Foundation for Endangered Languages
4. Allied Societies and Activities
World Conference on Linguistic Rights, Barcelona, 6-9 June 1996
As announced in the last Iatiku, the International PEN Club's working committee on Translation and Linguistic Rights held a World Conference of Linguistic Rights, where the final draft of a Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights was presented. About a hundred Non-Governmental organizations, having collaborated in the drafting, participated.
Here are some excerpts from discussion of it that appeared on the endangered-languages-l in the month of August.
From: Piripi Walker, (P.O.Box 119, Otaki, New Zealand) :e-mail Piripi.Walker(at)vuw.ac.nz
We were there representing Maori from New Zealand ( I and one of our elders Huirangi Waikerepuru,). We represented Nga Kaiwhakapumau I Te Reo (The Wellington Maori Language Board, a peaceful Maori language activist organisation (NGO,) in NZ). Our Board has carried debt from long legal cases over many years, and has not been active overseas before...
We found the conference very stimulating. It was not an information and research sharing conference, but a further point in a consultative and discussion process among language groups, on a piece of work in progress, called A Declaration of Linguistic Rights. It seems to us that several years of writing and refinement has been happening in the Northern Hemisphere on this piece of work. At this conference, many of us from other continents and oceans were brought in to the discussion.
The conference threw new perspectives on the work of protecting rights and language maintenance in Aotearoa/New Zealand. The achievements of the Catalans in retaining and developing their language, and their attempts to create a Catalan speaking territory were interesting to those of us who hadn't been there before. The pickets at the conference opening, and later protests, came from Castilian Spanish speakers who can't get access to Spanish language education. An interesting reversal of roles. Entre padres y hermanos no metas su manos...
Not many other conferences would spend their last available funds on helping poorer cousins with air tickets and then announce from the chair on the final morning they had run out of money and there could be no lunch that day. Everyone cheered this news and I felt it summed up the spirit of the conference...
From: Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, Roskilde University, Languages and Culture, 3.2.4., PB 260, DK-4000 Roskilde, Denmark email: TOVESK(at)babel.ruc.dk
The Barcelona conference was not a grass-roots happening at all. Neither was it open to everybody, so Robin could not have gone anyway even if the university had had the money - nobody was there in their individual capacity but had to represent organisations, and these had to agree to sign the Declaration in advance, in order to participate, even if they only got the final Declaration on arrival. (I represented AILA, the International Association for Applied Linguistics, and only gave a provisional signature).
The final document is a massive one, with 52 [or 53] Articles, immensely detailed. It has both positive and negative features. According to it, those entities defined as LINGUISTIC COMMUNITIES (rather than LINGUISTIC GROUPS, or EVERYBODY, the three different categories of beneficiaries in the document) would have a lot of rights, many of them completely unrealistic for almost any linguistic minorities in the world (except Catalans, Basques, Finland Swedes, English- and Afrikaans-speakers in South Africa, Francophones in Canada, and, maybe, very few others). The other two groups have fewer rights, and the right which in my view is the most important formal right for the maintenance of languages and intergenerational transmission, the right to mother tongue medium education at least at primary level, is not there at all for LINGUISTIC GROUPS and EVERYBODY. I have a lengthy analysis of some aspects of it, in comparison with other human rights instruments, in the opening plenary I gave at the international conference on language rights in Hong Kong 22-24 June. The "theoretical" papers, including mine, will be published fairly soon and I'll give the details as soon as we have negotiated them finally ... Phil Benson from Hong Kong has all the information about the Hong Kong conference and its other publications, email PBENSON(at)hkucc.hku.hk ...
From: Michael Krauss, Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks, P.O. Box 757680, Fairbanks Alaska 99775-7680 USA
... I am finally breaking my long silence in this area of activism, after some discouragement about the possible role of UNESCO, now hopefully outdated, in such issues which might entail "interfering" in the internal affairs of sovereign states, too many of which, including some of those with the largest numbers of languages, are serious offenders in violation of language rights. I wish here simply to point out... that an important basic precedent declaration had been adopted by the UN in 1996, to wit "In those states in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belnging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion, or to use their own language" (Article 27 of the 1966 UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: see Yearbook of the United Nations 1966, p.427. The 1966 Yearbook shows, p.418, a list of 106 nations voting in favor of the covenant; the 1976 one, p.609 and 1986 p.692-693 and 714-715 show which nations had ratified it.) I submit this reference in case any reminders are still needed. We've come a long way since then, but language loss has been proceeding at least as fast...
From: Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, again:
Re Michael Krauss and Article 27 of the ICCPR. It is important for people to know how Art. 27 has been interpreted. In April 1994 the UN Human Rights Committee published a General Comment on Art. 27 which is expremenly important. Instead of the traditional interpretation (only negative rights; vague or no duties for the state; the state can decide whether it has any minorities; immigrants are excluded), it interprets it in a substantially more positive way for all minorities: there is a positive right; the state has duties; the existence of a minority has to be decided on objective grounds; immigrants and refugees can be included among the beneficiaries - this is real shorthand. - I don't have any references at the university now, sorry, but any human rights lawyer can supply them.
More information on the conference can be obtained from:
First International Conference on Language Rights, Hong Kong, June 22-24, 1996
Report by Stephen May, Sociology , University of Bristol, 12 Woodland Road, Bristol BS8 1UQ, UK
The first international conference on Language Rights was held at the Hong Kong University Polytechnic (HKUP) on June 22-24, 1996. (The programme and list of speakers appeared in Iatiku #2.)
Organised jointly by the HKUP English Department and the Department of Languages and Culture at Roskilde University Denmark, the conference provided the first interdisciplinary forum on the emerging issue of minority language rights. The conference was relatively small in number (circa 200 participants) but nonetheless generated many lively, interesting and, at times, vocal debates. Much of this had to do with the range of viewpoints and academic disciplines represented at the conference. With regard to the former for example, key note speakers ranged in their support for language rights from the strong advocacy of Tove Skuttnab Kangas and Robert Phillipson to the much more overtly sceptical position adopted by Florian Coulmas. This broad spectrum of opinion was also reflected in the papers given. Likewise, a range of academic disciplines was also represented at the conference. While it would be fair to say that sociolinguists still dominated, valuable input was also received from legal, sociological and educational perspectives. Should another such conference be held, this interdisciplinary diversity should be further encouraged.
One disappointing feature of the conference, however, was the lack of a final session in which the issues raised at the conference could be discussed and reflected upon. The conference simply 'petered out' on the last day. This was even more surprising given the inaugural nature of the conference. One would have assumed that some summary discussion would have been useful here. This may be compensated for somewhat by the publication of selected papers from the conference in a forthcoming issue of the journal Language and Communication. For those of you interested in the area of language rights, and who weren't able to make the conference, I suggest you watch out for this.
LINDA - Línguas Indígenas de Amazônia
On 15 May 1996, F. Queixalós of the Museu Goeldi in Belem, Brasil, produced the first Boletim Linda, which is a newsletter, predominantly in Portuguese, devoted to languages native to Amazonia. The editor collects reports from individual countries in the LINDA network (each in their own metropolitan language), and is not responsible, therefore, for the detailed coverage of individual countries. This leaves him vulnerable , and indeed in this first issue he was unable to receive input from Bolivia, Peru, Guiana or Surinam.
His address is:
Nevertheless, the Boletim is already a source of interesting material. The first issue contained the following items:
On 3 June 1996, David Cheezem circulated the following draft, which is self-explanatory: Although there was much discussion of this idea on Endangered-Languages-L from May through June and into July, we still (end August) await the definitive call.
We are calling on interested parties to participate in a global "Steering Committee" that will support local activities observing "Lost Language Day." (LLD). These local activites will include the passing out of flyers, public readings, concerts, lobbying, etc. and will take place in cities, towns, villages - wherever we can get support. The activities will be as simple or as complicated as the local organizers would like them to be.
It is not clear how many languages face extinction each year, but one source has it that up to 95% of the world's 6,000 languages will be "extinct or moribund by the end of the next century." (*) It would be one thing for a language to fade as result of real choice, but, as has been pointed out many times, these deaths are not natural - they are the result of social factors over which we have control.
And yet, it is safe to say, most speakers of "unendangered" languages are not aware of these issues. Many would go so far as to celebrate the dying out of cultures as some sort of evolutionary necessity, as "progress." We want to reach as many of these voters and taxpayers as possible, to educate the public with a diverse, world-wide statement -- a statement that mourns what is lost, and celebrates and contributes to the vitality of indigenous cultures.
Of course, the loss of languages is just one facet of the overall threat to indigenous peoples, just a piece of the puzzle that includes the expropriation and destruction of land, the forced removals, the disintegration of communities, even physical elimination of indigenous peoples. As we work to develop activities to mourn the loss of languages - and to educate the public about these losses - it is important to keep this larger context in mind, and to support the struggles of indigenous peoples around the world to preserve their cultural and linguistic identity and their viability and dignity as full-fledged human societies.
This impetus for Lost Language Day observances can be summed up by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Rigoberta Menchú:
"Freedom for indigenous peoples wherever they are - this is my cause. It was not born out of something good; it was born out of wretchedness and bitterness. It has been radicalized by the poverty of my people, the malnutrition that I as an Indian have seen and experienced, the exploitations I have felt in my own flesh, and the oppression that prevents us from performing our sacred ceremonies, showing no respect for the way we are."
(From her introduction to Endangered Peoples by Art Davidson, Sierra Club Books, 1993)
It is assumed that anyone active in cultural survival issues shares at least this one basic value: unity-in-diversity. The organization of LLD will echo that value: The global Steering Committee will serve as an intellectual resource for local groups responsible for organizing diverse -- perhaps even divergent -- activities on the as yet to be determined date.
At the heart of the activities will be a series of flyers that each local group will post There will be as many different flyers as possible, each dealing with a different language. (See the sample draft template below.) Other local actions could include readings, concerts, public service announcements, etc.
The Steering Committee will
ē set the date
The local nodes will
3. Sample *Draft* Template of the Flyer
"[headline] You may never see these words again
This is a statement written in the __________ language. The last known speaker of this language was ______________ who died in 19__. We are not translating the statement because, in a small way, we want to emphasize the loss of meaning and knowledge that occurs when a language dies out as a native tongue. Printing a few words will not bring back the fabric of life that accompanies a living language, so we share them only in mourning -- and in the hope that you will support efforts by people everywhere to preserve their languages.
[a short untranslated text, phonetically rendered.]
We urge you to find out more about indigenous peoples around the world, and to work to halt all further destruction of indigenous languages and cultures. For more information, contact... "
4. List of people and organizations involved so far
-Terralingua (contacts: Luisa Maffi, Dave Harmon) -Foundation for Endangered Languages (contact: Nicholas Ostler)
(The idea for a Lost Language Day observance was first suggested by David Cheezem on the Endangered-Languages-L listserve.)
Frysk Ynternasjonaal Kontakt
What is the FYK?
The Frysk Ynternasjonaal Kontakt (FYK) is an organization that strives to make young Frisians aware of their language and culture. The focus is on international contacts. By meeting young people from other lesser-used language areas, one can discover the advantages of ones own language and culture. Recent international activities were exchanges with Kashubians, East Frisians, North Frisians, Sorbians, Britons, Welshmen, etc. Furthermore, it is quite stimulating to know that there are more lesser-used language areas in Europe. Therefore, the FYK is presently trying to establish internet contacts between schools in Westerlauwer Friesland and North Friesland. Apart from the international activities there are also many activities organized in Frisia itself, e.g. summer camps, trips to the open-air theatre in Jorwert or to Tryater and to the PC "keatsen" games in Frjentsjer.
How to get information about the FYK?
The FYK activities are listed at:
To know more about the FYK, please contact:
* Al wa't wend is Frysk te sprekken, hoecht him hjir net te ferbrekken *
Endangered Languages of Canada
Jessica Payeras, U. Quebec at Montreal , C.P.8888, succ. Centre-ville, Montréal, Québec H3C 3P8, Canada
This report has two goals: (i) to give information on one of the latest efforts to constitute an organization to address the problem of language maintenance in Canada and (ii) to describe the situation of endangered languages in Canada as was presented by the CLA's Ad Hoc Committee on Endangered Languages (constituted by A. Johns, I. Mazurkewich, K. Rice and P. Shaw).*
The Ad Hoc Committee on Endangered Languages
During the 1994 annual meeting of the CLA (Canadian Linguistic Association) at the University of Calgary, a Round Table discussion on the topic of ďLinguists, Native Languages and Native CommunitiesĒ was held. This round table lead to the establishment of the present ad hoc Committee on Endangered Languages at the Université du Québec ą Montréal, the following year.
In 1996, the CLA meeting took place at Brock University. During this meeting an active workshop on dictionaries and endangered languages was held. The main proposals of the Ad Hoc committee were presented. These proposals are mainly the collection and sharing of information regarding programs for the revitalization and maintenance of Aboriginal Languages in Canada and the establishment of necessary links with other similar organizations (e.g. the LSA Committee on Endangered Languages). A steering committee is to coordinate at the same time subcommittees which deal with electronic information, resources and teaching materials and statistical information. The members of the Steering Committee in Canada must be members of the CLA but membership of the subcommittees is open to other invited associates.
Other local efforts
In Ontario there are some 150 Aboriginal or Indian Reserve Communities. Among these Reserves are spoken the Aanishnaabeg and Ogwehoweh languages. These two language families are also commonly referred to as Algonkian and Iroquoian languages. The Aanishnaabeg Languages were originally spoken by what is known as the Three Fires Confederacy Nations and they are Ojibwe, Potawatomi and Odawa. The Cree and Delaware language are also grouped with the Aanishnaabeg language family. There exists also a language that has evolved and is currently called Oji-Cree which, as you can tell, comes from the Ojibwe and Cree languages. The Ogwehoweh languages are spoken by the Six Nations Confederacy people and they are Seneca, Oneida, Cayuga, Mohawk, Onondaga and Tuscarora. The Aanishnaabeg languages are written using the English Roman writing system. The Ogwehoweh languages are written using the English Roman writing system with various diacritic marks to emphasize certain sounds not found in English.
The Government of Canada does not recognize by law and legislation any of these 57 languages as official languages within the Constitution of Canada (1982). The Official Languages Act of Canada recognizes only French and English and therefore Aboriginal Languages do not enjoy Federal support, financial aid and constitutional protection. Even the Assembly of First Nations - a national Aboriginal lobbying group claiming to represent the interest of all First Nations citizenry and whose offices are located in the nations capital of Ottawa - has dropped from its national agenda 'active' support and lobbying for an Aboriginal Languages Agenda for national legislation, policy and aid.
The Aboriginal Language Program was established in 1983. Today there are three staff members. The aboriginal or Indian communities use the term ĎIndianí, ĎNativeí, íAboriginalí and ĎFirst Nationsí when talking about themselves. 'First Nations' is the term in use today. Their Language Program is delivered via a work plan which is broken up into the following sections:
The Woodland Cultural Center has assisted not only its five supporting First Nations communities in the south-western part of the province, but it has also helped support the creation of another organization beyond the Woodland Cultural Centerís current mandate. This other organization is the Sweetgrass First Nations Language Council Inc. The Language Council works with teachers and other language professionals and educators by organizing professional development workshops and conferences. The Language Council has also maintained current population statistics and language retention rates.
Despite the often many obstacles, the Woodland Cultural Center has been involved with many aboriginal language initiatives over the last 12 years, many of them innovative. It has assisted with the founding and acted as a funding body for the first ever Cayuga and Mohawk Language Immersion School at Six Nations of the Grand River.
Among their future projects are:
The following table shows the current situation of Canadaís endangered languages:
Family Language Ex N Ex En V- V Number of speakers Iroquian Huron √ Petun √ Neutral √ St.Lawrence Iroquian √ Tuscarora √ 7-8 Seneca √ 25 Cayuga √ 360 Oneida √ 200 Onondaga √ 50-100 Mohawk √ 2,000 Athabascan Han √ few Sarcee √ 10 Hare √ 600 Beaver √ 300 Tuchtone √ 1,000 Slave √ 1,000-2,000 Dogrib √ 800 Gwichíin (Kutchin) √ 500 Chipewyan √ 5,000 Algonquian Delsware √ 5-10 Abenaki √ 10 Potawatomi √ 100 Montagnais-Naskapi √ 5,000 Blackfoot √ 4,000 Malecite √ 1,200 Micmac √ 3,000 Cree √ 60,000 Ojibwa √ 30,000 Eskimo- Aleut Inuktitut √ 16,000-18,000 Siouan Dakota √ 5,000 Stoney √ 1,000 Isolate Beothuk √Contents.