Foundation for Endangered Languages

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2. Development of the Foundation

Treasurer's Travels

By Chris Moseley

Membership of the Foundation for Endangered Languages, or at least its committee, can be an interesting reason to visit parts of the world one might not otherwise have planned to see. Certainly that has been the case with your Treasurer. In 2005, as attentive readers of Ogmios will know, the venue for the ninth of our annual conferences (felicitously shortened to FEL IX by its organisers) was Stellenbosch, South Africa. And it certainly lived up to its cheerful acronym.

This was one of the more distant venues from the metropolitan centres of our activities and membership, so perhaps that was one of the reasons why attendance figures were a little below par this year - that, and the fact that university term-time was in full swing in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. This resulted in a number of scheduled speakers being unable at the last moment to attend, and it slightly compacted the duration of the conference. Still, the quality of the papers was very high, and the camaraderie among the participants was all the greater.

There seemed to be less than usual for your Treasurer to do this year, leaving more time to get to know new friends and meet old ones. The staff of the Taalsentrum, or Language Centre, were amazingly efficient and helpful. Lize Vorster and her colleagues deserve our sincere thanks for being on hand for the day-to-day running of events. The director, Prof. Leon de Stadler, could not have been more helpful, presiding over the efficient running of the event and personally collecting many of the guests from Cape Town International Airport and taking them back there, at all hours of the day and night.

The Taalsentrum had been planned as the actual venue for the conference, but it was shifted to the more spacious premises of the Ou Hoofgebou, the Old Main Building of the university, a stately white colonial edifice among the many stately buildings that dominate this university town. Accommodation was not on the campus, but in a number of guest houses dotted about within walking distance of the campus centre, which the guests had chosen for themselves from a list supplied by the Language Centre. Stellenbosch is a delightful place to walk in, with its avenues of oak trees providing cool shade from the early summer heat.

But of course the Language Centre was not the only organiser. Months, even years, of planning had gone into this conference, which was the brainchild of Nigel Crawhall, whom we had first got to know at our conference in Broome, Western Australia, and the rest of our organising committee. Nigel was closely involved in every aspect of the conference, but especially those concerning the indigenous San population of South Africa, who are the main focus of our interest in the country as Endangered Language specialists; he was also on hand on our excursion to the !Khwa ttu cultural centre which is being set up in the Western Cape as a living monument to the culture of the San peoples.

The theme of this year's conference was "Creating Outsiders: Endangered Languages, Migration and Marginalisation", so our speakers dealt with themes of internal displacement as well as external migration. South Africa's own rather unique situation in this regard was taken up by our Keynote speaker, Rajend Mesthrie of the University of Cape Town.

Raj Mesthrie in action

The country has not only endangered indigenous languages, but the waves of immigration to its shores have resulted in a complex ethnic mosaic in which some pieces, notably the languages of the Indian subcontinent brought by the immigrant labourers (Tamil, Bhojpuri, Telugu, Urdu) are distinctly marginalised in KwaZulu-Natal. And later, outside the programme of the main conference, South Africa's major speech communities were represented in a panel of distinguished speakers to discuss South Africa's official language policy. As many of you will know, South Africa has 11 official languages, but this isn't immediately obvious to the casual visitor to a single region of the country; in the Western Cape, English and Afrikaans are clearly dominant, along with Xhosa in the Cape Town area; it was good to have the opportunity of a more general overview, and our thanks go to Mikael Grut for his initiative in arranging this discussion panel.

The papers presented at the conference naturally fell under various broad heads: Outward Migration, Inward Migration, First Peoples, Policy and Power, States and Minorities, and Migrations in History and Prehistory. The viewpoints expressed come from both endangered language communities and the academic quarter, and we were privileged to have speakers of some of the handful of surviving San languages addressing us.

Geographically, though, the spread was less even. Sub-Saharan Africa was of course well represented among the speakers, Australia also fielded a strong contingent, Europe had its fair share of speakers too, but sadly Eastern Asia and the Americas were sorely underrepresented, at least in terms of subject matter, and this was regrettable. It's a recurring problem, of course, representing not so much the location of the hubs of our membership, but rather the distance to be travelled from them, and it is part of the reason why we try to hold our conferences on a different continent each year. Wherever we go, we never fail to attract a high calibre of speakers and papers, and this year's conference was every bit as high in quality as its predecessors. Next year, on an entirely different continent (provisionally in India), I hope to be marvelling once again at the diversity and quality of dedication and talent in the endangered language movement. But it will be hard to erase the memory of Stellenbosch.

Chairman's Report on the Year - Extracts

This has been FEL’s most abundant year in its short life.

  • We have been able to give 14 grants of our own, amounting to approximately £10,000 sterling, doubling the total that we could distribute in our previous year. (They are listed in Ogmios #26, for 30 April 2005.)
  • We have enabled grants for Tz’utujiil education in Guatemala, and Suya development in Brazil.
  • We have held successful conferences in Barcelona and now here in Stellenbosch.
  • We have also sold 222 copies of our Proceedings, grossing revenue of £4,312, compared with 167, grossing £2,868 in 2003-2004. That is an increase of 50% in sales revenues, and 33% increase in volumes sold.
  • We have acquired our first employee, Funmi Adeniyi, working half time from December to August.
  • One of our fund-raising officers, Louanna Furbee, has created a web-site which should make it possible for outside donors to make donations to us through the web-site: see
  • Our sister organization FEL inc – which has USA tax-free [501(c)3] status – has been enabled to release its funds for charitable purposes to recipients beyond the USA.

    But we cannot be complacent. Our membership in that same period is not up, but down, and starkly down: it stands at 199 as against 309 this time last year, a loss of 35%. The change in the pattern of memberships is interesting, though, and slightly reassuring. Leaving aside perpetual memberships (Honorary Members, and the other charities with which we have exchange relations) all categories of membership have fallen except for Concessions, which have gone up by 80%: students and the retired, then, are our growth area. The main category of lost members is in fact those who joined free: whereas 50% of our members were free last year, this year only 40% are. Our paying members have declined by 25%, but our free members by 62%. It is sad to lose anybody, but the loss of free members actually means that our costs will go down: loss of 51 subsidised members cuts our yearly running costs by about £344, even as the loss of all those paying members, has cut our net revenues by £1,025.

    In all, our membership revenues are down by about 28%. That means a decrease of £680. But luckily this year’s receipts from book sales are up by twice as much, by £1,444. Even considering postage costs, the book profits are up by £1,334. So even leaving aside the charitable donations we have received, GiftAid etc., we can say that the ‘business’ side of FEL – its membership and sales activities – has grown from £4,925 to £5,580, a growth of 13%.

    So much for our housekeeping. … Financially, we are more than holding our own.

    But in fact, we are potentially facing a different kind of crisis – a crisis of manpower.

    We owe it to our membership – and even more to the language communities whose plight we are trying to help – to look for new activities, new projects, and more influence in the world. But the sad fact is that we simply do not have the time and effort to do this. In brief, we do not have enough active officers: not enough workers to keep our regular activities going, while we seek to expand.

    [The Chairman then gave a schematic view of FEL's activities, and the resources available to take charge of them. He showed that pretty much every officer has essential routine work to do; hardly anyone is free to do longer-term planning and development; there had been no time to follow up the Grant-holders of past years, and see what they have done with our grants, and very little time for strategic planning, or media publicity. Furthermore, with an outside appointment in Japan from April to September 2006, he would not himself have the opportunity to keep the FEL routine activities in motion, notably Ogmios, the Grants Competition, supporting the conference organiziation, and overseeing the distribution of FEL's publications.]

    In view of the continuing lack of core funding, which would allow our activities to be put on a firm footing through the use of paid staff, the remedy for all this has to be volunteer work by the elected officers of the Committee (and no doubt co-opted officers who will be added in the course of the year). Without this, next year will see a breakdown. With it, we can try to organize membership campaigns, and extra financial support, which will put us on a sounder footing.

    Note: Addressing this crisis is the first task for the new Committee. Any members who have time to get involved with FEL's administration (or ideas for growth and marketing opportunities) are encouraged to contact the Chairman (also currently editor of Ogmios) at the address given on page 2.

    New FEL Committee for 2005-2006

    Elected officers Chairman Nicholas Ostler
    Treasurer Christopher Moseley
    Secretary Kipnyango Seroney

    Elected members Paul Baker
    Hakim Elnazarov
    Louanna Furbee
    Salem Mezhoud
    Tjeerd de Graaf
    Michael Walsh
    Nigel Birch

    Members for co-optation
    Christopher Hadfield
    Paul Lewis
    Steven Krauwer
    Tomasz Wicherkiewicz