Foundation for Endangered Languages
4. News of Allied Societies and Activities
Inaugurating the International Clearing House for Endangered Languages: Tokyo, 18-20 Nov. 1995:
The following is an extract from the Clearing House Newsletter. We are grateful to The Department of Asian and Pacific Linguistics, University of Tokyo, for permission to reproduce this.
The International Symposium on Endangered Languages was held on November 18-20, 1995 under the auspices of the Department of Asian and Pacific Linguistics, Institute of Cross-Cultural Studies, Faculty of Letters, University of Tokyo at the university's Sanjo Conference Hall.
Present at the symposium were:
Michael Krauss University of Alaska, USA
Dr. Francis Ekka of the Central Institute of Indian Languages, India, and Dr Nicholas Ostler of the Foundation for Endangered Languages, UK, were also invited, but unable to attend the symposium.
The proceedings of the symposium, will be published next year. The titles of the papers are as follows:
Michael Krauss: "The scope of the language endangerment and recent responses to it."
Stephen A. Wurm: "Methods of language maintenance and revival with selected cases of language endangerment in the world."
Harumi Sawai: "The present situation of the Ainu language."
Osami Okuda: "On the objectives of linguistic research on the Ainu."
David Bradley: "Minority language policy and endangered languages in China and Southeast Asia."
Suwilai Premsrirat: "On language maintenance and language shift in minority languages of Thailand: a case study of So(Thavung)."
Knut Bergsland: "Two cases of language endangerment: Aleut and Southern Sami."
E. Annamalai: "Language Survival in India: Challenges and Responses."
Francis Ekka: "Endangered languages in India : problems and prospects for survival."
Matthias Brenzinger: "Language endangerment on the African continent: various ways of dying and different kinds of deaths."
Vida Mikhaltchenko: "Endangered languages of Russia: an informational database."
Akira Yamamoto: "Linguistics and endangered language communities: issues and approaches."
Willem F. H. Adelaar: "The endangered situation of the native languages in South America."
Shigeru Tsuchida: (Title to be announced)
A resolution proposed by Professor Stephen A. Wurm was approved by acclamation by the people present at the afternoon session on the final day:
This gathering of endangered language specialists from different parts of the world welcome the establishment of the Department of Asian and Pacific Linguistics and especially the International Clearing House for Endangered Languages in it. They pledge to offer it all cooperation and assistance they can, as linguists interested in endangered langauges in the world, because it is a very important cause for us all.
November 20, 1995
A closing banquet was held on the evening of November 20, jointly with the inauguration party of the Department of Asian and Pacific Department. Congratulatory speeches were given by Professor Hiroyuki Yoshikawa (President of the University of Tokyo), Mr. Masayuki Inoue (Director of the International Scientific Affairs Division, Ministry of Education, Science, Sports and Culture), Mme Madeleine Gobeil (UNESCO) and Professor R. H. Robins (CIPL).
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3. Concluding Remarks by Professor Shigeru Tsuchida at the Symposium (Excerpt)
In this symposium, the status quo of endangered languages from various parts of the world were reported, and various aspects of these languages were presented. All of us profited a lot from the speeches of every speaker and the discussions thereafter.
I believe everybody will agree on the fact that there ARE quite a number of languages in endangerment in the world, and without doubt the number will increase in the future, although, we have to admit, it is not easy to give a definition of what is an endangered language. The size of population is a good and easy index, but the critical number of native speakers seems to vary depending on the area. A language with 500 to 1,000 speakers in the Pacific area seems to be rather stable, whereas another language with about the same size of speakers will be very much in endangerment in Europe or in Africa. We have also to recognize that there are some native speakers among the minority communities who do not want to be called ``endangered" or ``vanishing" or even ``dying", even though there seems to be involved here some kind of confusion of physical ethnicity with their language, plus psychological problem.
I also believe that everybody agrees that we have to hurry up in describing the grammars, compiling the dictionaries, and collecting texts of those languages in concern as much as and as soon as possible. But the first thing that we have to do is the documentation of the basic data of what language is spoken at where by how many people under what social background, etc.
We also feel that it may be the linguists' duty to attemp to restore and maintain such languages. But some hesitation was also expressed, i.e. an ethic problem whether we are allowed to interfere with the natural development of any language. At any rate it is rather ironical that whenever and wherever the restoration and maintenance of a language becomes a hot topic, it is already too late to do so.
There is one thing that I missed, i.e. the problem of phonetic symbols which can be used in internet without relying on any particular software. This is not particularly related to endangered languages, but sooner or later this will become a serious problem. In this internet-oriented modern world, we should have some kind of convention shared by all the linguists, so that we can convey any phonetic forms to anybody through an electric network. But we'll have to have another symposium or conference for that problem.
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4. An Appraisal of the November Symposium
[Editor's note: We have requested Prof. Yamamoto of the University of Kansas for an appraisal of the November symposium. With his permission, we publish those passages which we think are of general interest. - K.M.]
Several presenters noted the importance of raising the public awareness of the endangered language situations. It would be useful if we could have brief news conferences (or news release) with mass media (radio, TV, newspapers, etc.) on the symposium. At the Linguistic Society of America meetings, we try to get at least some of the media to be involved in the discussions. This seems to be one of the most effective ways to inform the public and policy makers what linguists do.
It was good to have representations of languages in different continents. If possible, we could include participants who would represent New Guinea, Central America, Philippines, Canada, etc. where we find many potentially endangered languages are spoken.
The presentations were surprisingly uniform in their foci. The first symposium, I believe, has laid the foundation for the future symposiums and for the Clearing House.
Since the first symposium painted a general picture of the language situations in different parts of the world, the future symposium could be organized according to some themes. I will list some of the possibilities:
1) Endangered languages and professional organizations (e.g., linguistic societies): I think more and more linguistic organizations are emphasizing research on endangered languages or forming special committees on endangered languages. Some organizations (e.g., Linguistic Society of Japan, Linguistic Society of America, German Linguistic Society) are gathering information on the endangered language research that their members have done or are carrying out. The Clearing House would be the ideal center to coordinate such efforts which are, otherwise, scattered and unhelpful to each other.
2) Language policies and endangered language communities: Beginning with the UNESCO Human Rights Proclamation, we could examine language-related policies in different parts of the world (e.g., US English only bills, US Native American Languages Acts) and their implications for the maintenance of the minority languages.
3) Linguistic research in endangered language communities: different communities pose different issues and problems for linguistic researchers as well as for those local people who do their own language research. We need to be aware of different situations of linguistic research. This will lead to an important topic of training of future linguists. What do they need to know about the communities, what do they need to be prepared, why do they need to engage in linguistic research in the given community?
4) Local reactions to the language endangerement/community-based language maintenance (revival) programs:
5) Training of local language specialists:
6) Orality and literacy in endangered language communities:
7) Documentation 1: issues and problems in doing fieldwork.
8) Documentation 2: the nature of the linguistic data.
9) Documentation of endangered languages 3: the training needs.
10) The Clearing House on Endangered Languages: roles and functions.
I think there are many other important themes and topics that we can deal with at a symposium such as you have organized. I also think that a thematic symposium would help concentrate on specific issues of language endangerment.
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5. ICHEL database
What follows is an outline of the database and computer system of our department.
5.1 Host computers
Our department is now equipped with more than five computers up and running for various services via Internet and for the daily use of our activities.
Among them, 'tooyoo' and 'tooyoo1' are the main host computers for providing ftp and http services. As regards the operating system, a Unix or Unix compatible system is running on both machines.
Ftp and http services are available at the following addresses.
5.2 Contents of the database
One of the major roles of our department is to store linguistic data such as the copora for the grammatical analysis of languages, information on specific topics such as "endangered languages", and various programs for analyzing texts, and to provide all these materials to the linguists of the world.
The following list shows the current contents of our database (including materials in preparation).
(1) "Red Book on Endangered Languages"
The "Red book on Endangered languages" is a code name for any kind of activities related to endangered languages. Please note that this is a joint project of several research centers around the world, not an activity of a single 'clearing house'.
At present, we have the data on endangered languages in Asian and Pacific area (compiled by S. A. Wurm and S. Tsuchida), and languagesin Africa (compiled by B. Heine and M. Brenzinger). All these data are encoded by the HTML format and easily accessible to any kind of WWW browsers. For other areas, we are either requesting data from the linguists around the world or trying to make links to other research centers which have relevant data. For example, the data on the endangered languages of Europe have been stored in Finland by Tapani Salminen ( http://www.helsinki.fi/ ~tsalmin/endangered.html ) and in such a case we have simply made a link to this site.
5.3 Format of the Red Book data
As for the format of each entry in the Red Book, we followed the one prepared by Prof S. A. Wurm and others (shown below).
(2) Geographical Location:
(3) Relationships (isolate, distantly related to known language(s), closely related to known languages, dialect, etc.):
(4) Present State of the Language:
(5) Other Relevant Remarks:
5.4 Problem of fonts
As was mentioned by Prof S. Tsuchida in his concluding remarks at the International Symposium on Endangered Languages, one of the most difficult problems in the current version of HTML, which is now used as the standard format of texts in http, is that there is no phonetic symbols in its definition. This is because fonts for representing IPA symbols are still not part of an ordinary computer environment.
In the case of the Red book, IPA symbols were sometimes used in the African part of the data by its original compiler. We received the data in the form of both diskette and hardcopy and this was fortunate because without the hardcopy we would not have been able to decipher the binary codes for phonetic symbols. And in order to convert these data into the HTML format, we had to define an ad hoc string of characters representing phonetic symbols. In such cases, the procedure usually employed is first to define an 'escape character' and then to give descriptive (or any kind of) names that follow the escape character. In HTML, an '&' is used as the escape character to represent letters with accent, umlaut, etc. Therefore we decided to define the following strings for phonetic symbols, each beginning with an '&'.
&? glottal stop
Needless to say, this is only a makeshift. We need to work out a more generally acceptable system of notation for phonetic symbols, and we hope such a system will be adopted as a part of the HTML definitions.
Comments and suggestions are welcome. All the newsletter-related correspondence should be addressed to:
For a hypertext version of this newsletter, please visit our homepage at:
This e-mail version is sent to those we know are interested in or concerned about endangered languages. If you prefer to receive our newsletter in a hard copy or do not wish to receive it in the future, please let us know. (K.M.)
Kazuto MATSUMURA, Associate Professor
Rei FUKUI, Associate Professor
8 MARCH 1996
First of all, thank you all for your interest in Terralingua, and sorry for the delay in contacting you again. The response to the Call for Interest has been outstanding, and we on the Ad Hoc Organizing Committee have been very gratified by your support. We look forward to working with you to build an effective organization. Because of the length of this message, we are breaking it into two parts: Part I, Prefatory Matter; and Part II, Prospectus. This message constitutes Part I. We are still working on Part II, and hope to send it shortly (within a couple of weeks or so).
CONTENTS OF THE ENTIRE MESSAGE:
PART I (HEREWITH):
PART II (FORTHCOMING):
1. ABOUT THE AD HOC ORGANIZING COMMITTEE
A number of you asked that the Committee identify ourselves. Here we are:
ANTHEA FALLEN-BAILEY is a graduate student in geography at the University of Oregon.
DAVE HARMON is the deputy executive director of The George Wright Society, a U.S.-based NGO which serves as a professional association for researchers, managers, and educators who work in or are concerned with parks and protected areas. He administers the day-to-day operations and finances of this small nonprofit organization; in addition, he manages the GWS's Worldwide Web site and edits its quarterly journal. Dave's research interests include exploring links between biological and cultural diversity, and making protected-area conservation more responsive to issues of cultural diversity.
LUISA MAFFI is a linguistic/cognitive anthropologist, currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Berkeley. She has carried out research in Africa and Mexico. Her interests are indigenous knowledge systems (ethnobiology, ethnoecology, ethnomedicine), language documentation and preservation, and the relationships between language loss, loss of traditional knowledge, and loss of biodiversity. She is organizing a conference on the latter topic. She is on the Advisory Board of the Native American Language Center, University of California, Davis.
MARI RHYDWEN is a linguist on the faculty of Murdoch University in Perth, Australia. She is the owner of the ENDANGERED LANGUAGES e-mail list.
PAUL WEISS is Team Leader, Bibliographic Control Team in the General Library at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He has a B.A. in linguistics (1984) from Cornell University.
The Ad Hoc Organizing Committee would also like to recognize the inspiration and advice given by three others. Michael Krauss of the Alaska Native Language Center in Fairbanks was instrumental in identifying the need for an international organization devoted to preserving the world's linguistic diversity. Early on, Mike also recognized the need to bridge the gap between those working on biological species issues and those working on language issues. Garland Bills and Eduardo Hernandez-Chavez of the University of New Mexico's Department of Linguistics, organizers of the 1995 Symposium on Language Loss, lent their support to the organization's basic premises and graciously allowed a discussion of the organization at the Symposium.
All of the people on the Ad Hoc Organizing Committee are working in their capacity as individuals, not on behalf of their organizational affiliations.
2. WHAT HAS HAPPENED SO FAR
In early February, Dave Harmon, who is acting as Terralingua's Provisional Secretary, was approached by Gary Nabhan, an ethnobiologist at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (Tucson, Arizona, USA), to ask whether Terralingua could be listed as a co-sponsor (no funding involved, obviously) of a symposium called "Losing Species, Languages, and Stories: Linking Cultural and Environmental Change in the Binational Southwest." Because an immediate answer was required, and since the aims of the symposium are in complete sympathy with Terralingua's Statement of Purpose, Dave took it upon himself to make the decision to agree. In the future, of course, a more formal approval method will have to be developed. (See the forthcoming discussion of organizational structure in Part II.)
Also in February, by means of a special contribution by a Terralingua supporter, we established a separate mailing address for Terralingua through the rental of a post-office box. This address is for membership and financial matters, and for general organizational purposes. Please note it.
We hope to establish a separate e-mail address for Terralingua soon. For the time being, continue to contact us through Dave Harmon at
3. RESPONSE TO THE CALL FOR INTEREST; DIGEST OF COMMENTS RECEIVED
Many of you have made suggestions--often quite substantive--about what Terralingua should be and do. The Ad Hoc Organizing Committee would like to make a digest of these comments available to any of you who'd like to read them. The file has been edited so that the identities of the commenters remains anonymous. If you'd like to receive this file (e-mail only), please send a note to Dave Harmon.
4. THE NAME OF THE ORGANIZATION
(END OF PART I)
The George Wright Society
LDUL: Language Documentation Urgency List
This is a very recent enterprise (26 March) based on the Internet, undertaken by Dietmar Zaefferer (firstname.lastname@example.org). I enclose here enough of DZ’sinformation to identify the service: but those wanting to take part will have to send messages to the addresses given.
LDUL is an automatic mailbox and database for the collection and retrieval of information on how urgently the individual languages of this world are in need of documentation. The aim is to help in the decision of where to focus fieldwork and in the writing of proposals for fund raising purposes.
Overall documentation urgency (DU) is measured as the average of six special documentation urgencies in phonology, morphology, lexicon, text corpus, syntax, and semantics/pragmatics. These in turm are measured as overall degree of endangerment times special degree of documentation need, where endangerment is the inverse of estimated language vitality and special documentation need is the inverse of the estimated sufficiency of existing special documentation.
The language vitality score is calculated from eight different factors such as age of youngest speaker, number of speakers, percentage of monolingual speakers etc. (for details cf. the comments to the demoquestionnaire.)
The world-wide computer networks and especially the LINGUIST LIST have turned the world's community of linguists (at least its electronically accessible part, but via them a lot more) into a global village. And if the inhabitants of this village join forces, it should be easy to solve the third problem mentioned above using the pot luck party method: Everybody who knows about a language in need of proper documentation or in the process of disappearing throws his knowledge into a pool called LDUL. This is an automatic electronic mailbox and database with the following address:
If you want to know more about LDUL, simply a message to this address with the following entry under "Subject" (the message body may be empty, or, if your mail system doesn't tolerate this, contain anything, it will be ignored):
If you want to contribute, send a message to the LDUL address with the following entry under "Subject":
The system will mail you a copy of a completed questionnaire with annotations that specify the different questions.
When you've done this you will hopefully want to complete an empty questionnaire, and you can get one by sending another message under
The system will send you by return mail a copy of a blank questionnaire.
Once you have completed a questionnaire (please read the annotations to the different questions that come with the demoquestionnaire carefully!), write
into the subject field and mail the completed questionnaire to the same address.
The way it is treated there is the following:
If the language code on the questionnaire you have completed is identical with the language code in a questionnaire already on file, your contribution is added to that file, else a new file is opened. So it's the language code that counts for the identification of a language and not its name(s), since there are too many ambiguous language names! If you deposit a questionnaire without the language code, LDUL will add it for you, if your language name is unambiguous, else it will complain.
For each vitality factor you have either checked one of the five values (there is a minimum, a maximum, and three intermediate degrees), or the option 'unknown'.
If you want to consult the list, you have several choices.
1. If you are interested in a specific language, say Lisu, send a message to the same address as above with the following entry under "Subject":
info on Lisu
Then LDUL will mail you the set of questionnaires that have been completed with Lisu in the list of names and aliases. The subject line of the message will look like follows:
Subject: Re:info on lisu ( TLC=lis )
The (TLC=lis) information is important here, since there is another language named Lisu with a different three letter code (TLC=tkl), and if information is on file on that language as well, it will also be in your mail. So if you are in doubt about the identity of the language you are inquiring about, please consult the "Ethnologue Database" to find out among other things the three letter code of your language, e.g. via the World Wide Web:
2. If you want to know which languages have been treated so far, send the subject entry
to LDUL, and it will mail you the current alphabetical list of names of languages about which information is on file.
3. If you want to know the current overall documentation urgency (DU) ranking of the languages that have been treated so far, send the subject entry
get overall DU ranking
and LDUL will send you a list of the languages on file, ranked according to their overall DU scores.
4. If you want to know one of the current special documentation urgency (DU) rankings of the languages that have been treated so far, send one of the subject entries
get phonology DU ranking
to LDUL, and it will send you a list of the languages on file with their appropriate special scores, ranked according to these scores.
5. If you want to know the complete current statistics, send the message
to LDUL, and it will mail you its complete statistics in its current state.
There is no such thing as a perfect questionnaire and it should go without saying that no linguist wishing to do fieldwork should base the choice of his language exclusively on the LDUL data.
One factor that had to be neglected in the design of the questionnaire is the degree of relatedness of the language in question to the 'next' well- documented language: the lower this degree, the higher the documentation urgency.
Another thing is that the program cannot resolve contradicting information on the same language. It will rather compute the average scores, e.g. if one contributor thinks the quantity and quality of the documentation on Tsachila phonology is medium (.5) and another one thinks it is low (.25), it will come up with a score of .375.
Dietmar Zaefferer, Institut fuer Deutsche Philologie Universitaet Muenchen