Foundation for Endangered Languages
5. Conference Reports
18th American Indian Language Development Institute, Tucson, AZ.
From: Akira Yamamoto akiray(at)U.Arizona.EDU
We just completed the 18th Annual American Indian Language Development Instite at the University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona. This year, I did a seminar on Language Variations in which I have 33 Native American people representing 14 different languages. The language situations are indeed not very good among all these language communities, including Navajo Nation. Dene group from Canada may be the only one where children come to school speaking Dene as their first language. For them, it is "maintenance" and promotion; but for almost all the rest, the efforts are "revitalization".
By the end of the four-week institute, participants in the institute produced curricula, plans of action, language materials, and renewed enthusiasm in doing, rather than talking about, their languages.
Salish and Neighbouring Languages: language preservation and revitalization
Joseph Tomei writes, of last year’s meeting:
Because this is a year late and the next conference is now the last conference that it might not be worthwhile, but I hope that someone who went this year might write something to see if concurrent sessions are the way to go. I do feel sympathy when I see those tribal elders sitting through a presentation on the reduplication of morphemic templates, but by separating them, I wonder if it enforces the line between linguistics and revitalization.
On the final day of the 1996 Conference on Salish and Neighboring Languages held at Sty-wet-tan Hall in the First Nations House of Learning at the University of British Columbia, a session was held in which various representatives of tribal groups and linguists attending the Conference discussed their efforts towards language preservation and revitalization. The meeting was chaired by Vi Hilbert, tribal elder of the Upper Skagit tribe and founder and director of Lushootseed Research.
To open the session, Virginia Beavert-Martin, a Sahaptin speaker from the Yakima reservation gave a welcome song and a brief opening speech. Her speech touched on what would be a common thread throughout the presentations, the need to consider language as only one facet of the culture. It is necessary, when working with an informant, to become part of their culture and she gave several examples. She finished her speech with the plea 'I'm imploring you to think about us.'
The interrelatedness of language and culture was implicit in the description of the Tuwaduqutid Program of the Skokomish Indian Tribe given by Greg Steven Pavel. He talked about the four day a week Immersion program conducted both in the field and at the tribal travel center, which included not only language teaching but also traditional skills such as basketry.
Mona Jules of the Swcwepemc Cultural Education Society was more explicit, arguing for the need to find a way to revive traditional cultural practices and allow them to exist side-by-side with Western culture. She went on to discuss Phase 1 of 'A Comprehensive Shuswap Language Curriculum' now in progress for grades 4-10. The work in this program has identified a need for children's dictionaries and workbooks.
Wendy Sampson of the Lower Elwha Klallam discussed some of the projects currently underway as well as bringing some literature on the Full Circle Journey, a yearly canoe trip which brings together young people from several tribes for fellowship.
Teresa Jeffrey and Ann Quinn from the Sechelt Indian Band spoke next about the language program there. The language is effectively taught in the nursery school by elders, but the gap in training for young adults remains a problem. They also showed some of the materials they had developed, including flash cards, wordbooks, book accompanied with tapes recorded by elders as well as a draft dictionary.
Next, Bill Poser gave an overview about the First Nation languages taught at the University of Northern British Columbia. Currently Coast Tsimshian and Haida are being offered as co-instructed courses, with Niska and Carrier offered as 1st year courses. There is also the Institute for Na-Dene, whose primary task is to train and prepare primary school teachers for language teaching in K-2. He then asked individuals academics working with some of these programs to discuss them in more detail.
John Dunn discussed a number of subjects, including the Coast Tsimishan courses offered in Prince Rupert, (the 1st and 2nd semester currently taught with a 3rd and 4th term in the planning stages) the certification program for co-instructors, literacy training programs as well as the 4 semester teaching training course at Simon Fraser University.
Marie Lucie Tarpent then spoke about the Niska language program, which is taught by native teachers. She also noted that the program works to support the teaching staff with the creation of materials and instruction concerning teaching technique.
Emmon Bach spoke about the Haisla and Kitamet projects, commenting that one of the targets is the 'in-between generation' between children and elders which, due to the breakdown in language transmission, displays a wide variety of language abilities. Next was Roberta Valsch from the Pullyaup tribe (Washington State). The Muckleshoot tribe has worked with Evergreen State University and Antioch College to offer accredited courses in Lushootseed, as well as developing a curriculum for K-12, with the K-6 integrated with the language. But in addition to this, there are several other programs underway ranging from a once a week community night to tape resources and work with medicinal plants.
Peter Jacobs of the Squamish Nation spoke next, first talking about his experience of working with the elders. When he began, the elders 'put up' with him asking for paradigms. But as time went on, they refused to give paradigms and insisted that converse with them on a wide range of subjects. Later, he realized that what they were doing was not rejecting the idea of being informants, but pushing him to higher levels of linguistic sophistication. In this learning process, he says, 'the elders are learning how much they know.' Current linguistic projects of the Squamish Nation include work with the ongoing 25 year (!) language program with K-12 and developing The Cedar Book, a language/cultural resource. Some of this work entails translating English sources back to the original Squamish in order to enrich the range of materials available.
Betty Wilson form the Sliammon Language community spoke next, discussing the current language teaching going on with 150 students in K-12. She emphasized the necessity of 'forging new relationships with the community'.
Two students from UBC, Elizabeth Currie and Suzanne Urbanczyk then reported on a meeting held on June 3-4, 1996 entitled First Nations Languages and Post-Secondary Education. The meeting was designed to bring a wide range of people, including students, elders, teachers, linguists and administrators from both the communities and post-secondary institutions to discuss how First Nations languages could be taught at the post secondary level. The wide range of issues discussed at that two day meeting can be grouped under four main categories: Curriculum, Teaching, Administration, and Issues of government recognition and funding.
Next, Lisa Matthewson, spoke about several of the programs undertaken by the St'át'imcets (SCES). The second year of college courses in St'át'imcets are currently being taught in a joint program between SCES and Simon Fraser University. In addition to this, an adult language certificate is offered in First Nations Language and Linguistics, which represents the first half of a B.A. in the subject. The course has several admirable facets. One is that half the coursework is based on a language journal that is the result of dealing with tribal elders. Language mentoring, in which the student is assisted by an instructor, also receives credit through SFU. The students also sign a contract to complete 39 hours of work with elders as part of their coursework.
Next, Pat Shaw spoke about the UBC initiative to train native speakers as linguists, offering a B.A. with a major in First Nations Language and Linguistics. In addition to this, two years of college courses in Squamish and Muskeeon.
David Court, a classroom teacher of Lushootseed, brought a more individual perspective, discussing the work done with K-7 students in language study. The students' work included the production of bilingual readers, of which several examples were shown.
The last speaker, Strang Burton, demonstrated some computer assisted learning programs that are being developed at UBC in conjunction with the Sto:lo Nation. These computer programs are being designed so that any language can be used as data. This modularity allows the programs to be used for multiple languages.
Though the large number of speakers and the wide range of programs make it difficult to draw any overall conclusions, several common threads emerge. The first is that language revitalization does not exist in a vacuum but must be revitalized along with the culture. This may entail that language programs which also fulfill cultural revitalization aims, if judged solely on their efficacy of transmitting language, may not be as successful as they might if they solely concentrated on language. But a program that solely concentrates on language misses the larger role that language plays in these communities. The range of programs and ideas discussed here serve to underscore this point.
Related to the interconnectedness of language and culture and the emphasis on language programs that serve a larger cultural purpose is the existence of the 'in-between generation', brought up explicitly by Emmon Bach. This generation, which was encouraged to learn English in order to assimilate into the larger society, is now confronted with the much more difficult process of learning the language as a foreign language. I feel that by placing these language programs in larger context of transmitting the culture, learners need not be disheartened if they do not acquire the language to full fluency.
I also believe that these talks foreshadowed the next problem for language revitalization of small communities. As language programs become more established, the large question of articulation between language programs becomes a vital concern. While the current work has been to set up programs in a variety of contexts that fulfill specific needs and address specific audiences, the focus of language revitalization in the future may be to ensure that programs exist to address life-long learning needs of the community. Three possible solutions were presented: that of intertwined programs of language and culture, post secondary certification and future job opportunities, and the possibility of computer assisted self-study materials.
This year's (1997) conference was held from Aug 7-9 at Port Angeles, Washington, with the language revitalization sessions held parallel with the linguistic presentations. More conference information about the 1997 conference and the planned 1998 conference can be found at http://www.cas.unt.edu/~montler/icsnl.htm
Joseph Tomei Institute of Language and Culture Studies Hokkaido University N17 W8 Kita-ku, Sapporo 001 JAPAN
Endangered languages in Africa, July 29 - August 1, 1997, Leipzig
Report on an international symposium by Matthias Brenzinger (Institut f¸r Afrikanistik, Universit‰t zu Kˆln, 50923 Kˆln, Germany, e-mail: Matthias.Brenzinger(at)uni-koeln.de)
From July 29 - August 1, 1997, an international 'Symposium on Endangered Languages in Africa' was held within the '2nd World Congress of African Linguistics' (WOCAL 97) in Leipzig, Germany. The symposium, organised by the Institut f¸r Afrikanistik of the University of Cologne, and sponsored by the German Research Society (DFG), was attended by 23 participants hailing from 11 countries. The papers presented contributed to discussions leading to an enhanced understanding of the actual situation of language endangerment on the African continent and added to the still very limited number of case studies on individual endangered languages. The symposium followed up on papers presented at a symposium held in 1990 at Bad Homburg, Germany on the endangered languages of East Africa, papers of which were compiled in Language Death: Factual and Theoretical Explorations from East Africa, in 1992 (Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin) by Matthias Brenzinger. A report on this previous symposium has been published in IJSL 88(1991):121-128).
During the Leipzig symposium contributions were made on languages spoken in Botswana, Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Togo. The two areal foci, however, were Nigeria/Cameroon and Ethiopia. In the following topics or aspects of language have been singled out from the papers presented which may be of particular interest to IJSL readers involved with 'small languages and small language communities'.
After an opening address by Matthias Brenzinger (University of Cologne, Germany), Bernd Heine (University of Cologne, Germany) presented an introductory paper which summarised the state of the art on our knowledge on endangerment of languages as well as on the actual languages which are endangered on the African continent.
Herman Batibo from the University of Botswana provided an overview of the languages of Botswana which he regards as being endangered. Until recently the Botswana government had claimed a monolingual status for their country. Prof. Batibo pointed at the fact that Setswana is threatening most of the Khoisan languages spoken in the country. He presented results of a survey which he had carried out with /Xaise and Shuakwe speakers, i.e. members of two Khoisan-speaking communities of the Botswana. According to the responses, most of the people interviewed shared a negative attitude towards their own languages and expressed the wish that their children should be integrated into the Tswana "state culture" of Botswana.
Kay Williamson from the University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, with more than 40 years of experience in linguistic work in that country, discussed sociolinguistic aspects of language endangerment in the Niger-Delta area. Defaka, according to her findings, is the language most endangered within that area. Today, all young speakers of the Defaka community have already completely lost their language competence, speaking Nkoro instead.
Paul Newman from the Institute for the Study of Nigerian Languages and Cultures, Indiana University, USA, reported on the activities of the Linguistic Society of America (LSA) committee on endangered languages and their preservation. He pointed out that the activities of this committee clearly reveal a regional bias on languages spoken in the Americas. Against the background of the domination of theoretical linguistics, Newman pleaded for a return to empirical linguistics, which then may also concentrate on the documentation and analysis of languages which are threatened by extinction.
In a similar fashion, Zygmunt Frajzyngier from the University of Colorado, USA, drew attention to some linguistic peculiarities which he found in endangered languages of northern Cameroon, and he emphasized the need for more intensive field research.
Bruce Connell from the University of Oxford, England, summarised outcomes from his fieldwork on languages of the Nigeria-Cameroon borderland. Within his area of research, no less than six languages have been replaced, or are about to be replaced, by languages of the prevailing Mambila cluster. Connell explored the causes for language contraction and death with these six languages, which today are spoken by few individuals only, or by none at all.
Nikolai Dobronravin from the St. Petersburg State University, Russia, described the processes which cause the number of speakers of Kyanga, a remnant language of the "Greater Mande", to shrink. Even though the language is still spoken by several thousand people in Nigeria and neighbouring Benin, he considers the language as having reached a vulnerable stage by being replaced mainly by Hausa and, to a lesser extent, Zarma.
Roger Blench from Cambridge, England, provided an overview of the language situation of the "Nigerian Middle Belt", for which he reported 394 speech forms and lects. Out of these, according to his findings, 12 must be considered to be extinct, 16 as definitely threatened and 184 as not threatened. Most importantly, he added 182 languages to the list, for which no linguistic data and information is available. This slot makes up a huge reservoir in which potentially threatened or extinct languages must be expected, but remain undetected so far.
Andrew Haruna from the University of Bayreuth, Germany, described his fieldwork among the BubburÈ in the Southern Bauchi area of northern Nigeria. Being a lecturer of Hausa himself, he provided first-hand information on BubburÈ, which is about to be replaced by Hausa. Very limited information has been collected on BubburÈ, and only 10 people can be regarded as still fluent in it.
KÈziÈ LÈbikaza from Benin University of LomÈ, Togo, compiled an overview on the languages spoken in Togo. Despite the small size of this West African country, according to his judgement, out of some 40 languages spoken, it is only Igo (Ahlon) which seems to be threatened by extinction. LÈbikaza explained the presumably stable situation even of very small speech communities with the absence of spreading dominant languages and by the fact that every small language is dominantly spoken in at least one town of the country. People from other speech communities who move from one town to another are obliged to learn the respective language.
Raimund Kastenholz from the University of Mainz, Germany, analysed three cases of language shift among the blacksmiths and leatherworkers belonging to the Jogo cluster in Ghana and Ivory Coast. The difference in contact situations of the languages of this cluster involve entirely different settings and also different replacing languages.
Richard Hayward from the University of London, England, in his presentation provided some stunning examples from Ethiopian languages of what may be the actual value, or better, the possible loss for linguistic theory if these languages disappear unrecorded. In discussing Corbett's typology of number marking, he pointed out that Bayso, one of the minority languages of southern Ethiopia, makes up for a distinct type of number marking. Bayso claims a basic distinction in Corbetts typology just for its own, by possessing a unique number system.
Aklilu Yilma from Addis Ababa University described the sociolinguistic situation of Ongota, a language spoken in the southern part of Ethiopia. There are no children growing up who speak this language, but interestingly enough, the few speakers left claim that it has been like that for a long time. They claim that their language is transmitted to the younger generation when they reach the age of 14 to 15 years. Aklilu stated, however, that out of the total 79 members of the community, only 6 are mother tongue speakers of that language. The others have shifted to speak Ts'amay instead. The low social status of the Ongota, who are known as "chicken herders" in the region, triggered this process of language shift.
Francis Moto from the University of Malawi presented a paper on language endangerment in his own country, in which Lomwe speakers shifted to Yao as their new language for political reasons. The historical background and the stigma associated with the Lomwe made the community give up their language in favour of Chewa and Tumbuka.
Zelealem Leyew from Addis Ababa University discussed the structural consequences of language shift with Kemant, one of the threatened Central Cushitic languages of Ethiopia.
David Appleyard from the University of London, England, presented data from Qwarenya, a Central Cushitic language of the Agaw family, formerly spoken by the Falasha, the Jews of Ethiopia. The language had been recorded by Reinisch more than a century ago, and since then the language has been reported extinct as a spoken medium. Appleyard, however, discovered six very old speakers of the language in Israel, all of which were among the refugees who had left Ethiopia in 1990 with the operation Salomon. Appelyard presented linguistic results from the comparison of his own recently recorded Qwarenya with the one recorded by Reinisch.
Giorgio Banti from the Universit‡ della Basilicata, Italy, discussed the endangerment of the jargons of low-caste groups in the Somali- and Oromo-speaking areas of the Horn. Banti structured the puzzling information on so-called submerged castes, i.e. hunter-gatherers, blacksmiths, potters etc, many of which spoke distinctive jargons or even languages.
Mauro Tosco from Instituto Universitario Orientale in Napoli, Italy, concentrated on situations of language shift without language decay. He argued that in situations in which ethnicity is particularly weak while at the same time external pressure to shift is high, the result is rapid and abrupt shift with relatively little linguistic interference in the languages involved in most cases. The process by which an ethnic group or a part of it is assimilated into another group without losing its internal clanic structure is referred to by Tosco as "downgrading", while the possible outcome is called "catastrophic shift", both with regard to ethnicity as well as language.
Gabriele Sommer from the Institut f¸r Afrikanistik, Kˆln, Germany, by focusing in her presentation on the lexicon, pointed out the importance of endangered languages for historical linguistics. The various types of contact situations result in different outcomes linguistically. Sommer elaborated on the need of a typology for the different types of relexification in order to use lexical material for reconstructing the actual language history.
Rainer Vossen from the University of Frankfurt, Germany, presented examples of structural changes within Eastern Khoe languages of the Khoisan language family and pointed out their relevance for the discussion on the processes of language decay. It became obvious that many of the processes, such as click loss or homogenisation of grammatical distinctions, may be interpreted as symptoms of language shift processes, but at the same time may also be signs of language internal changes of "natural" language development.
Kembo Sure from Moi University, Kenya, pleaded for the preservation of language diversity as a way of preserving human civilisation. Sure outlined that widespread negative attitudes which guide policies in many African states must give way to the recognition of the importance and value of the existing linguistic and cultural resources by applying multilingual and multicultural policies.
The keynote addresses at the WOCAL 97, by Ayo Bamgbose from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, as well as of Mohammed Abdulaziz from the University of Nairobi, Kenya, related to topics of the symposium. Bamgbose called the scholars working on endangered languages not just to talk about but also to document the disappearing African languages. Abdulaziz supported this by stressing the importance of restricting scholarly activities on the African continent to the documentation of endangered languages. He emphasised the urgent need for the preservation of language data of disappearing languages as an important base for studies by further generations of linguists. To rescue languages as spoken media, however, according to his understanding, cannot be a main concern for linguists.
During a round table discussion, Kay Williamson reported on her activities in supporting Nigerian languages being used as written media at schools and within the communities. The active role Williamson plays in the support of minority languages was widely honoured. Nevertheless, the discussion at the round table suggested that priority must be given to documentation rather than to language revival activities.
Ayo Bamgbose, and Rotimi Badejo from the University of Maiduguri, Nigeria, commented on the situation of institutions dealing with language issues in Nigeria, after Eno Abasi Urua had called for support for the newly established "Centre for Endangered Languages" at Jos, Nigeria.
Paul Newmann from Indiana University, Bloomington, USA, raised an issue not considered so far in discussions on endangered languages. In dealing with situations of endangered languages, the replacing languages such as Swahili, Hausa, and others are commonly labelled "killer" and "oppressing" languages. By doing so these languages and their speakers are accused of (purposely) threatening other languages and speech communities. This, however, does not hold true for the majority of language shift situations since most members of speech community abandon their own language voluntarily. They do so because they consider another language as superior, and more useful, and do not see them as a threat in most cases.
Another contribution to the discussion on language endangerment was made by Ayo Bamgbose who pointed out that endangerment is a relative term. He suggested that the term "deprived languages" should be added to the discussion of the language contact situations on the African continent. While some African languages are threatened to become extinct, others are "deprived", for example in not being used for important functions. Even major African languages which he considered to be deprived now may become threatened by extinction in the long run.