indigenous activists say that such efforts skirt the real issue. Saving a language, they say, requires political and economic muscle. Bird admitted that his efforts would “only be a small part of the solution.” For many of these languages, he added, “one has to be fairly cynical about the future.”

Yet, even if it is a twilight struggle, other scientists said it will be a crucial one. “A magnificent human creation like the “Mona Lisa” or the Sistine Chapel shouldn't just vanish without being recorded,” said Stephen Pinker, a psychology professor at MIT and author of “The Language Instinct.” “This is history that is not written as history.”

As linguists first trekked through jungles and mountains with tape recorders, they were stunned at the richness of human language. In the endangered Australian language Guugu Yimithirr, for example, there are no relative spatial words like “left” and “right”; instead, speakers would refer to a person's “north hand” or “west leg,” depending on how they are standing in the world. Another Aboriginal language has a class of nouns relating to “women, fire, or dangerous things.”

Looking for differences between languages is also one of the only ways scientists have to estimate how long two groups have been apart. Thus, it was a linguist, Sir William Jones, who first suggested that much of India and Europe were colonized by the descendants of one tribe - an ancient band now thought to have originated north of the Caspian Sea.

With enough languages, the same approach can be used to probe tens of thousands of years of human history.

Languages can also contain within them a mass of accumulated knowledge about the natural world, a treasure trove for botanists and even pharmaceutical companies. Paul Allen Cox, an ethnobotanist who heads the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Hawaii and Florida, said that he spent a year living in western Samoa recording the knowledge of Pela Lilo, a traditional healer.

One preparation Lilo described involved peeling bark that smells of menthol from a certain tree, soaking it in water, and drinking the pink suds. Back in a laboratory, researchers found in the liquid a compound that doubled the life of a kind of cell, called a “T-cell,” that plays a crucial role in human immune systems. The journal Cytotechnology published the result in 1994.

Last month, Cox said, he held Lilo's hand as she died in her bed, the last of her people with such detailed knowledge.

“When we lose the language, we also lose the plant lore,” said Cox, who is horrified at how many languages the world loses every month. “I see language as a bottle that holds a precious fluid.”

Reacting to the crisis, organizations have sprung up to salvage what they can. Harrison's work was coordinated through the New Haven-based Endangered Language Fund, founded in 1995, and paid for with a grant from the Volkswagen Foundation, which began an endangered language program last year. The University of Texas at Austin opened a Web site this year as part of its new Archive of Indigenous Languages of Latin America. And there are sites across the Web offering everything from detailed grammars of vanishing African languages to dictionaries and language tapes for native North America.

With their conference in December, Bird and his collaborators hope to convince the field to agree on what they call a “metastructure” - a common electronic language that would ensure that everyone's efforts will be compatible and that would allow whole new kinds of comparative research. An organization called LINGUIST List, one of the oldest linguistic presences on the Web, has applied for funding for a five-year project to try a similar approach with 10 wildly different endangered languages, including Lakota in South Dakota and Ega in the Ivory Coast.

Even among the researchers involved, though, there is a fear that making the data – some of it personal histories, or revered foundation myths – so readily accessible could create additional problems. What can they do, they wonder, to prevent a sacred lament from being used in a new song by Fatboy Slim?

But Tony Woodbury, who is coordinating the Latin-American project and has been vocal in warning of the Web's potential for abuse, said that “there is also an ethical cost to just leaving it in the attic,” where it will be forgotten.

If we don't explore these languages, Harrison added, we won't know what we have missed. He explained how Mongolia's nomadic herders have a profusion of names for grass, and how a minor change in the waving fields could be a signal they need to take the grazing animals elsewhere.

“The grass tells them when it's time to move on,” said Harrison. “It tells them their time is up.”

Silence as songs are lost for words - from ‘The Australian'

(Thanks to Nick Thieberger for noting this.)
Stuart Rintoul , WED 20 SEP 2000

THE languages are dying, the songlines are vanishing. In a cafe in Melbourne's St Kilda, City Books Cafe Music, where Norman Tindale's Tribal Boundaries in Aboriginal Australia hangs imposingly on a wall, Russell Smith sings of the red earth of his Pitjantjatjara country and the old people.

“Manta-a, tjilpina, manta-a,” he chants. “Mother Earth, old people, Mother Earth.”

For the young singer-songwriter it is a way of respecting tradition, but it is not a traditional song.

“No, I'm not an initiated man, so I haven't learned those songs,” he says. “It's a big whole, but I'm going to learn it. It's important to me. Yeah, I've lost a bit, but I want to go and find it. It's still there. I've got to speak to the elders, proper way. I know they're there, waiting patiently.”

When Australia was settled in 1788, there were more than 250 Aboriginal languages, spoken in more than 500 dialects. Little more than 200 years later, according to linguists, more than 100 languages are gone and only about 20 are being learned by children.

By the middle of this century, they predict, there might be fewer than a handful of languages being spoken and by the end of the century none.

In Aboriginal Australia, and among linguists, the alarm bells are ringing. Asked where Aboriginal languages are heading, one of Australia's most respected linguists replies acidly: “Into extinction.” In Canberra, another says: “Towards zero.”

In the Pilbara, a linguist working on the ground says there is a “rush to get things done”. In Adelaide, another talks of “linguistic genocide”.

The loss of indigenous languages here mirrors language death internationally. During the next century, something like two of the world's 6000 languages will die each month. By some counts, only 600 are safe from the threat of extinction.

In Australia, indigenous people are on the verge of losing the last remnants of some of the most ancient languages in the world.

In Aboriginal legend, languages were changed during the battles of the Dreaming. After the arrival of white settlers, there is a more bitter explanation for language loss. It began with the herding of Aborigines on to missions and reserves, the systematic removal of children from their parents, the dormitory systems that closed off traditional cultures, the beatings and humiliation people suffered if they spoke their mother tongues.

It is ending with the cultural dominance of the English language and the impact of globalisation.

At the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies in Canberra, researcher Patrick McConvell says that with the exception of pockets of strength in northern Australia, Central Australia and the Western Desert, all other Aboriginal languages are “severely threatened”.

According to McConvell, of more than 250 original languages, about 120 are still spoken, although that figure includes fragments of languages and last remaining speakers. Census figures show that in 1986, 18 per cent of indigenous people spoke an Aboriginal language at home, 16 per cent in 1991 and 13 per cent in 1996.

“It's a fairly strong decline over the past 10 years or so,” McConvell says. “And that would be preceded by 20 or 30 years of sharp decline as well.”

In Canada, by comparison, 26 per cent of indigenous people spoke indigenous languages in 1996, although the definition used there was mother-tongue speakers. The figure for indigenous languages spoken at home was thought to be about 21 per cent.

Of the rapid decline of Aboriginal languages in Australia, McConvell says: “If you project those figures -- either the languages or the speaker percentages -- you are looking at no languages by about 2040, although it probably will level off a little bit and I would expect there to be two or three languages left at least in the middle of the century.

“But it is pretty much going towards zero at that point.”

At La Trobe University in Melbourne, prominent linguist Bob Dixon, author of The Rise and Fall of Languages, is asked where Aboriginal languages are heading.

“Into extinction is where they are heading,” Dixon says. “All my life I've been describing languages and they're just gone.”

At the Institute for Aboriginal Development in Alice Springs, linguist Gavin Breen, asked if he is optimistic about the future of Aboriginal languages, replies: “I try to not think too far into the future.”

Breen started his work in western Queensland in 1967 with languages that were then in decline and have since lost their last speakers.

He is chronicling the dead language of Yandruwandha, from the Innamincka area in the north-east corner of South Australia, for an Aboriginal organisation in Bourke, more than 500 km away. He expects to end with about 1500 words, a fairly full grammar and some good stories, and says it is rewarding to preserve at least that part of the language. But asked whether it could be the basis for language regeneration, Breen says bluntly: “No. People will learn about the language rather than learning the language.”

Poignantly balanced at the onset of the 21st century, Aboriginal languages are besieged by the pervasiveness of western culture and high levels of social dysfunction in local communities and the type of cultural intolerance that two years ago resulted in the conservative Northern Territory Government dismantling its bilingual education program.

But they are also handicapped by denials and defensiveness about the extent of the loss so far.

In an environment where the strength of Aboriginal culture has become an issue for legal determination, so sensitive is the issue of language loss that one of Australia's foremost Aboriginal linguists, Luise Hercus, refused to discuss it for fear her comments could affect native title land claims, where loss of language might be taken to reflect a critical break with traditional laws and customs.

People talk about songlines, but the songlines are being forgotten or blurred in the battle for native title and rich mining rights. What are the consequences of not understanding the songs anymore in adversarial white courts where continuity with the past is the gateway to the future?

At the Wangka Maya Pilbara Aboriginal Language Centre in Western Australia, at the sharp end of language loss, linguist Albert Burgman is coming to terms with 32 languages ranging from dead to strong and growing, among them Kartujarra, Nyangumarta, Walmajarri, Martuwangka, Yindjibarndi, Yulparija, Juwalinyi and Manyjilyjarra.

Burgman describes the endeavour as fairly well under-resourced. “We're busily just trying to record as much as we can, certainly of the dying languages and the languages in danger, but we're also trying to collect oral histories and dreamings and stuff like that,” Burgman says. “But it's just a rush to try and get things done.”

At the Kimberley Language Resource Centre at Halls Creek, co-ordinator Catherine Rouse says: “What will happen depends on what we do now.”

With the exception of Kukatja, all Kimberley languages are endangered, she says.

In Halls Creek recently, a public meeting was called amid fears there were plans to teach Indonesian as a second language rather than Aboriginal languages.

During the past 20 years, local linguists have produced something like 60 indigenous grammars, but asked how much work is being done to stem the tide of language loss, Dixon says: “There is not a lot of work being done, there is a lot of talk being done.”

With systemic failure in Aboriginal education and English literacy levels in the Northern Territory falling, the commonwealth's strong focus is the National Indigenous English Literacy and Numeracy Strategy 2000-04.

The last serious government inquiry was the House of Representatives 1992 report, Language and Culture -- A Matter of Survival.

A Senate report in March this year into the effectiveness of education and training programs for indigenous Australians, titled Katu Kalpa, meaning “reaching to go higher and further” in the Pintubi-Luritja language, did not make any recommendations about language.

An issues paper at the South Australian education department, one of the pacesetters in indigenous education, has listed more than 20 impediments to indigenous language education -- twice the number of positive innovations they could cite.

These include teachers' lack of language or linguistic knowledge, difficulties finding and funding Aboriginal language and cultural specialists, and student absenteeism, transience and poverty.

The department's curriculum policy officer Greg Wilson told The Australian that Aboriginal languages are “critically poised”, but that strong efforts are being made to ensure that language isn't lost any more.

At Oodnadatta, where the eastern-most Western Desert language, Antikirinya, is being revitalised in school programs, Wilson was recently told that language was an integral part of the trilogy wangka ngura tjukur -- language, place and traditions -- “crudely said otherwise as Dreaming”.

What do we lose when we lose a language?

In Australia, the answer may be ways of looking at the world that we have not grasped in our ignorance of Aboriginal culture and that threaten now to come to us as ghosts -- expressions such as the Dyirbal verbs ngilbin, to look longingly at one's betrothed, or burrginyu, to be excitedly in love, or walnga-bundanyu, an expression that means broken-hearted, but which translates as breath broke.

“Of more than 250 languages, about 120 are still spoken, although that includes fragments and last remaining speakers” Patrick McConvell

UN Environment Programme calls for support of Indigenous Languages and Cultures

Luisa Maffi maffi@terralingua.org,
Pres. of Terralingua writes (10 Feb. 2001):
People on these lists may not have seen this press release that has been circulating mostly on environmental ones. The UN Environment Programme is calling for supporting indigenous languages and cultures as an integral part of protecting the environment. The UNEP executive director's words on the world's languages reflect closely the content of the chapter on linguistic diversity written by Tove Skutnabb-Kangas and myself for Darrell Posey's edited book Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity, published by UNEP in 1999. It is an amazing turn of events for us in Terralingua who started promoting that very idea six years ago when it still looked odd and quaint. In fact, it's an idea that makes perfect sense because it corresponds to something real, but as with most common sense ideas, it takes time before it becomes apparent. But recognition of an idea is only the first step, an indication of a lot more work to come. What we can hope now, though, is that there will be more and more people coming along for the ride.

David.Duthie@unep.org
Cultural, linguistic and biodiversity
UNEP News Release For information only
Not an official record

Globalization Threat to World's Cultural, Linguistic and Biological Diversity

Nairobi, 8 February 2001- Nature's secrets, locked away in the songs, stories, art and handicrafts of indigenous people, may be lost forever as a result of growing globalization, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is warning.

Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of UNEP, said yesterday: "The freeing up of markets around the world may well be the key to economic growth in rich and poor countries alike. But this must not happen at the expense of the thousands of indigenous cultures and their traditions".

"Indigenous peoples not only have a right to preserve their way of life. But they also hold vital knowledge on the animals and plants with which they live. Enshrined in their cultures and customs are also secrets of how to manage habitats and the land in environmentally friendly, sustainable, ways," he said.

Much of this knowledge is passed down from generation to generation orally, in art works or in the designs of handicrafts such as baskets, rather than being written down.

So losing a language and its cultural context is like burning a unique reference book of the natural world.

"If these cultures disappear they and their intimate relationship with nature will be lost forever. We must do all we can to protect these people. If they disappear the world will be a poorer place," Mr Toepfer said during the 21st session of UNEP's Governing Council which is taking place in Nairobi, Kenya, this week.

Research, carried out on behalf of UNEP and drawing on work by hundreds of academics, highlights the way native farmers in parts of West and East Africa , such as the Fulbe of Benin and tribes in Tanzania, find and encourage termite mounds to boost the fertility and moisture content of the soil.

 

 

Meanwhile the Turkana tribe of Kenya plan crop planting around an intimate knowledge of the behaviour of frogs and birds, such as the ground hornbill, green wood hoopoe, spotted eagle owl and nightjar, which are revered as "prophets of rain".

The research , edited by Professor Darrell Addison Posey of the Federal University of Maranhao, Sao Luis, Brazil, and the Oxford Centre for the Environment, Ethics and Society at Mansfield College, University of Oxford, in Britain, claims many indigenous languages and cultures are already teetering on the brink of extinction in the face of globalization.

Studies estimate that there are 5,000 to 7,000 spoken languages in the world with 4,000 to 5,000 of these classed as indigenous. More than 2,500 are in danger of immediate extinction and many more are losing their link with the natural world. Around a third, or 32 per cent of the world's spoken languages, are found in Asia; 30 per cent in Africa; 19 per cent in the Pacific; 15 per cent in the Americas and 3 per cent in Europe.

The report also links a profusion of languages with a wealth of wildlife underscoring how native peoples have thrived on a rich natural environment and managed it for the benefit of animals and plants.

The most languages are spoken in Papua New Guinea, where 847 different tongues are used. This is followed by Indonesia, 655; Nigeria, 376; India, 309; Australia, 261; Mexico, 230; Cameroon, 201; Brazil, 185; Zaire, 158 and the Philippines, 153.

The main ones under threat are those with 1,000 speakers or less with the mother tongue only spoken by older members of the tribe and increasingly shunned by the young.

Over 1,000 languages are spoken by between 101 and 1,000 individuals. A further 553 are spoken by only up to 100 people.

Two hundred and thirty four have already died out. Some researchers estimate that over the next 100 years 90 per cent of the world's languages will have become extinct or virtually extinct.

Many native people have a vested interest in maintaining a wide variety and animals and plants in their area so they are not reliant on just one source of food.

But encroachment by western-style civilization and its farming methods mean that many of these varieties, encouraged by tribal and native people, are fast disappearing along with their genetic diversity.

It is increasing the threat of crop failures across the globe as a result of genetic uniformity in the world's major crops.

The report cites work by UNEP's World Conservation Monitoring Centre in Cambridge, England, and other researchers on the disappearance of diversity in common crops.

· In 1903 there were 13 known varieties of asparagus. By 1983 there was just one, or a decline of 97.8 per cent.
· There were 287 varieties of carrot in 1903 but this has fallen to just 21 or a fall of 92.7 per cent.
· Over 460 varieties of radish were known in 1903 but this has dropped to 27 or a decline of 94.2 per cent.
· Nearly 500 varieties of lettuce were catalogued at the turn of the century but this has fallen to 36.

New sources of medicines may also be being lost as a result of the decline of indigenous languages, cultures and traditions.

Many indigenous peoples have intimate, local, knowledge of plants, such as herbs, trees and flowers and parts of animals, and their use as medicines which in turn could give clues to new drugs for the west.

They also know the right part, such as the root, leaf, seed or flower, to pick and season in which to harvest these "natural medicines" so they contain the maximum amount of health-giving compounds.

This knowledge is often enshrined in ritual, ceremony and magic underlining how culture, language, religion, psychology and spiritual beliefs can often not be separated from their understanding of the natural world.

The Aka pygmies of the Central African Republic mix magic, ritual and ceremony with herbalism for curing the sick.

"The Aka use plant species to cure the majority of the most common illnesses and diseases. Several plants are known and used to treat the same disease. Because they grow in different types of forest, they allow the pygmies to cure themselves when travelling," says the study.

News of the academics' study comes at the beginning of the United Nations International Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations. Part of its aim is to highlight the plight of indigenous cultures.

The Convention on Biological Diversity, which is managed by UNEP and which grew out of the Rio Earth Summit of 1992, makes specific reference to the need to protect the world's indigenous cultures and traditions.

Article eight of the convention states:"subject to its national legislation, (to) respect, preserve, and maintain knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities embodying traditional life styles relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity.".

Other initiatives include one by UNESCO, a sister UN body which lists world cultural and heritage sites. UNESCO is developing its role to help local communities conserve and protect sacred sites such as groves.

UNESCO also recognizes the "complex interrelationship between man and nature in the construction, formation and evolution of landscapes".

The first cultural landscape World Heritage site was Tongariro National Park in New Zealand which is a sacred site for the Maori people.

The World Trade Organization has provisions that allow countries to develop Intellectual Property Rights which may give indigenous peoples new avenues for protecting plant species they have nurtured from exploitation by "bio prospectors".

The CBD has recently developed a mechanism called "an intersessional process" which allows signatory nations to address inadequacies in the area of Intellectual Property Rights and will help develop guidelines on how to create better laws to protect indigenous communities.

But UNEP believes that more urgent action is needed to safeguard indigenous cultures and their knowledge.

Its report cites four key reasons why conserving native cultures should be urgently addressed.

"(They) have traditional economic systems that have a relatively low impact on biological diversity because they tend to utilize a great diversity of species, harvesting small numbers of each of them. By comparison settlers and commercial harvesters target far fewer species and collect or breed them in vast numbers, changing the structure of ecosystems," it argues.

"Indigenous peoples try to increase the biological diversity of the territories in which they live, as a strategy for increasing the variety of resources at their disposal and, in particular, reducing the risk associated with fluctuations in the abundance of individual species".

"Indigenous people customarily leave a large 'margin of error' in their seasonal forecasts for the abundance of plants and animals. By underestimating the harvestable surplus of each target species, they minimize the risk of compromising their food supplies".

"Since indigenous knowledge of ecosystems is learned and updated through direct observations on the land, removing the people from the land breaks the generation-to-generation cycle of empirical study. Maintaining the full empirical richness and detail of traditional knowledge depends on continued use of the land as a classroom and laboratory".

Contact: Graham Dutfield, Oxford Centre for the Environment, Ethics and Society on home tel +44-118-9871722 or work +44-1865-282904.

Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity: A Complementary Contribution to the Global Biodiversity Assessment. Edited by Darrell Addison Posey. UNEP and Intermediate Technology. Available from SMI books
E-mail: anthony @smibooks.com

Finding Our Talk: TV series on Canada’s Aboriginal languages

Mushkeg Media Inc., a native-owned production company is currently broadcasting a 13 part series on APTN (Aboriginal People's Television Network) on the state of Aboriginal languages in Canada.

They are also planning season two of the series and are looking for any interesting and unique language revitilization programs or initiatives by individuals, communities or organizations across the land.

Meegwetch.

Paul M. Rickard, Mushkeg Media Inc.
103 Villeneauve West Montreal, Quebec H2T 1 R6 mushkeg@videotron.ca, rickbell@sympatico.ca Check out: http://www.aptn.ca for schedule and tv channel on cable in different parts of the Canada. Can also be picked up on Bell-Express Vu and StarChoice satellite dish for those in remote areas.

Tapes of the programs can be purchased -- either individual episodes or the entire series as a box set. If interested, telephone +1-514-279-3507 (Sylvie Condo), who is taking care of purchase requests, or e-mail .

APTN: episodes at 2:30pm & 11:30pm EST

Episode 1 - Feb.1: Language Among the Skywalkers: Mohawk: This is the story of the legendary Mohawk ironworkers, and of new approaches to language instruction for both adults and children within the contemporary community of Kahnawake.

Episode 2 - Feb. 8: Language Immersion: Cree: This episode will trace the history of the very successful Cree Language Immersion Program, developed and implemented in schools in the Cree communities of Northern Québec.

Episode 3 - Feb. 15: The Trees are Talking: Algonquin: George and Maggie Wabanonick take a group of teens to the woods to initiate them in their traditional culture and language. In the classroom, the kids and teachers struggle with their Algonquin lessons, while the pop group Anishnabe give the language new life.

Episode 4 - Feb 22: The Power of Words: Inuktitut: At a language conference in Puvirnituq, we witness efforts to keep Inuktitut alive and up-to-date, largely through the knowledge and commitment of elders.

Episode 5 - March 1: Words Travel On Air: Attikamekw, Innu: Karin Awashish, a young radio journalist working at SOCAM, makes a trip to her home community to tape interviews and legends told by elders in Attikamekw, as part of the network’s language initiative.

Episode 6 - March 8: Language in the City: Ojibwe/Anishinabe: This episode will focus on Isadore Toulouse’s weekly trajectory to four different urban-based schools, where we witness first-hand, and with raw immediacy, his efforts to pass on his own enthusiasm and passion for the Ojibwe language.

Episode 7 - March 15: Getting Into Michif: Michif: We meet some of the movers and shakers working politically and through the education system, to have Michif recognized as the official language of the Métis, as well as those whose passion and dedication are evidenced at the grass-roots level.

Episode 8 - March 22: Plains Talk: Saulteaux: This episode follows the work of a virtually self-taught, highly motivated language teacher. Stella Ketchemonia has devoted her life to teaching the Saulteaux language . She is now a member of the dynamic staff of the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College.

Episode 9 - March 29: Breaking New Ground: Mi’kmaw: This episode looks at two projects; a pilot to have Mi’kmaw adopted as an official second language in high school curriculum and Mi’kmaw as the language of instruction for a university level science program.

Episode 10 - April 5: A Silent Language: Huron/Wendat: This episode looks at the historical roots of a language’s demise, and at present-day efforts to re-kindle it in spoken form. It also explores the cultural significance and implications of language as a ceremonial artefact.

Episode 11 - April 12: The Power of One: Innu: In his home community of Maliotenam, we follow performer Florent Vollant, formerly a member of the musical duo Kashtin, on his musical campaign to inspire Innu youth with the passion and concern he feels for his language

Episode 12 - April 19: Syllabics: Capturing Language: Cree: In this episode, we look at the historical development and contemporary applications of syllabic writing systems in some of Canada’s native languages.

Episode 13 - April 26: A Remarkable Legacy: Saanich: This episode tells the story of Dave Elliott, a Saanich fisherman who almost single-handedly resurrected the dying language of his people - Sencofen - by creating an alphabet system, recording the elders and developing a language curriculum for local schools.

Brazil seeks out Indigenous Tribes

BBC News Online Tuesday, 27 March, 2001

The Brazilian Indian agency, Funai, has launched an expedition to search for isolated tribes living in the Amazon jungle and map their territory. The team is to travel along several tributaries of the Amazon river, near the border with Colombia and Peru, where monitoring planes have detected indigenous communities in recent years. They will try to identify roads and huts to demarcate their land and find out if there is any threat of invaders.

An official of the agency said the expedition would try to avoid direct contact with any of the isolated groups. "This is not about entering into contact with them," Funai official Manoela Mescia Costa said. "The idea is to find them and then demarcate the territory they occupy. They have been isolated and should remain that way." He added that the expedition would also try to find out if illegal loggers or miners had been active in the area.

The expedition consists of 20 researchers who will spend about eight weeks travelling some 4,000km through areas of the Amazon basin accessible only by boat. Funai estimates that 53 Indian tribes live in isolation in Brazil, most in the Amazon forest.

The BBC's Tom Gibb in Sao Paolo says the launch of the expedition coincides with a growing debate in Brazil about official policy towards the country's Indians.

Mineral exploitation

Some senior army officers have criticised plans by Funai and the government to set up new Indian reservations, saying that the policy could limit Brazilian sovereignty. The army has drawn up ambitious plans to deploy troops along Brazil's Amazon borders, a move it says is necessary to fight drugs and to stop a spillover of the war in Colombia.

A BBC correspondent says several powerful local politicians, who want to exploit mineral wealth in the Amazon, are also opposed to the reservations . About 4,000 of the country's 350,000 Indians are thought to live in the area, which is known as the Javari valley.

Britain ratifies European Charter

Brussels, Galway & Bangor 27/3/01 , by John Walsh, Alex Hijmans & Dafydd Meirion

The British government has ratified the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, thereby granting additional protection to Irish, Gaelic, Welsh, Scots and Ulster Scots.

The Charter, which is the responsibility of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, will come into effect on July 1, committing the UK government to protecting and preserving indigenous minority languages on its territory.

Welsh, Gaelic and Irish (spoken in Northern Ireland) will be granted protection under Part 3 of the Charter, the highest level of protection available.

This section of the Charter obliges the government to outline concrete measures to promote the languages in the areas of education, the courts, public services, media, cultural activity, economic and social life and cross-border activities.

Scots and Ulster-Scots (spoken in Northern Ireland) will be protected under Part 2, which offers a lower level of protection and recognition and also functions as an anti-discrimination clause.

Cornish, spoken by a small number of people in Cornwall, is not specified at all. This will come as a great disappointment to Cornish language activists who had hoped that the language was about to gain a significant boost through its inclusion in the Charter.

In Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, there's been a broad welcome for the ratification.

'We are absolutely delighted,' Alan Campbell, of Comunn na Gàidhlig (The Gaelic Association) told Eurolang.

'We have been waiting for this for a long time, and it is an important, significant step for Gaelic, but also for the other languages specified,' Mr Campbell said.

One of the major issues for Gaelic over the past year has been the quest for secure status for the language in Scotland.

While the UK's ratification of the Charter does not provide the desired secure status, Mr Campbell believes it is nonetheless an important step.

'There will now be some modest provision for Gaelic in some designated courts, for example. This is the only significant change, but ratification of the Charter will strengthen the profile of Gaelic in the public sector, and therefore help the attitudinal change which is needed to make secure status into law,' Mr Campbell said.

Scots has also been included in the Charter, but will be protected only under Part 2.

'We are pleased that Scots has at least had the recognition,' Tom Band of the Scots Language Resource Centre told Eurolang.

'We do hope that in the future Scots will be elevated to Level 3 protection, and we will be working towards that. Under the current Level 2 protection, the UK Government will be required to promote and assist Scots, and they will have to issue a yearly report to show how they have done so, so at least this will make politicians focus on the subject once a year.'

'We welcome the UK Government's decision to ratify the Charter, this is news we have been waiting for for a long time,' Janet Muller, of POBAL, the umbrella body for Irish language groups in Northern Ireland, told Eurolang.

'However, the Charter is only a guide. The British Government has a lot of steps to take now to show that it is serious about providing protection for Irish in Northern Ireland, and I advise Irish speakers in Northern Ireland to read through the Charter carefully and continuously assess the British Government's policies towards Irish,' Janet Muller said.

'Good news for the resurgent Ulster Scots movement,' is how Lord Laird of Artigarvan, Chairman of the Ulster Scots Agency described the announcement.

'This is a further major step forward which commits the Government to helping and supporting with resources the Ulster Scots language alongside the Ulster Scots Agency. This is a very timely announcement which will help to further stimulate the vast interest in Ulster Scots generated in Northern Ireland and further afield,' explained Lord Laird.

'It is greatly welcomed,' said Rhodri Williams of the Welsh Language Board (Bwrdd yr Iaith Gymraeg).

'It confirms the UK government's continuing commitment to safeguarding and maintaining indigenous languages as an essential part of our cultural heritage.'

Mr Williams said that many of the paragraphs of the Charter which the UK government has committed itself to implementing are already in place in Wales.

However, he said that this represented a good basis for planning for the future and that the Welsh Language Board would continue to work 'to ensure that the Charter is a positive step towards fulfilling the aim of creating a bilingual Wales.'

States which ratify the Charter must submit detailed reports on implementation to the Council of Europe every three years.

A committee of independent experts may also visit countries which have ratified and issue reports which may subsequently be made public. (EL)

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