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4. Appeals, News and Views from Endangered Communities

Canadian Natives Help Isolated Tribe In India

19 March 2002
A Canadian chief today called on an Indian court to prevent the recently contacted Jarawa tribe from being brought out of their forest home. Local authorities in the Andaman Islands, Indian territories in the Bay of Bengal, planned to remove the nomads to a government settlement in order to 'civilise' them. Learning of this plan, Simeon Tshakapesh, Chief of the Mushuau Innu in eastern Canada, has warned the Andaman administration of his own people's horrific experiences of forced resettlement.

The Mushuau Innu were the last Indians in Canada to be settled by the authorities. Formerly nomadic hunters, in the 1960s and 1970s they were coerced into living in villages by the Canadian government and Catholic Church. The result was a disaster.

Since relocation they suffer the highest suicide rate in the world, their infant mortality rate is seven times higher than the national average, 80% of adults have alcohol or drug problems and nearly 100% of their teenagers are engaged in 'self destructive behaviour'. This is the grim future that the Innu want to help the Jarawa avoid.

Chief Simeon and other experts have made 'expert witness testimonies' to India's High Court of Calcutta regarding the Jarawa's case. Survival is submitting the testimonies today. The fate of the 250-300 Jarawa lies with the court, which will decide whether or not the Jarawa should be allowed to continue to live in peace on their own land. If the Jarawa are forcibly settled, they will almost certainly die out.

Chief Simeon explains in his testimony that resettlement can become 'a death sentence for a self-sufficient and unique people. I implore you to learn from our situation before making any decisions which will drastically impact the lives of the Jarawa people.' (This report comes form Survival International: contact Miriam Ross mr(at)

Cornish film premiered in the UK Houses of Parliament

Důn Čideann /Edinburgh 1/3/02 , by Davyth Hicks (courtesy of EuroLang)

The producer of the first ever feature length film in Cornish and Cornish MP Andrew George, are pulling off an amazing publicity coup by having ‘Hwerow Hweg’ (Bitter Sweet) premiered in the UK Houses of Parliament.

The film’s multilingual Hungarian director, Antal Kovacs, tells Eurolang: 'The main aim was to raise the profile of the Cornish language. With no governmental recognition of Kernewek (Cornish), the recent revival of the language borders on the miraculous. Thus, a Cornish language feature film marks an important cultural milestone.

‘With Cornwall's abundance of talented writers, directors, musicians and filmmakers, we are well positioned to produce films, which could seriously rival Hollywood - this could be the first of those films', says Kovacs.

'The film works on several levels. It's a good yarn, pure entertainment - but there's also a lot more in there if you look deep enough. Why did we film it in Kernewek? Unless we want the world to be just a McDonald-cum-Kentucky Fried Chicken parking lot, we should celebrate richness and diversity', says the Minority director. Eurolang asked Kovacs why they choose to show the film in the Parliament. ‘Why not? It seems that the English have a serious problem with recognising the Cornish language as a legitimate one. Welsh is OK, Gaelic is OK, but not Kernewek. I hope that Andrew George will invite some of the doubting Thomases. I have no problems with opening the film in the House, and there will be lots of other screenings.’

‘We hope to screen the film at the Celtic Film and TV Festival in Kemper (Quimper, Brittany) at the end of March, but this is not yet confirmed. We will have screenings in Cornwall during April (venues and dates not yet confirmed). We will show it as part of the ‘Homecoming’ event in early May in Falmouth, and also at the Falmouth Arts Centre on Thursday, 23rd May.

However, Kovacs adds that ‘A general release for the Kernewek version is not an issue. Some screenings with specialist cinemas and festivals are more likely - or direct sales to television. It is early days to talk about all that.’

Does the Kovacs think this will lead to an Oscar nomination in the ‘Best Foreign Film’ category?

‘There are a few ‘ifs’ along the way, but why not. I would love to have an Oscar nomination. Supporting it with all the necessary marketing hype would cost about ten times the amount of money it cost to make the film. But why not?’

The premiere is on Tuesday, 12th March in the Jubilee Room of the Houses of Parliament at 3.00 pm.

Fŕs (Důn Čideann)

Twenty-six Gaelic language activists came together in Edinburgh on Saturday, 2 March, 2002, to establish FŔS (Důn Čideann), a new Gaelic campaign group. The object of the organisation is to campaign to encourage, develop and use Gaelic as an everyday, normalised language with a statutory foundation, in Edinburgh and throughout Scotland. A committee of 10 was appointed to act as an executive for the new organisation.

The first meeting of the committee was held on Monday, 4 March, and the following members were appointed to the following offices: Alasdair MacCaluim, Chairperson, John MacLeod, Vice-Chairperson, Rob Dunbar, Secretary, Alison Lang, Treasurer.

The committee also approved a policy statement under which they committed the new organisation to strive for the normalisation of the Gaelic language in Edinburgh and surrounding areas. The committee will begin campaigns for the development of a Gaelic Policy by the Edinburgh City Council, for the greater use of bilingual Gaelic-English signage, for more Gaelic usage in local media, and for the further development of education in Gaelic and Gaelic-medium education in the city. They are particularly concerned that the public profile of the language be raised in Scotland's capital city, and that opportunities to speak and use Gaelic be increased. The committee also established two sub-committees, one with respect to the development of language campaigns and another to develop the new organisation's membership base.

FŔS (Důn Čideann) was set up because of widespread frustration that not nearly enough was being done by local and national governments to preserve and promote Gaelic, Scotland’s oldest spoken language. At the national level, no progress has been made towards a Gaelic Language Act based on recommendations first made well over four years ago by Scotland’s main Gaelic development agency, Comunn na Gŕidhlig (CNAG). In June, 2000, the Scottish Executive and Scottish Parliament rejected the creation of a statutory right to Gaelic-medium education. The Executive has set up two task forces on Gaelic, but the Minister with responsibility for Gaelic, Michael Watson, was recently reported in The Scotsman newspaper to have said that the Executive would not implement the main recommendations of the first of these, the Macpherson Task Force Report. At a local level, despite the success of Gaelic-medium education in Edinburgh, the City Council has repeatedly refused to move towards the creation of a Gaelic-medium school.

FŔS (Důn Čideann) wants to move quickly to establish a national organisation, and will be working with activists based in other parts of Scotland to set up other local branches.

FŔS (Důn Čideann) will hold its next public meeting on Saturday, 6 April, at 11:00 a.m. at the Department of Celtic, the University of Edinburgh, 19 George Square, Edinburgh. The meeting will be conducted through the medium of Gaelic.

State of Indigenous Languages in Australia The State of the Environment Report by Environment Australia has now posted its subreports on the Web, one of them being 'The State of Indigenous languages related to cultural heritage', available at

This summary report is based on a research paper commissioned by Environment Australia. The research paper (McConvell and Thieberger (2001) The State of Indigenous Languages In Australia) is available as a pdf document from the AIATSIS website.

It has the following conclusions::
1. The number of Indigenous languages and the percentage of people speaking these languages has continued to fall in the period 1986-1996, accelerating over the 10 years. If these trends continue unchecked, by 2050 there will no longer be any Indigenous languages spoken in Australia. It is unlikely that this prediction will be borne out in exactly this way, since the trend will probably level out eventually, leaving a handful of strong languages still spoken for another generation or two, but the overall scenario is nevertheless bleak. Language revival has had an appreciable affect on increasing the number of people identifying as speakers of an Indigenous language in at least one region.
2. Undercounting of Indigenous people in the 1996 Census, together with an 8% greater number of respondents saying they know an Indigenous language than saying they speak it at home, suggests that there may actually be in the order of 55,000 speakers of Indigenous languages in Australia.
3. By 1996, seventeen of the previous twenty strong languages were still strong and three had become endangered.
4. The decline in numbers of speakers of Indigenous languages is also spread across the urban-rural divide.
5. In some regions there is a decrease in speaker numbers in the 30-39 age group, but more people under 30 are now identifying as speakers, possibly heralding a revitalisation of the language. At the same time as there has been a large increase in the number of people identifying as Indigenous in the 1986-1996 period, there has also been an increase in the absolute numbers of Indigenous language speakers, but not proportional to the increase in total Indigenous population. There is a trend in most Indigenous languages for knowledge of language to be inversely proportional to age, i.e. the younger people are, the less likely they are to speak an Indigenous language. This is considered to be a symptom of language shift, and of the language being endangered.
6. There has been an increase in the amount of recording and documentation of Indigenous languages in the past 10 years, and 141 of the 764 named Indigenous languages have wordlists or dictionaries.
7. Much of the increased activity in recording and documentation followed the establishment of Commonwealth funding programs specifically supporting Indigenous languages. Particularly significant and productive has been the establishment of Regional Aboriginal Language Centres and language management committees under Indigenous control from the mid-1980s onwards; there are few parallels to this development elsewhere in the world.
8. There have been significant initiatives developing curriculum and programs related to Indigenous languages in the last ten years for primary and high schools. Major new networks of Indigenous language programs have been set up in South Australia and Western Australia, although the reversion from Bilingual to English-only education in the Anangu lands in South Australia in the 1980s must be weighed on the other side of the balance. There is some evidence of a tailing off of support for Indigenous languages in other parts of Australia in the late 1990s. Particularly detrimental has been the dismantling of the Bilingual Education programs in Aboriginal schools in the Northern Territory, where Indigenous people make up 29% of the population. The establishment of this program in 1974 was the single most important move in support of Indigenous languages that has ever occurred in Australia and its loss is a severe blow.
9. Overall the trend is still a decline, and if this decline is not halted or reversed there will be an eventual loss of perhaps all Indigenous languages, a tragic result for Indigenous people and the heritage of Australia. However there are some bright spots, where the efforts of Indigenous people to turn the situation around seem to be paying off in mitigating the downward trend. The building of strong Indigenous-controlled language centres and programs, backed by Commonwealth funding schemes and, more recently, strong support for Indigenous languages in education in some States are assisting in this rescue operation. But this support remains uncertain, and in some places (notably the Northern Territory) is faltering. Schemes and programs must be continued for a generation to have effect.

China plans to spend $1m to save what may be the world's only language used exclusively by women
Thursday, 18 April, 2002, 10:54 GMT 11:54 UK

The language, on the verge of extinction, is spoken only by elder women of the Yao ethnic group in Hunan province.

Some linguists say the language may be one of the oldest in the world. Now China plans to set up a special protection zone and a museum in Hunan province's Jiangyong county. The Xinhua news agency says the museum will house written examples of the language, which has 1,200 characters, though fewer than 700 are still in use.

Experts believe much of the language's written heritage, mainly preserved on paper fans and silks, has already been destroyed.
Zhang Xiasheng, of London's School of Oriental and African Studies, says the language was handed down from mothers to daughters and developed in cut-off rural areas.

Men were not interested in the secret coded-language, he says. A publishing house in Hunan is putting together a dictionary covering the language's history and the pronunciation, meaning and written style of its characters.

According to China's People's Daily, the Yao ethnic group has a total population of 2.9 million.

Ethnic Group Yao
Major Areas of Concentration
Guangxi, Hunan, Yunnan,Guizhou
Pop. in China (1990 Census) 2.137 million
Pop. in Taishan (1982 Census) 3

The Yaos, with a population of 2.13 million, live in mountain communities scattered over 130 counties in five south China provinces and one autonomous region. About 70 per cent of them live in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, the rest in Hunan, Yunnan, Guangdong, Guizhou and Jiangxi provinces.

Historically, the Yaos have had at least 30 names based on their ways of production, lifestyles, dresses and adornments. The name "Yao" was officially adopted after the founding of the People's Republic in 1949.

Half of the Yaos speak the Yao language belonging to the Chinese-Tibetan language family, others use Miao or Dong languages. As a result of close contacts with the Hans and Zhuangs, many Yaos also have learned to speak Chinese or Zhuang language.

Before 1949, the Yaos did not have a written language. Ancient Yaos kept records of important affairs by carving notches on wood or bamboo slips. Later they used Chinese characters. Hand-written copies of words of songs are on display in the Jinxiu Yao Autonomous County in Guangxi. They are believed to be relics of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Ancient stone tablets engraved with Chinese characters can be found in a lot of Yao communities.

Most Yaos live in beautiful, humid mountain valleys densely covered with pines, firs, Chinese firs, Chinese cinnamons, tung oil trees, bamboos and tea bushes. The thickly forested Jianghua Yao Autonomous County in Hunan is renowned as the "home of Chinese firs." The places inhabited by the Yaos also abound in indigo, edible funguses, bamboo shoots, sweet grass, mushrooms, honey, dye yam, jute and medical herbs. The forests are teeming with wild animals such as boars, bears, monkeys, muntjacs and masked civets. Rich as they are in natural resources, the Yao mountain areas are ideal for developing a diversified economy.


Called the "savage Wuling tribes" some 2,000 years ago, the Yao ancestors lived around Changsha, capital of today's Hunan Province. Two or three centuries later, they were renamed the "Moyao." One of China's foremost ancient poets, Du Fu (712-770), once wrote: "The Moyaos shoot wild geese; with bows made from mulberry trees."

As time went on, historical accounts about the Yaos increased, showing growing ties between the Yao and the Han people. In the Song Dynasty (960-1279), agriculture and handicrafts developed considerably in the Yao areas, such that forged iron knives, indigo-dyed cloth and crossbow weaving machines became reputed Yao products. At that time, the Yaos in Hunan were raising cattle and using iron farm tools on fields rented from Han landlords.

During the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911), farm cattle and iron tools spread among the Yaos in Guangxi and Guangdong, who developed paddy fields and planted different kinds of crops on hillsides. They dug ditches and built troughs to draw water from springs for daily use and irrigation. Sideline occupations such as hunting, collecting medical herbs, making charcoal and weaving were pursued side by side with agriculture.

Before the founding of the People's Republic, the Yao economy could be divided into three types:

The first and most common type, with agriculture as the base and forestry and other sideline occupations affiliated, was concentrated in places blessed with fine natural conditions and the greatest influence of the Hans. Here farming methods and social relations very much resembled those of the Han and Zhuang ethnic groups.

The second type was centered on forestry, with agriculture as a sideline. A few landlords monopolized all the forests and hillside fields, while the foresters and farmers had to pay taxes and rents no matter whether they went ploughing, hunting or fishing, built their houses, buried their dead, collected wild fruits and herbs, drank from mountain streams or even walked on the mountains. When the poor opened up wasteland, for instance, they had to plant saplings between their crops. As soon as the saplings grew into trees, they were paid to the landlords as rent. These exactions caused many Yaos to be continually wandering from place to place.

The third type, engaged in by a tiny percentage of the Yao population, was the primitive "slash-and-burn" cultivation. Although most land was owned by Han and Zhuang landlords, the Yao farmers had some of their own. In such cases, the land belonged to ancient communes, each formed by less than 20 families descended from the same ancestor. The families in a commune worked together and shared the products equally.

The Yaos practiced an interesting form of primitive cooperation called "singing-while-digging." This can still be seen in Guangxi today. At times of spring ploughing, 20 to 30 households work together for one household after another until all their fields are ploughed and sown. While the group is working, a young man stands out in the fields, beating a drum and leading the singing. Everyone sings after him.

Today hunting remains an important part of Yao life. On the one hand, it provides them with a greater variety of food; on the other, it prevents their crops and forests from being damaged by too many wild animals. After hunting, the bag is divided equally among the hunters. Sometimes portions are given to the children carried on the elders' backs, but the hunter who caught the animal is awarded a double portion. Sometimes, part of the bag is put aside for the aged people back in the villages.

For nearly 1,000 years before this century, most Yaos were ruled by hereditary headmen. The headmen obeyed the central government, which was always dominated by the Han or other large ethnic groups. After the Kuomintang took power early in this century, it pursued a system similar to the previous one, which meant rule through puppet Yao headmen and "divide and rule." These policies incited endless conflicts among the Yaos and caused them a great deal of hardship. It was not until the birth of New China that the Yaos realized equality with other ethnic groups as well as among themselves.

Customs and Habits

The Yaos have such unique life styles that the various communities are quite different from each other. According to the Book of the Later Han Dynasty (25-220), the ancient Yaos "liked five-colored clothes." Later historical records said that the Yaos were "barefoot and colorfully dressed."

In modern times, the Yao costumes maintain their diversity. Men wear jackets buttond in the middle or to the left, and usually belted. Some men like trousers long enough to touch their insteps; some prefer shorts akin to knee breechs. Men's dress is mainly in blue or black. However, in places such as Nandan County in Guangxi, most men wear white knee-length knickerbockers. Men in Liannan County, Guangdong Province, mostly curl their long hair into a bun, which they wrap with a piece of red cloth and top with several pheasant feathers.

Women's dress varies more. Some Yao women fancy short collarless jackets, cloth belts and skirts either long or short; some choose knee-length jackets buttoned in the middle, belts with both ends drooping and either long or short slacks; some have their collars, sleeves and trouser legs embroidered with beautiful patterns. In addition to the silver medals decorating their jackets, many Yao women wear silver bracelets, earrings, necklets and hairpins.

Rice, corn, sweet potatoes and taros make up their staple food. Common vegetables include peppers, pumpkins and soybeans. Alcoholic drinks and tobacco are quite popular. In northern Guangxi, a daily necessity is "oily tea." The tealeaves are fried in oil, then boiled into a thick, salty soup and mixed with puffed rice or soybeans. The oily tea serves as lunch on some occasions. Another favorite dish is "pickled birds." The cleaned birds are blended with salt and rice flour, then sealed into airtight pots. Beef, mutton and other meat are also pickled this way and considered a banquet delicacy. Many Yaos think it taboo to eat dog meat. If they do eat it, they do the cooking outside the house.

A typical Yao house is a rectangular wood-and-bamboo structure with usually three rooms -- the sitting room in the middle, the bedrooms on both sides. A cooking stove is set in a corner of each bedroom. Some hillside houses are two-storied, the upper story being the sitting room and bedrooms, the lower story stables.

For those families who have a bathroom built next to the house, a bath in the evening is an everyday must, even in severe winters.

The Yaos have intriguing marriage customs. With antiphonal singing as a major means of courting, youngsters choose lovers by themselves and get married with the consent of the parents on both sides. However, the bridegroom's family used to have to pay a sizeable amount of silver dollars and pork as betrothal gifts to the bride's family. Some men who could not afford the gifts had to live and work in the bride's families and were often looked down upon.

In old Yao families, the mother's brothers had a decisive say in crucial family matters and enjoyed lots of other privileges. In several counties in Guangxi, for example, the daughters of the father's sisters were obliged to marry the sons of the mother's brothers. If other marriage partners were proposed the betrothal gifts had to be paid to the mother's brothers. This, perhaps, was a remnant of matrilineal society.

Festivals take place one after another in the Yao communities, at a rate of about once a month. Although festive customs alter from place to place, there are common celebrations such as the Spring Festival, the Land God Festival, the Pure Brightness Festival, "Danu" Festival and "Shuawang" Festival. The "Danu" Festival, celebrated in the Yao Autonomous County of Duan in Guangxi, is said to commemorate ancient battles. The "Shuawang" Festival, held every three or five years in the tenth month by the lunar calendar, provides the young people with a golden opportunity for courtship.

The Yaos worshipped a plethora of gods, and their ancestors. Their belief in "Panhu," the dog spirit, revealed a vestige of totemism. Yao communities used to hold lavish rites every few years to chant scriptures and offer sacrifices to their ancestors and gods. In some communities, a solemn ceremony was performed when a boy entered manhood. Legend has it that at the ceremony he had to jump from a three-meter-high platform, climb a pole tied with sharp knives, walk on hot bricks and dip a bare hand into boiling oil. Only after going through these tests could he get married and take part in formal social activities.

With growing scientific and cultural knowledge, the Yaos have, on their own initiative, discarded irrational customs and habits during recent decades, while preserving healthy ones.

The Yaos cherish a magnificent oral literary tradition. As mentioned above, singing forms an indispensable part of their life. When a group of people are opening up wasteland, one or two selected persons stand aside, beating drums and singing to enliven the work. Young males and females often sing in antiphonal tones all through the night. Extremely rich in content, some of the folk songs are beautiful love songs, others recount the history of the Yao people, add to the joyous atmosphere at weddings, synchronize working movements, tell legends about the creation of heaven and the earth, ask meaningful questions with each other or tell humorous stories. In many of them, the words have been passed down from generation to generation.

Besides drums, gongs and the suona horn (a woodwind instrument), the long waist drum, another traditional musical instrument, is unique to the Yaos. It was said to have been popular early in the Song Dynasty (1127-1279). The revived waist drum dance has been frequently performed both in China and abroad since the 1950s.

The Yaos are expert weavers, dyers and embroiderers. In the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D.220), they wove with fabrics made from tree bark and dyed it with grass seeds. In the Song Dynasty, they developed delicate designs dyed on white cloth with indigo and beeswax. The product became famous all over the country later.

Post-1949 Life

The Yaos have an age-old revolutionary tradition. As early as the Han Dynasty, they fought feudal imperial oppression. During the Tang and Song dynasties, they waged more rebellions against their Han rulers. Still later, in the 15 years from 1316 to 1331, they launched more than 40 uprisings. The largest revolt lasted for a century from 1371. The frightened Ming (1368-1644) emperors had to send three huge armies to conquer the rebels.

The famous Taiping Rebellion, led by Hong Xiuquan in the 1850s against the Qing (1644-1911) feudal bureaucrats, received effective support from the Yaos. Many Yao people joined the Taiping army and were known for their bravery.



The Yaos played an active role in China's new democratic revolution which finally led to the founding of the People's Republic. The Yao Autonomous County of Bama in Guangxi today used to be the base area of the 7th Red Army commanded by Deng Xiaoping in the 1930s.

Democratic reforms were carried out after 1949 according to the different characteristics of the three types of Yao economy. The reforms abolished the feudal exploitation system and enhanced the progress of agriculture, forestry, animal husbandry and other forms of production.

Meanwhile, autonomous localities were gradually formed for the Yaos.

In August 1951, when a central government delegation visited Guangxi, it helped the local government set up Longsheng Autonomous County, the first one for the Yaos. From 1952 to 1963, eight Yao autonomous counties appeared, and over 200 autonomous townships covered smaller Yao communities. The policy of regional autonomy enabled the Yaos to be their own masters, ending the history of discrimination and starting an era of national equality and unity.

Local autonomous governments have made successful efforts to improve the people's lives. The Yao Autonomous County of Duan in Guangxi is a fine example. There the Yaos live in karst valleys. The soil is stony, erosive and dry. An old saying went that "the mountains start burning after three fine days; the valleys get flooded after a heavy rain." Now the saying is nothing more than history, as the government has helped remove the jeopardy of droughts and floods by building tunnels, dams and reservoirs.

Before 1949, the Yao area only had a few handicraft workshops. But now, there are many medium- and small-sized power plants and factories making farm machines, processing timber, and making chemicals and cement.

In the early 1950s, few Yao people had any education, but today, schools can be found in all villages. Almost every child of school age gets elementary and secondary education. Some elite students go on to colleges.

In the old days, the Yaos never knew such a thing as a hospital. As a result, pestilence haunted the region. Now, government-trained Yao doctors and nurses work in hospitals or clinics in every Yao county, township and village. Epidemics such as smallpox and cholera have been eliminated. With the people's health well protected, the Yao population has doubled since the founding of the People's Republic.

Network of Aboriginal Language Centres 25 March 2002

The Kimberley Language Resource Centre, Wangka Maya Pilbara Aboriginal Language Centre, Yamaji Language Centre and Mirima Dawang Woorlab-gerring Language Centre that collectively represent over 60 Aboriginal Languages have resolved to form a group with the working title Network of Aboriginal Language Centres to represent our organisations.

Our Initial Aims are:
· To make representation to all levels of Government on Language issues.
· To support Research and Development projects that would assist all Language Centres
· To share information, resources, support and knowledge.
· To facilitate meetings between Language Centres.
· To promote professional training & development and career paths within the Aboriginal Language Industry.
· To raise awareness in the wider community of the diversity of Languages in Australia.
· To provide a central point of contact for government and other bodies.
· To develop policy on Language issues.

By speaking with one voice we hope to achieve better outcomes for our Language Centres. It is a matter of survival.

For further information contact the Co-ordinator, Kimberley Language Resource Centre, Tel: +61-9168-6005, Fax: +61-9168-6023 or E-mail klrchc(at)

Network of Aboriginal Language Centres
· Wangka Maya Pilbara Aboriginal Language Centre
· Kimberley Language Resource Centre
· Mirima Dawang Woorlab-gerring
· Yamaji Language Centre

On-line language resource will help preserve minority languages in Scotland

An electronic archive is being compiled that will introduce new ways of studying languages using the internet.

Information technologists and linguists have teamed up to build a comprehensive electronic record of written and spoken texts for the languages of Scotland.

The project has two principal strands: To put written and spoken texts into an electronic format, and then to enable the public to analyse the information over the Internet.

The project, entitled SCOTS – Scottish Corpus of Texts and Speech, is a collaboration involving the Division of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh and the Department of English Language and the STELLA (Software for Teaching English Language and Literature and its Assessment) project at the University of Glasgow. This pilot study to ascertain the feasibility of the approach as a model for other languages is being funded by the Swindon based Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

The project is initially concentrating on the two language varieties Scots and Scottish English. While these share their roots with modern English, over the centuries they have developed a unique vocabulary, grammar, syntax, and pronunciation, and a rich literary heritage.

While SCOTS will initially focus on Scottish English and Scots, the aim in due course is to include other languages spoken in Scotland, particularly Gaelic and non-indigenous languages such as Punjabi, Urdu and Chinese.

One of the project’s principal investigators is Henry S. Thompson, of the University of Edinburgh. “This pilot project will assess both the availability of material and the degree of effort needed to collate it and present it in a coherent and consistent form as an on-line language resource.”

Henry S Thompson. Tel: +44-131 650 4440; +44-7866 471 388 e-mail: hthompson(at)

Dr Fiona Douglas. Tel: +44-141 330 3171; e-mail: f.douglas(at),

Catalan trio Pomada wins first European song contest for minority languages Ljouwert/Leeuwarden 29/4/02 , by Onno P. Falkena (courtesy of Eurolang)

Liet Ynternasjonaal, the first European song contest for minority languages this weekend ended in a clear victory for the Catalan band Pomada. Their traditional rap-song with audio-samples 'En Pere Galleri' won both the public vote and the first price of the jury. The Breton band Stone Age ended second, and the Saami band Angelit from Finland came, third. The event featured ten bands singing in ten different minority languages: Basque, Breton, Catalan, Frisian, Irish, Kashubian (from Poland), Northfrisian (from Germany), Occitan, Sami and Welsh. It was, as far as the organisation is aware, the first time ever that a song contest featuring only minority languages was organised. The linguistic diversity was also heard when the ten members of the jury gave their points in their mother tongue, followed by a translation in English and Frisian.

Pomada, a group founded by Carles Belda and Helena Casas, was quite overwhelmed by their unexpected success. 'We came to Friesland because we like the opportunity to meet musicians from other cultures. We never even thought about winning', says accordion player Carles Belda. According to the jury, which was composed by representatives from all participating regions, Pomada deserved to win because of its performance which was 'full of fun and vitality, entertaining both the audience and themselves'. The first price consists of a number of gigs at large festivals, the first one being the Oerol festival on the Frisian island of Skylge/Terschelling in June this year.

The Catalan jury member, journalist Pep Bley, who was not allowed to vote for Pomada, was delighted by the Catalan victory. 'Usually people only know Catalunya for its football and the Sagrada Familia of Gaudi. Our music is hardly known outside Catalunya. I hope that this victory will help us to change that.'

The goal of Liet Ynternasjonaal is to promote to the cultural diversity of Europe, not only linguistically, but from a cultural and musical point of view. In practice this means that Liet wants to stimulate bands, which succeed in combining traditional elements with contemporary music. Liet also aims to present bands that are not well known outside their own linguistic community.

'I think it is a very good idea to bring bands singing in minority languages together', singer Juanma Gil of the Basque band Bat Bitten says.

'Before I came here I did not know that there was such a thing as a Frisian language and identity, but I will not forget that now', says singer Isabelle Fran*ois of the Occitan group Mescladissa. Many bands eagerly tried to pick up a few words of Frisian in order to greet and thank the Frisian audience in their own language.

Liet presented itself as an alternative to the much larger Eurovision song contest, which will take place in Tallinn, Estonia, on May 25th. At the Eurovision song contest the overwhelming majority of all entries will be sung in English, and many songs sound much the same and therefore hardly represent the European diversity. The jury of Liet Ynternasjonaal on the other hand, disapproves of music which sounds 'too mainstream', Beart Oosterhaven, president of the jury explains.

After the song contest all bands were given another 30 minutes to perform at three different stages, during which the jury deliberated the result. Liet Ynternasjonaal took place in De Harmonie, Friesland's largest theatre, and attracted an enthousiastic crowd. Liet Ynternasjonaal was also widely noticed by international press. BBC World made a report, as well as Omrop Frysl‰n and the Dutch World Service. The event was also visited by journalists from newspapers such as the Frankfurter Algemeine Zeitung, the Basque language newspaper Egunkaria and the large Dutch newspaper NRC/Handelsblad. Newspapers praised the initiative for its originality and for the quality and variety of the programme. Liet was organised with financial support from the city council of the Frisian capital Ljouwert/Leeuwarden -ű__Ąű__8ü__ƨ____________|___á

South African Policy towards Afrikaans in Higher Education

The editor has received this letter from our member Mikael Grut mgrut(at) Feel free to write to express your concerns in the matter. The Foundation will be writing to the Minister. Wed, 19 Jun 2002

Dear Nicholas,
The South African Minister of Education, Professor Kader Asmal, issued a Press Statement in Pretoria on the 30th of May about the "Transformation and Reconstruction of the Higher Education System" in South Africa. It contains the following disturbing statement: "Language will not be allowed to act as a barrier to access or success. In this regard, historically Afrikaans-medium institutions will be required to provide dual or parallel medium instruction ...." I think it is very unfair to regard minority languages as "barrier languages". It is as if, for example, French were to be considered a barrier language in Canada, Belgium and Switzerland, and the French-medium universities there were required to introduce parallel medium instruction in respectively English, Flemish and German. When the parallel medium courses would be in English, as they would in South Africa, the danger to the minority language is especially great because of English's status as a world language.

From the various Ministry of Education papers which were presented together with the Minister's statement, it is clear that the government also wants to reduce the number of Afrikaans schools further, and the schools are of course even more important than the universities for the survival of the language. Also, there is a curious statement that the teachers should be representative of South Africa as a whole, i.e. most of them would not be Afrikaans-speaking. It would be unthinkable in other multi-lingual countries to decree that only a minority of the teachers in the schools and universities of the language minorities may be recruited from within that minority! Parallel medium English instruction in schools and universities will be the Trojan horse which, in my opinion, will spell the doom of Afrikaans.

I thought it was important that you, as President of the Foundation for Endangered languages, should know about this. The Minister has invited comments on his statement until the end of August. I was a student and then a lecturer at the Afrikaans-medium University of Stellenbosch, and as such I am a member of their "Convocation".

I have written to the Minister to point out, ever so politely of course, that in other multilingual countries like Belgium, Switzerland and Canada the different linguistic minorities are allowed to have their own schools and universities and nobody thinks of it a "undemocratic"; I also suggested that decision-makers from the South African Ministry of Education should visit those countries to see how they allow their different language communities to thrive. ... The Minister’s Liaison Officer is Mr Molatoane Likhethe, likhethe.m(at) ... Best wishes,
Mikael Grut mgrut(at)

Literacy for East Timor Native Languages — seeking support

Juerg Frei juerg.frei(at) writes: 7 June 2002

I am a trained social anthropologist from Switzerland and have been working as a delegate of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in East Timor from 1996 to 1998, when the territory was still under Indonesian occupation. From there on I have developped a profound interest and affection for the country and its people. Together with my wife I have spent four months in East Timor early this year, from January to April 2002, intensifying our contacts with a view to research into one or several of the country’s native languages.

As you may already know, the East Timorese people speak fifteen different languages, some of them having considerable dialect variations (for details please consult the attached project abstract). Most of these languages must unfortunately be considered as endangered languages, given the small numbers of their speakers, the remoteness of their speakers habitat and the fact that all but one of these languages has been duly documented and enjoys an existence as written language.

In order to help preserve and protect these languages, a lot of scientific research and documentation would be necessary. In my opinion, one of the most important steps to be realised in the near future will be to provide the speakers of these languages themselves with some tools allowing them to realise the value of their own languages and to continue passing their mother tongues on to their own children.

My project consists in the production of simple ABC booklets in East Timor’s native languages. These booklets could be used for first basic literacy of children or adults in their own languages, before they will be required to learn the official languages Tetum and Portuguese. At the same time the collection of linguistic data for these ABC booklets would allow us to gather vocabulary, basic grammatical information as well as traditional and everyday story materials, which could be used later for further teaching and/or writing in any of the given languages...

My final aim is to hand over this material to the East Timorese people as represented in their educational institutions. This project has been discussed with and is supported by Dr Benjamin Araujo de Corte-Real, Rector of the Universidade Nacional de Timor Leste (UNTIL) and Director of the Instituto Nacional de Linguěstica (INL), the body appointed by the Ministry of Education as the one defining the country’s language policies. Further important approval of the project comes from Dr Geoffrey Hull of the University of Western Sydney, Australia, who is the INL’s research director and at present the leading scholar and expert in East Timor languages.

I would finally like to inform you that I intend to carry out the project together with my wife, Ivana Ramazzini Frei, both of us motivated by a volunteer philosophy of research. We would therefore be ready to work without receiving salary, with only reserach, travel and field living expenses covered...

Yours sincerely, Juerg Frei

Seeking Recordings of Languages

Leland Scruby lscruby(at) writes: 5 Jun 2002

I am working as a linguistic intern for a non-profit arts group in New York, and my job is to document and find recordings of at least 150 extinct or seriously endangered languages.... Would any audio recordings be available to me? We are willing to pay for them. Leland Scru_______________??____??___

Seeking Interpreters Brian Kranick writes: brian.kranick(at)
31 May 2002:
I am wondering if there is any way I could contact speakers of various indigenous languages to see if they may be interested in interpretation work? I can be reached directly at +1-888-241-9149 x171.
--Brian Kranick, Berlitz

A Victory for the Uwa
by Patrick Reinsborough
(Earth First! Journal cover story June-July 2002). Patrick describes himself as a long-term Uwa supporter and freelance global justice organizer.

Statement of the Uwa people, August, 1998:
We are seeking an explanation for this progress that goes against life. We are demanding that this kind of progress stop, that oil exploitation in the heart of the Earth is halted, that the deliberate bleeding of the Earth stop... We ask that our brothers and sisters from other races and cultures unite in the struggle that we are undertaking... We believe that this struggle has to become a global crusade to defend life.

(The Uwa (also spelt U’wa) live in the Andean foothills on the Colombia’s eastern border with Venezuela. Their language, now spoken by a few thousand people, is the last survivor closely related to Muisca, the speech of the Chibcha people whose domains in the northern Andes were conquered by the Spanish in the 1530s. )

When the story of Colombia’s indigenous Uwa people first hit the world stage, it was an all too familiar tragic tale: a ruthless multinational oil company invades the homeland of a traditional culture, threatening their way of life and the fragile ecosystem. It was a new twist on the same 500-year-old story of conquistadores, invasion and genocide that has shaped the Americas — only this time, the gold which the invaders were willing to kill for was black.

To the Uwa, oil is ruiria, the blood of Mother Earth, and to extract it violates their most sacred beliefs. But with both the Colombian and US governments backing the project, it seemed inevitable despite the uncompromising resistance of the Uwa, that eventually OXY would develop oil operations on Uwa land.

Yet on 3 May, at the Occidental shareholders meeting, the story of Uwa resistance turned a triumphant page. OXY announced that it is returning its oil concessions on Uwa land to the Colombian government and abandoning its plans to drill in the region. OXY has suddenly decided there is no oil under Uwa land despite eight years of assuring investors of a major oil strike and only pursuing one drill site in the vast area.

This is a victory not only for the Uwa and their thousands of allies, but for all communities fighting the devastation of resource extraction around the world. Although it is not the final victory for the Uwa, it is a major milestone in their decade-long struggle to defend their way of life and to teach the world the simple message that, if we kill the Earth, then no one will live.

The announcement comes nearly a year after OXY retreated from the Gibraltar 1 drill-site, which thousands of Uwa, local campesinos, trade unionists and students had occupied to prevent oil drilling. After using the Colombian military to evict the protesters and militarize the region, OXY was unable to find oil at the site. This came as no surprise to the Uwa, whose Werjayas (wise elders) had spent months doing spiritual work to move the oil away from OXY’s drills.

But as with all victories, this one has come with its share of losses. As we celebrate this victory, remember the spirits of those who have given their lives as part of the struggle to defend the Uwa land and culture. Remember the three indigenous children who died in February, 2000, when the military attacked Uwa blockades.

Colombia remains an extremely dangerous place, especially for those caught up in the struggles endemic to the margins of government control there. Remember the 20 non-combatants killed in Colombia’s war every day. Remember in particular Terence Freitas, Ingrid Washinawatok and Laheenae Gay, three indigenous rights activists who were kidnapped from Uwa territory and murdered by Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia guerrillas in March, 1999.

The Uwa campaign has shown that times are changing. Increasingly, activists from the global North are aligning themselves with the voices of front-line resistance and weaving our struggles for peace, justice and ecology into a broader vision of peoples globalization. As we work to globalize solidarity, dignity and ecological sanity, we must look to indigenous resistance to help us relearn and articulate Earth-centered values. Let us learn from the examples of people like the Uwa and place being in solidarity with all the planets besieged indigenous cultures at the center of our strategies for transformative change.

The Uwa will continue to need support. Despite this major victory, they like many of the people of Colombia are caught in the crossfire of the US global military offensive against terrorism. The Bush administration is now proposing to spend $98 million to defend OXY’s Cańo Limón pipeline. This money will inevitably deepen the cycle of violence in Colombias brutal civil war. Likewise, the Colombian government could well authorize another oil company to continue where OXY left off.

The latest news on the Uwa can be found at:

The re-vamped version of the Uwa traditional authorities’ site is:

Navarre strikes down decree that limited use of Basque

Brussels, 10 July 2002
Navarre’s Superior Court (TSJN) has cancelled Basque language decree 372/2000. The main objective of the decree had been to guarantee the status of Spanish as the official language. This despite the fact that the autonomous legal system in Spain requires that areas with a second language, such as Navarre and the Basque Country, guarantee all official institutions to be totally bilingual.

‘We very much welcome the decision of the Superior Court. We viewed the decree with concern, as it was a clear regress in the respect for linguistic diversity’, said Bojan Brezigar, President of the European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages (EBLUL). ‘Now we feel that European values and respect for regional and minority languages have won through.’

The decree was approved in December 2000 by the regional government of Navarre and put into practice in February 2001 in the northern part of area, where most of the population speaks and understands this language. It led to a linguistic policy that, among other things, reduced the number of public jobs that previously required an official degree in Basque. It also replaced a number of bilingual signs with monolingual Spanish ones and allowed the printing of administrative documents exclusively in Spanish.

In order to stop this threatening development for the language some public authorities of the region brought the issue to the court. Now Navarre’s Superior Court has decided that the approval of the decree was in error; two essential reports, which should have been ordered before were ignored. As a decision by the highest judicial institution in the territory, the verdict is permanent and cannot be referred to another court.