Foundation for Endangered Languages
4. Allied Societies and Activities
Creation of The Endangered Language Fund, Inc.
This is a new, non-profit U.S. corporation dedicated to:
* The scientific study of endangered languages
The Board of Directors consists of:
Douglas H. WHALEN (Haskins Laboratories; President)
Languages have died off throughout history, but never have we faced the massive extinction that is threatening the world right now. As language professionals, we are faced with a stark reality: Much of what we study will not be available to future generations. The cultural heritage of many peoples is crumbling while we look on. Are we willing to shoulder the blame for having stood by a done nothing? The tide is too large to turn back completely, but the Endangered Language Fund is designed to do what we can.
The Fund will support communities that are trying to teach dying languages to a new generation. Many languages have skipped a generation, and extraordinary methods are needed for the language to have any hope. Other languages would be helped immensely by even traditional aids such as grammars and dictionaries. Modern language teaching, including interactive programs, video instruction, and practice tapes can also be of service. Even languages that cannot be revived can be recorded to the extent possible, preserving language in a way not available to previous generations. These and other projects will be supported through the awarding of grants to individuals and language communities. A detailed Request for Proposals will appear this winter. The number of awards that we can make will be directly dependent on the amount of money we raise.
There are four levels of support:
Members will receive our newsletter. Supporting members also receive a discount on one language book (we are negotiating with several publishers on this). Sustaining members will also receive a copy of the language artifact (text, video, tape, etc.) of their choice from the year's efforts.
***FOR THE FIRST YEAR ONLY, we will induct all Sustaining Members into the FOUNDERS' CLUB. Inclusion in this club will provide a permanent record of devotion to the cause of endangered languages. Members will receive a plaque acknowledging their crucial support in this effort.
The Endangered Language Fund has applied for U. S. Federal tax-exempt status. While we cannot guarantee that we will receive it, we are quite sure that we will. Any donation made before the award will be retroactively eligible for deduction from U.S. Federal income taxes once the exemption is granted. ONE THING THAT WILL HELP US RECEIVE THIS STATUS IS AN ENTHUSIASTIC RESPONSE FROM THE LINGUISTICS COMMUNITY. PLEASE BE A PART OF THAT RESPONSE.
JOIN THE ENDANGERED LANGUAGE FUND TODAY!
Checks, in U.S. funds, can be made out to The Endangered Language Fund. Mastercard and Visa are also accepted; include card type, card number, expiration date, and signature.
"Endangered Languages, Endangered Knowledge, Endangered Environments". U California, Berkeley on October 25-27, 1996
On October 25-27, 1996, an international group of scholars, professionals, and activists came together at U California, Berkeley for the working conference "Endangered Languages, Endangered Knowledge, Endangered Environments". This event was the first joint meeting of experts from an array of disciplines in the social, behavioral, and biological sciences ranging from linguistics to anthropology, ethnobiology, cultural geography, economics, cognitive psychology, biology, and ecology, along with natural resource conservationists, cultural advocates, and representatives of indigenous peoples. The meeting was called to explore the complex connections between cultural and biological diversity, the interrelated causes and consequences of loss of both forms of diversity, and the role of indigenous and minority languages and of traditional knowledge in biocultural diversity maintenance and the promotion of sustainable human-environment relationships. Participants also discussed plans for integrated research, training, and action in this domain.
Diversity Loss on Earth
Links Between Biological and Cultural Diversity
The notion of endemism emerged as of particular relevance in talking about both biological and linguistic diversity, from the point of view of the especially threatened status of species or languages endemic to a single region--or even worse, a single country, making them extremely vulnerable to the vagaries of national sociopolitical and economic processes. Linking the two forms of endemism, a notion of "ethnobiological endemism" was proposed, underscoring the local nature of traditional environmental knowledge and its comparable vulnerability by those same processes. Also centrally relevant to the conference's perspective was evidence concerning indigenous and local peoples' knowledge not only about natural kinds, but also about ecological relations. The need to systematically and comparatively study this ecological knowledge and how it correlates with reasoning about and action vis-a-vis the environment (as in the extraction and use of natural resources) was affirmed.
In describing the structural and functional deterioration that characterizes processes of language loss, linguists pointed to the various levels at which such processes can and do affect the maintenance of traditional environmental knowledge--from loss of biosystematic lexicon to loss of traditional stories and other forms and contexts of communication. The role of various factors of cultural change and acculturation, such as schooling and migration, were explored. Cognitive psychologists provided new evidence about processes of folkbiological knowledge devolution in societies that have moved away from direct contact with nature, although such processes were shown to be less straightforward than earlier studies had suggested.
Numerous case studies were presented on issues of language and knowledge loss and the interactions between cultural and biological diversity, spanning Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas, and covering both indigenous and other local groups, such as migrants, and exemplifying a variety of linguistic stocks and of modes of subsistence, from hunting and gathering to agriculture.
Several presentations also illustrated patterns of cultural and linguistic resistence and knowledge persistence, as well as efforts to revitalize languages and cultures that had gone extinct, with a special focus on maintaining or recovering and newly applying knowledge about traditional resource management practices. Finally, a set of presentations was devoted to both grassroots and international initiatives aimed at biocultural conservation, as well as to issues of indigenous land rights and traditional resource rights, that were seen as inextricably linked to the viability of local communities and their languages and cultures. New economic models, based on a coevolutionary social and ecological framework, were proposed as the context in which humanity at the end of the millennium could strive to achieve sustainability and maintain biological and cultural diversity.
[The conference was organized by Luisa Maffi (Institute of Cognitive Studies, U California, Berkeley), and funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, the UNESCO/WWF-I/Kew Gardens "People and Plants Initiative", and UC Berkeley's Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research, Office of the Deans of Letters and Sciences, and Institute of Cognitive Studies. It was sponsored by the NGO "Terralingua: Partnerships for Linguistic and Biological Diversity", and co-sponsored and hosted by UC Berkeley's Department of Integrative Biology and University and Jepson Herbaria.
Participants were: Scott Atran, William Balee, Herman Batibo, Benjamin Blount, Stephen Brush, Ignacio Chapela, Greville Corbett, Alejandro de Avila, Margaret Florey, David Harmon, Jane Hill, Leanne Hinton, Eugene Hunn, Dominique Irvine, Willett Kempton, Manuel Lizarralde, Ian Saem Majnep, L. Frank Manriquez, Gary Martin, Douglas Medin, Katharine Milton, Brent Mishler, Felipe Molina, Denny Moore, Gary Nabhan, James Nations, Johanna Nichols, Richard Norgaard, Christine Padoch, Andrew Pawley, Mark Poffenberger, Darrell Posey, Eric Smith, D. Michael Warren, Stanford Zent. The participant's affiliations, biographical sketches, and conference abstracts, as well as other information about the conference, can be found at the following two WWW sites:
For additional information, please contact Dr. Luisa Maffi, Institute of Cognitive Studies, 608 Barrows Hall, U California, Berkeley, CA 94720; phone: (510) 643-1728; fax: (510) 6435688; e-mail: maffi(at)cogsci.berkeley.edu.]
Action Items from LSA Endangered Language Meeting, Chicago, 4 Jan. 97
The following is a summary of major action items proposed or discussed at the open meeting of the Committee on Endangered Languages and their Preservation (CELP) held at the LSA meeting in Chicago on 01-04-97. For a fuller description of the meeting, see "Notes on the 01-04-97 Meeting of the LSA's Committee on Endangered Languages and their Preservation," which I am circulating concurrently with this.
Because no quorum of the actual committee was present at the LSA meeting, the items below technically are proposals to the committee.
It was the sense of the meeting that these items could and should be carried out by ad hoc task forces of one or more interested LSA members, whether or not they happen to be among the twelve people serving as appointed CELP members at this moment. Anyone interested in forming, or being involved in, a task force on any of these issues (or any other issue) should contact me (acw(at)mail.utexas.edu).
1. Development of a Plan for Honoring the Linguistic Contributions of Native Speakers of Endangered Languages.
2. Endangered Language Scholarship at the LSA Annual Meeting.
* Make themselves available as FR/EL abstract referees for the Program Committee (let me know and I'll forward your name).
* Put together a colloquium or symposium for the 1998 (New York) LSA. Possible topics include:
It should be noted that in 1998, the Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas will be meeting together with the LSA. This suggests certain possibilities for collaboration. (For more on SSILA, see their web page at
3. Database on Endangered Languages.
4. The Use of Linguistic Information in Community Settings.
5. Development of a CELP Web Page.
6. Disciplinary "Agitation".
* Field Methods teaching in linguistics departments (already raised by Paul Newman in his exemplary 1992 article, 'Fieldwork and field methods in linguistics' (California Linguistic Notes 23(2):1-8)).
* Survey career trajectories of students doing field work dissertations. What kinds of jobs both inside and outside of academic linguistics do they find? How do their prospects compare with those of students with analytic specialties (phonology, syntax, historical, socio, etc.)?
* Departmental receptivity to field work dissertations. Are grammars acceptable as dissertations? Dictionaries? Collections of texts?
Tony Woodbury (acw(at)mail.utexas.edu)