Foundation for Endangered Languages

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1. Editorial: our First Grants!

This is a significant time for the Foundation. This quarter establishes us as an effective force in our own right, acting on behalf of endangered languages.

Two grants have been approved by the Committee; they will support expeditions by individual linguists to document certain languages in Mali and West Papua/Irian Jaya. We on the Committee would like to thank all members who have subscribed to the Foundation, for it is your contributions, and nothing else, that have provided this funding: this is what has allowed us to go beyond expressions of sympathy for the plight of endangered languages, and actually do something extra to support them.

In both cases, the work will be undertaken early this year.

The first of the two grants is for Dr Valentin Vydrin of European University in St. Petersburg, Russia, to visit Bamako in Mali, to investigate the status of the Kagoro or Kakolo language, spoken near the River Niger.

Dr Vydrin is a specialist in Mande linguistics. He is also Managing Editor of the St. Petersburg Journal of African Studies.

The aim of his expedition is to establish the limits of the Kakolo area and to establish the number of speakers (currently estimated at 15,000); to find out about any dialectal diversity within Kakolo, feelings of linguistic identity, and relations between Kakolo and the neighbouring Bamana and Soninke languages; to write a grammar and a vocabulary of the language; and to collect a corpus of texts in Kakolo, especially of oral literature. In particular, Dr Vydrin will attempt to find out which genres of verbal art exist in the Kakolo milieu.



The second grant is supplementary funding for Mark Donohue, an Australian linguist recently of the University of Manchester in the UK, to support his expedition to conduct fieldwork among the speakers of endangered languages of Wasur National Park, in South-East Irian Jaya, Indonesia; this had already received some support from our sister organization, the Endangered Languages Fund (cf. Ogmios #6, p.17).

There are three ethnolinguistic groups indigenous to the area, the Yei, the Kanum and the Moraori. (Their speaker populations were estimated by S. Wurm in 1975 at 1,000, 320 and 50 respectively.) The last few years have seen a dramatic increase in local awareness of the worsening situation their languages and cultures face, in part because of the proximity of the region to the local district capital in Merauke.

Dr Donohue will conduct orthography and literacy work with the Yei and Moraori (through a series of workshops with interested adults). At the same time he will assemble a grammatical survey, elaborating on some previous sketch grammars.

Preliminary work has shown that the Kanum languages and Yei may be related to the Pama-Nyungan family in Australia; if this proves to be correct, it will be the only established connection that the languages have with any outside area, and so the languages have tremendous consequences for the linguistic prehistory of the whole region.

Making these grants has depleted the Foundationís funds quite considerably. We are totally dependent on renewing (and expanding) our membership in order to be able to continue with this kind of constructive work.

Please bear this in mind if this issue of Ogmios comes to you with a renewal notice.