Foundation for Endangered Languages

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1. Editorial

This is the second issue of Iatiku, the first public expression of the Foundation for Endangered Languages. The Foundation is conceived as a free and independent association of those who are concerned at the loss of more and more of the world’s languages. It will act

(i) to raise awareness of endangered languages, both inside and outside the communities where they are spoken, through all channels and media;
(ii) to support the use of endangered languages in all contexts: at home, in education, in the media, and in social, cultural and economic life;
(iii) to monitor linguistic policies and practices, and to seek to influence the appropriate authorities where necessary;
(iv) to support the documentation of endangered languages, by offering financial assistance, training, or facilities for the publication of results;
(v) to collect together and make available information of use in the preservation of endangered languages;
(vi) to disseminate information on all of the above activities as widely as possible.

Since the first issue of Iatiku appeared, on the 1st of May last year, the Foundation has elected its first officers, identified the range of languages with which it will first look to set up links, and agreed its Manifesto.

The Foundation will be constituted formally in the UK as a company limited by guarantee. This will enable us to act as a recognized charity. There is a draft Memorandum and Articles of Association available for members to inspect, and these will be the Foundation’s constitution.

We aim to ally concerned linguists with the growing interest and compassion of the public at large, to give the cause of endangered languages as sharp a profile among monolinguals in the first world as among those whose own linguistic heritage is actually threatened.

Based initially in a corner of Europe, south-west England, where there is no surviving competition to the global weed of English , it is not involved directly in particular linguistic battles, but it is well placed for access to the world’s Anglo-Saxon media. We are not an outgrowth of any one language’s, or group of languages’, struggle for recognition. At the same time, the presence of Celtic languages, in Wales and by conscious revival in Cornwall, is close enough for us to hear the din of real combat, and to witness the nurturing of real linguistic growth.

We have access to some of the best linguistic expertise in our part of Europe, and through global media to members all over the world. Yet we are an organization not just of linguists, but of concerned and knowledgeable citizens of the world. A major aim is to provide funds for recording lesser known members of world’s stock of languages.

But we also have a mission is to explain and interpret to our neighbours what the pattern of those languages is like and how that pattern is changing, not always for the better. Through this we can hope to do something to influence that change, as well as to increase scholarly knowledge.

This Issue of Iatiku

This is the second issue of our newsletter, which is intended as a quarterly publication. Conditions are still exceptional, however, and with this delivery it only just avoids being an annual one! With our organization still to be formally established, and the newsletter’s circulation still very restricted, we have not yet attempted to secure articles written specifically for Iatiku.

Even so, there is no lack of material that warrants distribution. Besides the accounts of our own meetings, and the re-echoes, as far as we have been able to trace them of our Seminar on the Conservation of Endangered Languages held last April), I have included a variety of pieces that have appeared on the Internet in the course of the last year.



The reach of the Net is, as yet, nothing like universal, even among the concerned linguists who we see as the first, core members of our Foundation. Even for those with access to the Net, it is difficult to keep track of all the new developments, so as to find the information when one has the opportunity to use it. Here you have a repository of new developments world wide in Endangered Languages since 1 May 1995.

We pass on notes of appeals with relevance to the survival of languages, which give readers a chance to do something immediate and concrete for the cause. These vary: in this issue, one concerns action directly relevant to a tiny language community, a second is a request for funds for a minority language publishing venture, and a third is an explicitly political call.

Among descriptions of recent meetings, we offer November’s Symposium in Tokyo which served as the inaugural meeting of the International Clearing House for Endangered Languages, which has been set up as part of the UNESCO initiative and manages the Red Book. This section is drawn from the Clearing House’s own Newsletter. Besides the overview of the symposium itself, it contains much useful comment and suggestion from Profs Shigeru Tsuchida (of Tokyo) and Akira Yamamoto (of Kansas). In particular, Yamamoto lists ten talking points, issues which could usefully set the focus for future conferences.

We propagate the latest details known to us on new activities around the world which increase knowledge of, or concern for endangered languages: here we bring you up to date on Terralingua (Partnerships for Linguistic and Biological Diversity), which is being organized by David Hermon from a base in Hancock, Michigan, USA; and the recent Language Documentation Urgency List, set up by Dietmar Zaefferer at the University of Munich, which is now beginning to collect language descriptions.

The next two sections are a miscellany, first of fragments of discussions of issues (and a poem!) related to endangered languages, and then of a few sources, both in the electronic world and the real one, where useful information may be sought. Discussions range widely:- how should a linguist react when resources seem to go to languages with little hope of recovery? what use is literacy to peoples whose languages may only ever have flourished with out it? what consistency can or should there be in what linguists pay their informants? The round-up of sources continues with a list of forthcoming conferences (interpreted widely enough to include a film festival), and recent publications.

In future issues I shall be including readers’ letters, and also literary or discussion pieces which will start to make Iatiku a real forum for Endangered Languages. As the Foundation’s activities begin to make themselves felt, they will provide a natural focus for Iatiku articles, but the Newsletter should remain more general than the Foundation, with a place for topical content, wherever the diversity of human language, and efforts to protect it, may roam.

This will be the last issue of Iatiku that is issued free. It contains, as a final page, a form to request membership of our Foundation: you will be a “Friend” of Endangered Languages until we are fully incorporated later this year. Later issues of Iatiku will go to subscribing members only. I hope you will want to join our enterprise in taking action on behalf of the world’s endangered languages. And if you do, please write in with your own suggestions and comments on this issue, as well as contributions for the next one -- due out in July!