Foundation for Endangered Languages

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1. A Shot in the Arm for Language Documentation

The last six months have seen the best ever news for the prospects of language documentation.

The Lisbet Rausing Charitable Fund, based in the United Kingdom, has laid the foundation for a new Endangered Languages Documentation Progamme, to be based at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in the University of London. The first call for proposals is due in the autumn of this year, and the first grants to be made early in 2003.

This Programme is forecast to have serious funds at its disposal, with a sum of the order of 15 million pounds sterling to spend over the next decade. In that period it aspires to provide substantial documentation for up to a hundred languages which are in danger of disappearance. The funds are to be available to researchers and community workers in any part of the world, as long as they submit proposals in accord with the Fundís guidelines. Essentially, these guidelines are only what is necessary to ensure that the results of the work remain useful, permanently available and generally accessible. The practical details are summarized later in this issue of Ogmios.

Besides the funding for language documentation projects, and well equipped archives to store their results, the Fund will finance a new professorial chair at SOAS. It will provide support for training in techniques of linguistic field methods, giving a significant opportunity to increase the number of people with skills in this important side of linguistics.

 

 

This development is a great encouragement for all of us concerned to attract resources in support of the smaller languages of the world. It confirms our hope that by trying, in a small way, to raise the the prominence of the issue of Endangered Languages, an appreciation of the situation might one day reach people in a position to offer serious help.

Many members of the Foundation have aided in the definition of the guidelines for the the new Programme, and more will no doubt continue to do so. (I myself am a consultant to the Fund.) But the Programme is not an activity of our Foundation, and its funds will be quite separate from our own.

In these new circumstances, it is arguable that the terms for our Foundationís own future grants should be re-defined. We shall not be able to match even 1% of the funds that will now be available for Language Documentation work. In the spirit of concentrating on our area of comparative advantage, I myself would recommend that in future the Foundationís grants should be targeted far more powerfully on language maintenance and revitalization work based within endangered language communities.

This should be a major topic of discussion at our next conference, to be held in Antigua, Guatemala on 8-10 August.

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