Foundation for Endangered Languages

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7. Reports on Events

It’s The Same Old Song: a view of the Eurovision Song Contest

The Eurovision Song Contest is the highlight of some people’s year; but it is the embarrassing low spot of some also. This year’s entrants were the same as usual: boy-girl-boy-girl combos, or disco beats from Euro-no-man’s land. The winners were no different from any other year’s winners. When I write that I mean in the fact that they sang in English. Estonia, that little Baltic republic which spent decades trying to throw off the Communist yoke, in culture, ethnicity, and moreover, language, decided to use English instead of Estonian for their entry. Perhaps singing in Estonian is bizarre and impedes the chances of winning?

Estonia, indeed, won the event, only being threatened by that other English-singing nation, Denmark. Third place was taken by the Greek entry, who, you guessed it, sang in English.

My complaint is not with the Eurovision Song Contest, it is with the groups, or writers, who dismiss their own language in favour of English, with the sole reason of being understood in order to win. I also think that the judges’ incapacity to appreciate another language other than English is irresponsible and only serves to aid the degrading truth that English is fast destroying other languages.

It does not matter that the majority of the songs had a very basic vocabulary range: love and baby being the predominant words. I take issue with people who think they can get away with such liberties. What is wrong with saying baby in Portuguese or Sami, or Tuscan, or Basque or even Cornish?

Out of the twenty-three countries who entered, only six sang in their country’s main language: Israel, Portugal, Spain, France, Turkey and funnily enough, Britain. Some other countries made efforts to sing a bit in their own language but a lot in English: Bosnia-Herzegovina and Germany. But most countries – almost three-quarters – decided to flout their own language in favour of English.

If languages are to be respected we should not be ashamed of singing in them; and for that matter, telling jokes, stories, anecdotes, etc. in them.

I propose a new rule for the Contest: that every entrant must sing in a language that is native of the entrant’s country. This rule proposes a language, and not the language. In that way, not only will English be limited to Britain (and perhaps Ireland) but will give rise to ethnic languages being allowed to lend their voice to an event, which however kitsch it seems, could become an important flagship for some languages in Europe which need a boost.



I have cited Tuscan and Sami, but how about an entry in Lowland Scots, or Sardinian Catalan, or Aranese? The Eurovision Song Contest could unconsciously be a great event.

More persuasion is needed here. If there are any ideas about this I would gladly welcome them and perhaps we could petition the organizers to change the rules.

Christopher Hadfield

Eighth Annual Symposium: Stabiliz’g Indigenous Languages: “Merging Tradition and Technology”, June 14-16, 2001

Jon Reyhner Jon.Reyhner(at)NAU.EDU writes:
The Eighth Annual Stabilizing Indigenous Languages Symposium “Merging Tradition and Technology to Revitalize Indigenous Languages” was held at Northern Arizona University (NAU) in Flagstaff, Arizona, on June 14-16, 2001, with about 400 indigenous language educators and activists in attendance. The symposium provided them an opportunity through panels, workshops, papers, and informal discussions to share ideas and materials for revitalizing the indigenous languages of the world.

This sharing included 60 separate sessions, ranging from Choctaw Internet Courses in Oklahoma to Planning a Summer Language Immersion Camp. General sessions included Oscar Kawagley of the University of Alaska speaking on “A Yupiaq Worldview: A Pathway to Ecology and Spirit,” readings by Navajo poets Luci Tapahonso and Laura Tohe, and language activist Gary Owens speaking on “Curriculum Development and Language Learning: Breathing Outside the Box.” A published selection of papers from the conference is planned to be issued in the spring of 2002.

The ninth annual conference is planned for 2002 in Montana with the date and place still to be determined. Updated information will be posted on the Teaching Indigenous Languages (TIL) web site at as soon as it is available or to be put on an e-mail list to receive information, sent your e-mail address to Jon.Reyhner(at) Published proceedings of the 1994, 1995, 1997, and 1998 conferences can be accessed from the TIL web site.

New material on the TIL web site includes the full text of Learn in Beauty: Indigenous Education for a New Century, including papers on Navajo attitudes towards teaching their language in schools, a model Navajo/English dual language program, and western influences on teaching indigenous languages. Among new links posted on the TIL web site is a link to the full text of the summer 2001 special issue of Cultural Survival Quarterly titled “Endangered Languages, Endangered Lives” and a link to the 2001 Alaskan “Guidelines for Strengthening Indigenous Languages.”