Foundation for Endangered Languages

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5. Allied Societies and Activities

Further News of the Language Challenge: Pob Hwyl i Ti, Nigel!

Nigel Birch FEL Secretary, wrote ,on Mon, 9 Apr 2001:

I promised to let you know more about my "Language Challenge"...

As you know, I have been trying to learn Welsh for a while now, not very successfully. The problem is having to do it from books at home and my self-discipline is not what it should be!

I am going to use the Language Challenge to "kick-start" my Welsh learning. I am a graduate of the University of Wales in Bangor and so I wrote to Professor Branwen Jarvis, the head of the Adran y Cymraeg, Prifysgol Cymru, Bangor (Department of Welsh, University of Wales), explained who I was, what I was trying to do and what I was trying to raise money for. I asked if she would set me a challenge. This she has done (reach Chapter 16 of "Teach Yourself Welsh" by September) and she has also agreed to set me a test to show that I have actually done it! I'm hoping to do the test in Bangor on the Day of Languages itself and use the event to generate some publicity, as well as money from sponsorship.

Please let the Editor know of any other activities on this front. AOL on the Line

Bernard Moffatt, Secretary General, Celtic League, wrote on 25/03/01:

Welsh language activists are challenging major multi-national Internet provider AOL for its failure to provide a Welsh language option with its service.

A spokesperson for AOL said in response to criticisms: "At AOL UK we are keen to provide content of interest to all of our members. The AOL brand is global - however the content and services we deliver are produced by local teams in each country.

The vast majority of the population of the UK are not Welsh speakers, therefore I'm afraid it is simply not economically feasible for us to produce bespoke AOL software for Welsh speakers".

However, this rather patronizing argument, and also an assertion that all Welsh AOL users will understand English anyway, has been furiously rejected by AOL's critics who point out that other languages including Celtic languages such as Irish are catered for.

[AOL were notorious two years ago for not tolerating the use of Irish on their so-called "Peace in Ireland" newsgroup. - Ed.]

The full debate which promises to continue until AOL see the error of their ways can be monitored on:

Gaelic League members should support the campaign and also those with links to National languages organizations should add their voice.

Developments in computer technology and the Internet should be used to support indigenous language not diminish them.

Volkswagen Foundation Grants

Applications are now being accepted for the main phase of the funding program "Documentation of Endangered Languages" of the Volkswagen Foundation, Hanover, Germany. A detailed description of the technical, linguistic, and legal framework of the program is available at:

The Volkswagen Foundation hopes that this funding initiative will help to stem the irretrievable loss of endangered languages around the world. In view of the fact that some languages will rapidly become extinct within a mere one to two generations, systematic documentation would appear to be the task that most urgently needs to be tackled. Such documentation should be characterized by data orientation, multi- functionality, and general accessibility.

The program is intended not only to to establish high standards of documentation, but to encourage the development and testing of new methods of research, and of the processing and archiving of linguistic and cultural data. The program has a strong interdisciplinary orientation: it not only supports interdisciplinary data collection, it also intends to create opportunities for subsequent multi-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary utilization of the data.



The MPI for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen (NL) will house the data archive, including audio and video recordings, photos, and various texts and annotations.

The program started with a 1-year initial phase, with 8 documentation projects and 1 digital multimedia archive project working out the logistical, technical, linguistic and legal framework of an archive of endangered languages, recognizing that a common electronic archive requires linguistic and technical standardization and that the documentation touches important ethical and legal questions.

The eight initial-phase documentation projects were:

1. Wichita (Caddoan, USA) -- Team: David S. Rood & Mirzayan Armik (Colorado)
2. Kuikuro (Cariban, Upper Xingu, central Brazil) -- Team: Bruna Franchetto & Sven Grevald
3. Trumai (isolate, Upper Xingu, central Brazil) -- Team: Stephen C. Levinson & Raquel Guirardello (MPI Nijmegen)
4. Aweti' (Tupian, Upper Xingu, central Brazil) -- Team: Hans-Heinrich Lieb & Sebastian Drude (Freie Universitaet Berlin)
5. Ega (Kwa family, Ivory Coast) -- Team: Firmin Ahoua (U de Cocody, Abidjan), Bruce Connell (York U, Toronto) & Dafydd Gibbon (Bielefeld)
6. Teop (Austronesian Oceanic, Bougainville, Papua New Guinea) -- Team: Ulrike Mosel, Ruth Saovana Spriggs, Marcia Schwartz & Jessica Reinig
7. Salar (Turkic) and Monguor (Mongol) (Qinghai, China) -- Team: Lars Johanson (Mainz) & Arienne M. Dwyer
8. Altai-Sayan Language & Ethnography Project (Southern Siberia and northern Mongolia) -- Team: Bernard Comrie (MPI Leipzig), K. David Harrison (Yale), Gregory Anderson (Manchester), Brian Donahoe (Indiana), & Sven Grawunder (Halle).

Applications for projects in the main phase must be made within these guidelines:

The degree of endangerment of the language which is to be documented must be demonstrated, along with the urgency of the need for its documentation and its comprehensive documentation capacity.
The qualification of the project members for language documentation purposes should be specified. Project members should be qualified academics, preferably from a variety of disciplines (e.g. ethnology and linguistics), with field research experience. If possible, they should possess knowledge of the relevant contact language. Projects that involve international academic collaboration, particularly including academics from the host country, will be especially welcomed.
In addition, a willingness to process data in accordance with the three key terms of data orientation, multifunctionality and general accessibility is considered to be a prerequisite. Following the completion of the project, the project members will be granted the sole right of access to their data material for a period of up to three years for the purpose of achieving and presenting their own research results, e.g. in the form of a doctoral thesis.
A willingness to accept the linguistic, technical and legal framework defined by the goals of a central digital archive for endangered languages. When an application is submitted, official research permission and the consent of the relevant speech community to the documentation of its language should have been obtained.
The institutional prerequisites for the documentation project for which an application is submitted should be in place. Responsibility for the general accessibility of the documentation and continued data maintenance will lie with the applicants.
A willing to attend conferences and to participate in training courses within the framework of the program will be assumed, provided that such meetings do not clash with field visits.

Further information about the application process can be obtained from the office of the Volkswagen Foundation in Hannover, Germany. Contact:

Dr. Vera Szoelloesi-Brenig
Volkswagen Stiftung Hannover
Kastanienallee 35
30519 Hannover, Germany
tel +49-511-8381-218
fax +49-511-8381-4218

For technical information please contact:
Peter Wittenburg
Max-Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen, NL
tel +31-21-352 1113
fax +31-24-352 1213