Foundation for Endangered Languages

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2. Development of the Foundation

Committee Meetings

30th September 1996 at 10 Bears Hedge, Iffley, Oxford

Present: Christopher Moseley, Daniel Nettle (Treasurer), Nicholas Ostler (Chair), Mahendra Verma, Andrew Woodfield (Secretary).

1. Minutes of last meeting (4th July 1996) were approved. Minutes of AGM had been circulated to all members via the newsletter Iatiku 3. No objections had been received. These were duly approved and signed.

2.Matters arising
(i) Financial matters
DN reported that the name of the bank acount had been changed to 'Foundation for Endangered Languages_ but other details remained the same. Bank charges would soon arise if FEL did not become a charity. After achieving charitable status FEL should consider opening a facility for subscriptions paid by credit card. The current balance was #1061.91. So far #107 had been paid out in expenses.

AW asked DN to provide an interim balance sheet showing income and expenditure since the account was opened. This is to send to the Charity Commission.

DN handed out the latest list of members. The number stood at 62.

(ii) Next steps for registering with Charity Commission
AW had received the Declaration DEC1 signed by all the trustees. The minimum income requirement (£1,000 p.a.) had been met. Before the application could be submitted, he would need a description of the day-to-day activities of the organisation, a statement of how research projects will be selected and evaluated, and a copy of the accounts. At some stage the organisation would need to apply for tax relief. At this stage the day-to-day activities consisted mainly in administrative moves to establish FEL on a proper footing, publishing Iatiku, managing the web-site, correspondence and media appearances. CM_s questionnaire (see below) will be submitted as evidence of the project selection process. DN will supply accounts for the financial year so far.

(iii) Update on Brazil
AW had received a document from FUNAI explaining the history of contacts since 1976 with isolated Indian groups in the Rio Omere area. The Canoe and Tupari groups discovered in 1995 were currently being studied by the linguist Nilson Gabas Junior under the auspices of FUNAI. Agreed: that AW contacts Nilson Gabas and supplies a short article on this for the next Iatiku.

3. Search for new treasurer
As DN will be leaving at the end of the year, a replacement must be found. AW proposed that a letter asking for nominations be sent to all members. In the same letter he hoped to be able to announce the place and date of the projected FEL conference in 1997, and would ask for suggestions about speakers and themes. This was agreed. NO proposed a supplementary plan. Since the number of suitable candidates is so limited the committee should pick out one or two likely people and approach them personally. This was also agreed. MV offered to approach Karen Corrigan first. Meanwhile AW would sound out a colleague who knows Professor Glanville Price well.

It was agreed that the job of handling members_subscriptions should be separated from that of Hon Treasurer which is primarily concerned with financial management. MV volunteered to be Membership Secretary. His offer was gratefully accepted.

4. Publicity and Membership Recruitment
MV noted that recruitment of new members often occurs at meetings and conferences. He had not been supplied with the flyers that he was expecting to take to a sociolinguistics symposium. He would have another opportunity to publicise FEL at the South Asia Language and Linguistics Association in Delhi next January. Agreed: a new flyer must be produced quickly. NO to take charge; suggestions to him for material to be included in a pamphlet. Also agreed: to let 3rd world members to pay the same subscription rate as students and unwaged.

5. Hosting the first FEL Conference
MV introduced a discussion of the scope and scale of the conference, urging that a venue be fixed quickly. It was felt that a weekend meeting aimed mainly for FEL members would be more feasible than a large international conference. AW expressed a preference for late June /early July. If a bigger event were held in 1998, planning would need to begin well in advance (and this item should be on the next agenda). MV offered to host the 1997 meeting at York University if suitable dates are available. MV promised to report by 12-13th October. In case York proves impossible, NO will inquire about Lancaster as second choice.

6. Questionnaire for Grant Applicants
CM circulated copies of his revised questionnaire (ses previous minutes). Further amendments were suggested, including the addition of an undertaking to furnish FEL with publishable findings. The researcher must to make findings public whenever the research is supported by a charity. This does not mean that all data must be published; confidential material remains confidential. AW to send CM the CC wording on the publication requirement. NO suggested that Clifton Robinson would know of a code of ethics for linguistic fieldworkers, as might the Tokyo Clearing House. CM to send AW a diskette of the final version by October 12th.

7. AOB
Marcelo Dascal had suggested that FEL support the Guatemalan movement for indigenous linguistic rights. AW to find out which addresses to contact.

A researcher going to Guyana in January to study two native languages has asked NO for advice. DN offered to put her in touch with researchers there.

Iatiku 4 copy deadline is the end of October, for issue in mid-November. (!!! - Ed.)

8. Date of next meeting
Saturday 7th December at 11.30 a.m. (before the General Meeting at 2p.m.), at Batheaston Villa, 172 Bailbrook Lane, Bath BA1 7AA.

AW 6/10/96

7th December 1996 at Batheaston Villa, Bath .

Present: Nicholas Ostler (Chair), Andrew Woodfield (Sec), Christopher Moseley, Mahendra Verma.

Apologies: Daniel Nettle

1. Membership:
There are currently 68 members. Since the AGM, eleven new members have joined, of whom seven are in the UK. More members are needed.

2. Financial:
At 1st December, the balance stood at #1080-15. #1243 had been received in subscriptions, and #162-85 had been spent on expenses. NO had not yet claimed any of the expenses due to him.

3. Appointment of New Treasurer:
Only one member (Oliver Dow) has volunteered for the post. Unfortunately, he was indisposed and hence was unable to attend the day_s General Meeting. His letter was circulated. It was felt that his qualifications seemed appropriate, but that electing him to the post in his absence would be risky. He was not known personally to any of the Committee and had not attended any earlier meetings.

MV reported that he had talked with someone in York who might be persuaded to take on the job, although he was not a member. This person is Deputy Auditor of York City Council and thus may be presumed to have a good knowledge of accounting. It was decided that these facts should be conveyed to the General Meeting where a decision would be taken about how to proceed.

4. Split of Duties -
Membership Data-Base: DN continued to process new subscriptions during the Autumn, but this task will now be transferred to MV. MV to take over the computerised list of members_ names and addresses.

5. Publicity:
New ways of publicizing the Foundation were discussed. NO showed two issues of a UNESCO-funded magazine published by the European Centre for Traditional Culture based in Budapest. FEL should be mentioned in subsequent issues (NO to contact the editors). MV proposed to advertise FEL at the meeting of the S.Asian Linguists Association in New Delhi in January. AW will do the same at the International Development Ethics Conference in Madras (January 2-9).

A letter had been received from Sara Davies (BBC producer) saying that her proposal for a series had not been given the go-ahead.

CM suggested that Allan Wynne Jones might be asked to keep us informed of relevant EC projects and initiatives.

6. Charitable Status:
AW had no progress to report. Items that were still needed: a statement of the criteria that FEL would use to evaluate projects that it funded, a description of FEL_s day-to-day activities, a duly drawn-up statement of accounts. In connection with the first, CM reported that he had asked Professor Tsunoda of the Tokyo Clearing House to send him its booklet on criteria for evaluating research and publishing findings. He had also asked SIL to send its Ethical Code pertaining to fieldworkers and missionaries. Replies are still awaited.

7. Ideas for the Logo:
NO showed sketches done for FEL by a local artist, Bronwyn Williams-Ellis. The Committee_s opinion was generally very favourable. NO to present them for perusal at the General Meeting.

8. Grants:
NO reported that he had received a request for help from a Russian linguist/anthropologist who intended to do field work in W. Africa. This was the third such request, the others being the Livonian group that had contacted CM, and the Twahka community in Nicaragua (via Ken Hale of MIT). All were asking for sums below $500. NO was strongly in favour of granting one or more of these requests as soon as possible, as the Foundation needed to act positively in furtherance of its objectives. It was agreed that CM should write to all three, asking them to fill in the questionnaire which he had recently drafted. CM will inform them that their proposals and responses to the questionnaires will be assessed at the next Executive Committee meeting, and he will give them a deadline date.

9. Fund Raising:
Two ways of raising money are by applying for grants and by holding fund-raising events such as jumble-sales. NO also raised the possibility of merchandising. AW thought that FEL_s status as an unincorporated association would preclude it from trading.

10. Plans for 1997 and 1998 AGMs and Conferences were not discussed, for lack of time. The meeting was adjourned.

General Meeting

7th December 1996 at Batheaston Villa, Bath

Present: Nicholas Ostler (Chair), Andrew Woodfield (Sec), Christopher Moseley, Mahendra Verma, Willem Adelaar, Greville Corbett, Gary Morgan, Roger Blench, Darrell Posey (visitor)

Apologies: Daniel Nettle, Marilyn Martin-Jones, Frances Morphy, Anna Siewierska, Oliver Dow, James Higginbotham, Russell Norton, Bob Robins, Clinton Robinson, Ian Roberts, David Crystal.

1. Minutes of AGM and Matters Arising:
The Chairman reviewed the Minutes of the Annual General Meeting held on 4th July 1996. MV asked what progress had been made on the Publicity front. NO referred to the new flyer, copies of which were distributed. The flyer - photocopied as one double-sided sheet of A4 -is good for handing out at conferences. As soon as FEL has comissioned a logo, printed leaflets will be produced. This led to a suggestion that FEL might seek financial assistance for such purposes from bodies such as UNESCO. They have money available for translating, for example. RB said that the best way to approach UNESCO is to go in person and persuade an individual there whose interests chime in with your request.



2. Election of New Treasurer:
Secretary announced that one member had responded to the recent letter appealing for nominations. Oliver Dow had offered to stand. Unfortunately Mr Dow was indisposed and unable to attend the meeting. Because there was no one present who knew Mr Dow personally and could speak for him, it was felt that the eight members at the meeting could not declare him elected and that some emergency procedure ought to be devised.

At the Executive Committee meeting MV had mentioned another possible candidate, highly qualified in accountancy, who was in fact Deputy Auditor of York City Council. This man had not agreed to stand, however, and was not a member of FEL. In the background was Karen Corrigan, a member who was willing to be Hon. Treasurer starting from September 1997 but unwilling to step in immediately.

AW proposed that MV should take over as Acting Treasurer until the next AGM in July, when another election would be held, and that MV might take advantage of the willingness and expertise of the York Deputy Auditor when he prepared the Foundation_s first annual financial report. MV said he would be prepared to do this on the understanding that it was a temporary stop-gap.

NO made an alternative proposal: that a postal ballot of members be held at the beginning of January, the candidate(s) being Oliver Dow and possibly others, such as the Deputy Auditor from York; that the result of this ballot be announced at the end of January; and that MV be the Acting Treasurer until a full-time Treasurer is elected.

RB proposed, and GC seconded, NO_s proposal. There were 6 votes in favour, 1 against, and 1 abstention. The Chairman_s proposal was therefore carried. Because the Secretary would be soon be going to India for 4 weeks, NO undertook to make the arrangements for ballotting members and bringing the matter to a satisfactory resolution. MV was declared Acting Treasurer pro tem. Steps will be taken as soon as practicable to empower MV to co-sign the Foundation's cheques.

3. Exhibition Project:
AW suggested that FEL organize a display exhibit. He reported that David Crystal, upon seeing this item on the agenda, sent word that Roger Bowers (former Assistant Director General of the Britsh Council) is putting together a Millenium Project for a language museum/archive. He is at the stage of collecting ideas and supporting statements. David Crystal has mentioned FEL to Mr. Bowers. If the project goes ahead, it could be a useful point of publicity for FEL (Roger Bowers may be contacted c/o The British Council, 10 Spring Gardens, London SW1A 2BN. email: Roger.Bowers(at)

Several other ideas emerged from the discussion. Other projects connected to year 2000 could be latched on to. GM mentioned the Bristol 2000 project. The Deaf Studies Centre at Bristol University was seeking representation within it.

CM offered to ask the National Sound Archive what material they had available. RB mentioned some early recordings of endangered languages that he had deposited with the NSA. The Museum of Mankind was another source and possible venue. It would be necessary to ask institutions how far ahead they are booked.

It was agreed that NO would send members a questionnaire about their areas of expertise and relevant materials in their possession, with an eye to compiling a data-base of exhibitables. RB suggested that information about members could be placed on the web-page. This would be useful to media organizations, like the BBC, who needed to locate interviewees. NO expressed reservations about putting members_ personal data on the Internet. It was suggested that members could be asked first if they were willing to let their data appear there.

Organizations with similar aims might wish to pool their efforts with FEL. An item about exhibits should appear in the next Iatiku. GC thought that a small _dry run_ exhibit could be mounted at the LAGB meetings, held twice a year.

4. Speakers for 1997 AGM/Conference:
Those present were urged to think of names of possible speakers to invite to York in July 1997.

5. Encouraging Fieldwork and Research:
NO reported that the Executive Committee, at its meeting earlier in the day, had decided to follow up three small grant applications. The applicants would be asked to fill in the questionnaire devised by CM in time to be assessed at the next Executive Committee meeting. RB inquired about the refereeing procedure to be adopted. Safeguards are needed to insure that money goes to worthwhile projects. The matter was left unresolved.

6. Membership Drive:
NO asked for suggestions of ways to get new members.

7. A.O.B.
The Logo designs by Bronwyn Williams-Ellis were admired and discussed. It was felt that they were a little too intricate, but that several had great potential. NO to pursue this further.

The meeting ended at 4.15 p.m. After a short break for tea, there were presentations by Greville Corbett and Darrell Posey. The speakers delivered shortened versions of their contributions to a recent symposium on biological, cultural and linguistic diversity, which had taken place at UC Berkeley.

Abstract of Greville Corbett's "Language endangerment: a linguist's perspective"

Linguistic & International Studies, University of Surrey, Guildford, Surrey GU2 5XH, UK g.corbett(at)

Linguists are making increasingly detailed and sophisticated claims about the interrelations of linguistic constructions and of linguistic categories. Research of this type raises the question of the range of data required.

Although at first sight the availability (in principle) of over 6000 languages might appear wholly adequate, this is not straightforwardly the case. On the one hand, the same features may appear in different languages because they are genetically related; in fact, many languages form large families (Niger-Kordofanian has over 1000 members and Austronesian over 900), which drastically reduces the number of sources of data which are undeniably different. On the other hand, the areal spread of features means that even genetically unrelated languages may share features from a single source. These problems, made more acute by the rapid loss of languages, are only just beginning to be appreciated by those who should be most aware of them, namely linguists.

Examples are given of particularly interesting features which have been found in languages that happen to be endangered, to give some idea of the seriousness of their loss for linguists. Illustrations are taken from the categories of gender and number, and from the study of colour term systems.

It is concluded that while the paper considers first the interests of linguists, the importance of a deeper understanding of natural language for progress in other areas, theoretical and practical, is such as to make the concern about language endangerment one of wider significance.

Conclusion of Darrell Posey's "Biological and Cultural Diversity - the Inextricable Linked by Language and Politics"

Oxford Centre for Environment, Ethics & Society, Mansfield College, Oxford OX1 3TF, UK posey(at)

Indigenous peoples are critical to sustainability because their diverse, locally-adapted strategies for natural resource management are based upon ancient, intimate, and intricate knowledge of flora, fauna, soils, water cycles, climate, and micro-environmental variations. Their use and conservation of the environment are inextricably linked to their daily activities and survival, not only of present, but future, generations. Indeed, many presumed "natural landscapes" are, in fact, ecological systems moulded and maintained by indigenous management practices,

Indigenous peoples are not insignificant isolated groups that have little to do with the future of the Planet. On the contrary, there are over 250 million indigenous peoples, speaking 4,000 to 5,000 languages, and who are active stewards of some of the most biologically and ecologically rich regions of the world. As much as 19% of the earth's surface is still under indigenous control or management.

Indigenous peoples are on the firing line for all of humanity. Their concerns are the same as all of us who fear loss of local autonomy, community control, distant decision-making, disregard for local priorities or needs, erosion of traditional knowledge, increasing commoditisation of common resources, and loss of biological and cultural diversity. These are problems that confront communities in every comer of the Earth.

Indigenous peoples have holistic views that link environmental sustainability directly with individual health and community well-being, They remind us that it is not just the diversity of life that provides the cornerstone for sustainability--but also the knowledge of that diversity enshrined in the laws, sciences, religions, rituals, and ceremonies of human societies. In other words, there is an inextricable link between environmental and cultural diversity. When the diversity of knowledge about flora, fauna and micro-climatic conditions is lost, then essentially the richness of biodiversity is degraded because the processes that have evolved to conserve and utilise those resources are lost.

It is language that links cultural knowledge to environmental practice. Without language, Indigenous concepts of nature, perceptions of environment. and categories of conservation and management would be lost. Traditional knowledge may indeed linger even after a native language is lost, but the richness and diversity of that knowledge cannot survive even one generation of language loss.

Traditional knowledge is critical to development of alternative strategies for sustainability. When granted autonomy, Indigenous peoples are accomplished environmental managers. This is fact, not anecdote. Successful use of traditional knowledge and effective in situ conservation depends upon a shift in power from distant centres to Indigenous peoples and their local communities. This process and state of empowerment is known as self-determination, which is the unifying demand of all Indigenous peoples. Without the right to determine their own futures, make their own decisions, and control their own land, territories, and resources, environmental conservation will remain only rhetoric.

This fundamental shift in power requires international legal structures and political will. Environmental groups, developmental agencies, foundations. banks, professional organisations, NGOs, and governments should not wait for legal structures, but become pro-active in leading the fundamental shift by ensuring that their organisations, structures, and funding supports self-determination.

This applies to linguists as well. It is no longer enough to study disappearing languages so as to "preserve" them for future linguistic studies. Indigenous peoples find such academic pursuits perverse, pernicious, and self-indulgent. Indigenous peoples have begun amoratorium movement to prevent further such parasitic studies.

It is also no longer possible for linguists to claim political naivetÈ in dealing with human rights and international political debates on cultural, language, and biodiversity. Human rights and ethical concerns have now been thoroughly integrated into industry, politics, and most scientific disciplines, leaving by and large linguistics behind and marginalized. This is indeed unfortunate, because linguistics and linguists hold exactly the missing pieces that are needed to effectively defend indigenous and traditional peoples: the inextricable link between biological and cultural diversity --- language.