Foundation for Endangered Languages
Your Foundation for Endangered Languages is poised to leap forward.
We have just had our most successful year to date in terms of grants awarded; we have a significant and growing list of books to offer to people looking for insight into the issues in language endangerment, and the languages they effect; and we are currently looking forward to our farthest-flung conference ever, Maintaining the Links — Language, Identity and the Land, in Broome in Western Australia, over 13,000 Km from our base in Bath, England. Over the past seven years, we have gained a significant membership in every continent — not through our own powers of persuasion, but simply as a reflex of the fact that all over the world, people are noticing language endangerment, and are responding in new ways, with conscious documentation and attempted revival.
The Foundation exists to support, enable and assist the documentation, protection and promotion of endangered languages. For all this we need power: to strengthen endangered language communities, and to spread knowledge and concern about them. Reputation is one form of power — and we have achieved a little of that, invited to this year’s UNESCO deliberations on language endangerment, and to the Long Now’s workshop on how to achieve a token documentary representation of every language in the world. (Last time UNESCO attended to endangered languages — responding with the International Clearing House, and the Red Book — FEL did not even exist.) Another form is simply human warmth. Our conferences, and our In Box, are enlivened by so many people who want to do something for their own languages, and express their sense of encouragement at finding that there are others, in different parts of the world, who share their concern, even if they don’t have an indigenous language of their own to speak.
But another form of power is money. Hitherto, we have been concentrating on our explicit purposes, and showing what could be done with essentially a zero budget: none of our running costs in human effort are paid at all, since all our income goes out in grants, and the printing and distribution of our Newsletter and Proceedings. Outside convertible currency areas, anyone can become a member for free, and so can any member of an endangered language community anywhere. This is not a policy calculated to make us rich, but it has been good for morale: and it has meant that we have been free of friction on what infrastructure costs are allowable — essentially none, except for train fares for the few Committee members who actually attend our Committee meetings; these have not included the substantial costs of getting to our conferences.
But our financial innocence is becoming a constraint on our growth. In the last year a number of large US donors have approached us, but have been discouraged from acting at once to contribute because we have not been registered as a US Not-for-Profit under 501(c)(3): this costs a significant sum to obtain , thousands of dollars in lawyers’ fees, and at our level of turn-over we have not felt able to justify the investment. But we have been surprised by joy at the offer of the latest of these donors, Michael Yenigues of NowVision, who as well as offering us 5% of his profits, has also undertaken to obtain this registration for us at no cost. We are very grateful for this gesture, which moves into a different league, and should be the beginning of serious career for us on the western side of the Atlantic.
In general, besides sustaining our existing activities, we need to move right now in two directions. One is actively to build links with language communities.
We need to build real relations with language activists and teachers in their home communities. In some cases, this may involve building up links with other language promoting institutions which have a more regional focus than our own: for example, ILI, the Indigenous Languages Institute, might prove one good collaborator in North America.
It is a matter of concern to the Committee that so many of our grants are going to outsider linguists, to work for and with languages in other parts of the world, while the applications — which we did receive — from home communities themselves have been less successful. Since we do explicitly look for community involvement in work that is to be funded, this can only be because local speakers are finding it hard to put the right kind of information into our application form. We either need to change the form, or to offer more help in filling it out: probably both.
Another direction for development is to set up permanent links between sets of donors and particular communities. People in the all too monolingual part of the world will be able to get into real contact with those who need help to sustain their multilinguality. We can hope that this will benefit both sides, making the world a richer place. This will fit in well with the first direction. Our Committee member Louanna Furbee has been active in setting up a web-site which shows how some of the grants we have already given could be used as the basis of new links: have a look at < > to get an idea of the approach.
Besides these general directions, aimed at building up the links between real people and real language communities, there are so many other activities in which FEL can play a useful role:
We also need to get more organized about our publications and conferences. We don’t want to lose the touching spirit which invigorates and animates them; but it would be nice to get Ogmios onto a regular — and more frequent — schedule, and it would be good to plan our conferences further in advance. That is why we are already thinking this summer about where next summer’s conference should be held. But if we are to make serious changes in our practice, we shall need more resources, both to find part-time staff who can keep the journalistic and publicity activities regular, and also to be able to pay for individuals to come from far afield to take part in our conferences. This should also mean that members of the Committee will be able to devote more time to expanding the Foundation’s range of activities, rather than just keeping the admin going.
All in all, it seems we now need to make a major effort in fund-raising. We shall be coming to you with more insistence to build up committed sources of support. We hope we have already shown that we can make good use of such funds as we have had. If anyone reading this feels that they could help — with money, with ideas, with a contribution for Ogmios, or with their own time — please get in touch with me at any of the contact points listed on page 2 opposite. One immediate means to take your voice heard is to make a suggestion for the agenda of our Annual General Meeting in Broome — for which, read on!