Foundation for Endangered Languages
5. Support Activities
UNESCO Program “Safeguarding of Endangered Languages” (Intangible Cultural Heritage Section, UNESCO)
Arienne Dwyer, Matthias Brenzinger, and Akira Y. Yamamoto
UNESCO’s involvement in endangered languages is very recent, but has its roots in initiatives of the last two decades. In the 1980s UNESCO began to make statements on the importance of languages in the maintenance of cultural diversity of the world. Under the leadership of the late Stephen Wurm, UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage Section (ICHS) launched the Red Book of Languages in Danger of Disappearing Program. Though UNESCO undertook a new project “Proclamation of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” in 1997, language was not included. Only in September 2001, at the International Jury for the Proclamation of Masterpieces (Elche, Spain), was it recommended that UNESCO establish an endangered languages program separate from the Masterpieces Project. In the same year, UNESCO’s 31st Session of the General Conference issued the “Action Plan of the Universal Declaration of the Cultural Diversity,” highlighting the importance of languages.
At the second International Conference on Endangered Languages (Nov 30 – December 2 2001 in Kyoto as part of the Endangered Languages of the Pacific Rim Project), it became clear that UNESCO and endangered-language advocates share the same goal: the maintenance and perpetuation of language diversity. At the conference, Madame Aikawa (then the Head of ICHS), Michael Krauss, Osahito Miyaoka, Osamu Sakiyama, and Akira Yamamoto agreed that it was high time to initiate a call for coordination and cooperation of indigenous-language advocates, linguists, and their respective organizations.
UNESCO’s Constitution states as its basic principle:
to contribute to peace and security by promoting collaboration among the nations through education, science and culture in order to further universal respect for justice, for the rule of law and for human rights and fundamental freedoms which are affirmed for the peoples of the world without distinction of race, sex, language, religion, by the Charter of the United Nations (UNESCO Constitution Article 1).
Madama Aikawa states that “based on this principle, UNESCO has developed programs aimed at promoting languages as instruments of education and culture, and as significant means through which to participate in national life” (2001: 13).
The stated four-fold purpose of the earlier Red Book Program still holds for the currently-developing partnerships between language advocates and UNESCO in 2003
1. to continue gathering information on endangered languages (including their
UNESCO has begun a new phase to safeguard endangered languages under the leadership of Dr. Rieks Smeets who assumed the headship of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage Section in May 2003. Between November 2001 and March 2003, a group of linguists and language advocates worked in collaboration with UNESCO to formulate ways to assess language vitality, and produced a set of guidelines in a document entitled “Language Vitality and Endangerment.” A second document was also produced: a series of action-plan recommendations addressing the role of language communities, linguists, language advocates, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and UNESCO.
One crucial point we emphasize in these documents is for all stakeholders to work with the endangered language communities toward revitalization, maintenance, and perpetuation of their heritage languages. We believe that any work in endangered language communities must be reciprocal and collaborative.
UNESCO organized an International Expert Meeting on UNESCO Program “Safeguarding of the Endangered Languages” (March 10-12, 2003; see www.unesco.org/culture/heritage/
Language Vitality and Endangerment (approved March 12, 2003): a summary
To enhance the vitality of threatened languages, there is an imperative need for:
In the end, it is the community people, not outsiders, who maintain or abandon their language: it is their choice if and how to revitalize, maintain, and fortify their language.
When speaker communities ask for support to reinforce their threatened languages, · language specialists should and must make their skills available to these communities, in planning, implementation, evaluation, and retooling. In short, language specialists should be involved at all points in their language vitalization process.
What can be done to safeguard endangered languages?
A. Assessing Language Vitality and State of Endangerment
Factor 2: Absolute Number of Speakers
Factor 3: Proportion of Speakers within the Total Population
Factor 4: Loss of Existing Language Domains
Factor 5: Response to New Domains and Media
Factor 6: Materials for Language Education and Literary
B. Language Attitudes and Policies: the dominant group’s or the neighboring group’s attitudes toward languages affect the maintenance or abandonment of the language of the ethnolinguistic community.
Factor 8: Community Members’ Attitudes toward Their Own Languages
C. Urgency of Documentation
Factor 9: Amount and Quality of Documentation
Recommendations to Director-General: Action Plans
The importance of linguistic diversity is emphasized in the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity (2 November 2001) and in Points 5, 6 and 10 of the Action Plan accompanying this Declaration.
Point 5. Safeguarding the linguistic heritage of humanity and giving support to expression, creation and dissemination in the greatest possible number of languages;
At the conclusion of Paris meeting, the following action points were submitted to the Director-General of UNESCO. The meeting participants requested the Director-General to:
1. Suggest to member states that they
2. Establish a financial and administrative mechanism
3. Enhance UNESCO’s role as a centre for resources on language diversity and endangerment by
a. Increasing public awareness of language endangerment in the world, through such means as the media, the arts and public events;
What Do All These Tell Us About Our Tasks?
The world faces new challenges in keeping its languages alive and well.
This entails pooling the resources at all levels:
Other Awareness Raising Activities of UNESCO
1. Discovery Communications (DCI) has to date produced nine two-minute vignettes of speakers of endangered languages. DCI will air up to 50 vignettes on DCI’s international networks. Each vignette offers a snapshot of language both as a means of communication and expression of culture and identity. [See http://corporate.discovery.com/press/
2. A project called Voices of the World 2005 plans to make a 24-hour movie representing 2,800 individual languages that exemplify the world’s diversity and transmitting a message of goodwill via speech, music, and moving images.” Also planned is to generate an audiovisual data bank, the “language exploratorium” of comparative language materials, images, music - recordings and information. The advisory panel includes David Crystal and David Maybury-Lewis.
Where Do We Go From Here?
That UNESCO organized and hosted the 2003 Expert Meeting is a significant milestone for endangered-language advocacy: it has sanctioned international attention to the problem of maintaining language diversity. With this sort of support, we can expect to see more attention in the media in the coming years.
UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage Section, under Dr. Smeets’ able direction, is in the process of defining its role in safeguarding endangered languages. While it is not yet clear what that role will entail, UNESCO is most likely to have a role in information dissemination. While many Expert Meeting participants (language advocates, both inside and outside of endangered-language communities) may have also wished for strong fiscal and administrative support, these broader functions do not generally fall within UNESCO’s mandate. In the coming biennium, these are limited to the following two support mechanisms: The Director-General has allocated at least $400,000 as a startup fund for general initiatives of the Endangered Language Program for 2004-2005. Dr. Smeets is now also preparing to form an advisory group whose members will represent the UNESCO’s six regions of the world.
The value of UNESCO’s ability to disseminate information about language endangerment should not be underestimated. At the same time, the scope of the UNESCO Endangered Language Program is largely dependent on the active involvement of linguists and language advocates, that is, on our own long-term active involvement.
Stay tuned as we will find out how the action plans materialize.
Information on the 10th Annual Stabilizing Indigenous Languages Conference
which was hosted by the Ho-Chunk Nation in Baraboo, Wisconsin on June 25-28, 2003, can now be found at http://fp1.centurytel.net/elhuccoga/
Rausing Endangered Language Documentation Programme — First Year Outcome and Invitation for Second Year: Initial Deadline — 8 August 2003
Over £1m was awarded in the first year to document 27 urgently endangered languages
In the first round of ELDP grants, approximately 150 applications were received, of which 21 have been offered funding. This enables an early start to be made on documenting 27 urgently endangered languages across six continents
The 21 grant offers are listed below.
Major Documentation Projects
Professor G Corbett, University of Surrey
Professor M Dryer, University at Buffalo
Professor N England, OKMA
Professor N England, Univ. Texas, Austin
Dr M Florey, Monash University
Dr V Grondona, E. Michigan University
Professor F Merlan, Australian Nat. Univ.
Dr D Moore, Museu Paraense Emilio
Dr T Salminen, University of Helsinki
Individual Postgraduate Fellowships
Dr I W Arka, Australian Nat. Univ.
Mr A Guillaume
Takana and Reyesano:
Ms B Hellwig, SOAS, Univ London
Dr C Hyslop, La Trobe University
Dr K Olawsky,La Trobe University
Mr E Ribeiro, Universidade Federal de Goiás
Dr A Taff, University of Washington
Pilot Project Grants
Dr P Baker, University of Westminster
Dr A van Engelenhoven, Leiden University
Individual Graduate Studentship
Ms M Corris, University of Sydney
Field Trip Grants
Dr S Facundes, Universidade Federal do Pará
Dr P Sercombe, Northumbria University
16th May, 2003 Revised guidelines and forms available on the web page.
8th August, 2003 Deadline for submission of Preliminary Applications
19th September, 2003 Invitations to submit Detailed Applications dispatched
14th November, 2003 Deadline for submission of Detailed Applications
27th February, 2004 Announcement of Funding Awards
The timetable will be repeated annually. All further details and forms can be found at http://www.hrelp.org/doc_home.htm.
Alice Cozzi Heritage Language Foundation: Awards for 2003 02 Jul 2003
The awardees listed below will receive partial funding for specific aspects of their projects.
"Ngadlu Nharangga warra wanggadja (We are speaking Narungga)" to print and distribute a student dictionary to local schools (Australia).
A. M. Moretti, Executive Director