Foundation for Endangered Languages

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1. Editorial

First of all, I hope you are all asking: “Why no more Iatiku?”

The answer lies in a message I received at the beginning of June from Jon Reyhner of the Center for Excellence in Education, quoting a correspondence with Christine Sims from Acoma. She wrote:

Concerning the information regarding the "mother goddess" of Acoma, the information is not accurate and is taken completely out of context in terms of Acoma oral tradition. I would not use this ... and would find this highly offensive as would most other Acomas.

Furthermore for it to be used as a newsletter title would also be inappropriate and I would urge the London organization to drop the idea. Please pass my comments on to the appropriate persons. Thank you.

Despite some queries, I have not been able to get further clarification from Christine Sims. But I have thought it right not to proceed under the name I chose for the newsletter. I have no first-hand knowledge of Acoma myth, and believe that the Acoma and other Keresan-speaking peoples may not readily share this knowledge with outsiders. Our intention has always been to learn from them, where we may. Evidently there has been little learning if our quotation is seen as “highly offensive”.

Perhaps next time we shall have a new name for the Newsletter. Any ideas?

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Another innovation, this time a positive one, is our new logo, the first item in this Newsletter, in fact. It was created by Bronwyn Williams-Ellis, an artist working here in Bath, and I hope its inspiration is clear. We hope our work at the Foundation will sow new growth in the world’s languages and our knowledge of them.

It is difficult to find an image that is human, positive and culturally universal, but sowing seed must come close - the only danger being that it might be seen as excluding hunter-gatherers, and (if such there be) strict carnivores. Let it be said here at the outset that such people are in no way left out of our account: if anything, we want to see their languages bloom as vigorously as the crops of any encroaching agriculturalists.

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The time for the Foundation’s second AGM (annual general meeting) has come round, and this time we want to mark it with something usefully to our purpose. As a result we are holding a Workshop in York on 26 - 27 July 1997, entitled “Steps in Language Rescue”. The programme can be found in section 2, and it has a cosmopolitan charm, representing endangerment problems in almost every continent, and kinds of difficulty ranging from discord on spelling to massive incursion from outsiders. Although diversity of problem is just as evident as diversity of language in Language Endangerment, one purpose of our international organization is to gain inspiration from one other’s approaches to them. Registration is possible up until the last moment, but it would help (at the very least) the composure of our acting Treasurer Mahendra Verma, who is also the local organizer, if you could send in your registration in advance. A registration form can be found on the back of this newsletter (coupled with a membership application.)

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The activities of the Foundation since the last newsletter (#4, at the end of January 1997) relate principally to getting funding for activities which foment individual endangered languages. There are outstanding applications from Latvia (to support Livonian dictionary compilation), Russia (to document the status of the Kakolo language in Mali), the USA (for support of community action for the Twahka in Nicaragua), the UK (to support an asylum-seeker/linguist working on a grammar of the Sudanic language Madi), Thailand (to support a literacy programme in Akha), and the UK again (for fieldwork in Wasur National Park, in South-east Irian Jaya, Indonesia).



The Committee have produced a questionnaire form for applicants which addresses our main concerns that work should be charitable, supportive of the languages in question and for publication, but as yet we have had few of these returned by the applicants. Moreover, the low level of the Foundation’s funds at the moment (relying solely on your subscriptions) has meant that we can only offer a maximum grant of US$500 per application. Hence we cannot single-handedly support any project; and the need for applicants to find other sources of funding is delaying our support even for successful applications.

On the other hand, the first steps towards releasing a flow of funds have been taken; and as readers will note from other entries in this newsletter, there is evidence that some extra sources of support for our kind of work are beginning to bubble up. The Philological Society in the UK is offering to publish grammars (see item 7 in the Minutes of our Edinburgh meeting (6 April) in section 2); the Endangered Languages Fund in the USA has made its first grants; and there are now UNESCO grants available for partial funding of the Study of Endangered Languages (section 4).

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Members will have already received, or will soon be receiving solicitation from our Secretary to renew their subscriptions. We on the Committee very much hope that you will renew promptly, and then when you do so, you will give serious thought to what contribution, perhaps of a non-financial kind, that you would like to make to the working of the Foundation. (Extra financial contributions too would be extremely welcome, , especially if we are to overcome that arbitrary US$500 ceiling on grants!)

Literary contributions in the way of reports, reviews, musings or poems will be gratefully received for publication in the Newsletter, if they are germane to our cosmic theme.

Although we continue to make progress towards our various goals, to fund serious work in documentation and revitalization, to incorporate ourselves as a registered charity, and to promote knowledge of, and debate about endangered language issues, we are conscious that we are working very short-handed.

Particular roles where we need help are in raising funds, and in organizing publicity, in managing and beautifying our web-page, and in setting up practical links with language support operations round the world. If you would like to be actively involved in any of these concrete roles, especially if you have some idea of your own of how we can make a special impact, please lose no time in contacting me, by e-mail, fax or letter.

It doesn’t matter where in the world you are! Or rather, it does matter, but the difference it makes is all to our advantage. As they say (I am told ) in Wolof: Lu nekk manees no ko toxal, mu mel na mu meloon ba mu des wax Everything can be moved from one place to another without being changed, except speech.