FEL Executive Committee member R. McKenna Brown

Today’s blog post introduces another Executive Committee member.

R. McKenna Brown

I was raised and educated in the southern United States, and am currently Professor of World Studies and Special Assistant for Global Initiatives to the Dean of the College of Humanities and Sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University.

My research interests centre on the links between language and identity and the mobilisation of those links, particularly among the Highland Maya peoples of Guatemala, where I have carried out research since 1985. My co-authored publications include Maya Cultural Activism in Guatemala and The Life of Our Language Kaqchikel Maya Maintenance, Shift, and Revitalization.  From 1989 to 1996, I served as founding co-director of Oxlajuj Aj, an intensive summer field school in Kaqchikel language and culture and oversaw the publication of a resulting textbook ¿La Ütz Awäch? Introduction to Kaqchikel Maya Language.  I also co-curated the exhibit Ixchel’s Thread: Maya Weavings from the Bowdler Collection at the Virginia Commonwealth University Anderson Gallery.

Over the years, I have held leadership positions in several community and professional organizations including Colaborando Juntos (CJ), Virginia Latino Higher Education Network (VALHEN), the World Affairs Council of Greater Richmond, the Guatemala Scholars Network, and the Modern Language Association. I also produced a two-part video project on the current Mayan movement for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and a translation of Mayan poetry was selected as Finalist for the 2002 PEN Literary Award for Poetry in Translation.

My first exposure to FEL was attending its third conference in Maynooth, Ireland in 1999.  I organised the sixth conference in Antigua, Guatemala in 2002, edited that year’s proceedings volume and served as co-editor of several subsequent volumes. It has been both a pleasure and an honour to be associated with the FEL and to serve alongside outstanding colleagues.

FEL Executive Committee member Hakim Elnazarov

In this post we introduce another member of the FEL Executive Committee.

Hakim Elnazarov

I am originally from the Badakhshan region of Tajikistan, which is a home to the endangered Pamiri languages of Central Asia. I am currently affiliated with the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London as Head of the Central Asian Studies Unit. My research interests include the history, culture, and traditions of the Central Asian mountain societies, particularly those residing in the highlands of the Pamirs and Hindu Kush.

As a native speaker of Shughni, I have witnessed and experienced the constraints which speakers of endangered language encounter in educational and formal settings. I have conducted research on the use of children’s mother tongues in the classroom in Badakhshan, explored how teachers engage with various languages, and how they try to accommodate their native language to achieve their educational objectives. I presented my research results at the FEL 2004 conference, and was then invited to join the FEL executive committee.

FEL has made a steady contribution to the preservation and revitalisation of endangered languages worldwide through its awareness campaigns, grants, conferences and publications. Its focus on empowering local capacities to preserve and revitalise mother tongues is unique, and I take pride in being part of this endeavour. Since 2004 I have served as a FEL executive committee member, primarily responsible for administering our grant applications. I organised the FEL 2009 conference in Khorog, Tajikistan, in collaboration with the Academy of Sciences of Tajikistan, and co-edited the conference proceedings. I have also contributed to the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger edited by my fellow Executive Committee member Christopher Moseley.

Celebrating 20 years of International Mother Language Day

Friday 21st February is International Mother Language Day.

It was established by Unesco in 1999 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism, and first celebrated in February 2000. The date was chosen to memorialise the day in 1952 when police in East Pakistan (later Bangladesh) opened fire, killing and wounding protestors seeking to have Bangla recognised as a national language. In 2008, this day began the International Year of Languages, which highlighted the increasing global threat to linguistic diversity, and the growing numbers of endangered languages. The International Year of Indigenous Languages (IYIL) was celebrated in 2019, and the United Nations has declared 2022-2032 an International Decade of Indigenous Languages “inviting indigenous peoples — as custodians — to initiate ideas for preserving this endangered facet of their cultural and social life”.

Just over 25 years ago, the Foundation for Endangered Languages (FEL) began life in an email sent to interested parties by Nicholas Ostler on 27th November 1994. As recorded in the first FEL Newsletter (originally entitled Iatiku and now Ogmios), the inaugural meeting was held at the Department of Trade and Industry (where Nick worked) on 27th January 1995, and attended by the late R.H. (Bobby) Robins (SOAS), Allan Wynne Jones (European Bureau of Lesser Used Languages), Andrew Woodfield (Bristol), Greville (Grev) Corbett (Surrey), Dick Hayward (SOAS) and Roger Blench. A second meeting was held on 20th April 1995 at Bristol University involving Ostler, Robins, Wynne Jones, Woodfield and Hayward, plus Chris Moseley (BBC) and Howard Webkamigad (Algoma University College). The meeting resolved to establish a fund-raising charity, and later in the year Ostler, Moseley and Woodfield formally constituted FEL as a company in the UK limited by guarantee, and arranged for its recognition as a registered charity. By April 1996 (see Iatiku issue 2) a management committee had been set up and mechanisms created for supporters to become members and donate to the Foundation.

FEL’s original goals are set out in its Manifesto and its main activities have been holding annual conferences, publishing the conference proceedings, distributing a newsletter to members, and providing small grants to individuals and groups. Over the years, approximately US$145,000 has been provided to finance a wide-range of small-scale grassroots projects across the world, including documenting and describing threatened languages around the world (for a partial listing see our website).

Documentation of endangered genres of Kĩsêdjê oral literature, Brazil (grantee: Rafael Bezerra Nonato)

In recent years, projects that focus on the revitalisation of an endangered language and/or support the use of an endangered language in its community have been given priority. These have included production of dictionaries, books for children, learning materials, and bringing community members together for workshops.

Huasteca Potosina Nahuatl: A book-compilation of local stories and legends (grantee: Elwira Sobkowiak)

Over the past 25 years the endangered languages landscape has changed considerably and there has been an enormous development of interest in the topic, expansion of academic and non-academic activity (including engagement by Unesco and the UN, such as through International Mother Language Day), publications, and funding, including the DoBeS programme of the Volkswagen Foundation (funded from 2000 to 2013, though its archive continues), ELDP of the Arcadia Fund (and its archive at ELAR), and the Documenting Endangered Languages (DEL) initiative of the US National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Smaller grants are available from the Endangered Language Fund (ELF) which was established in 1996, the same year as FEL, and a few other sources.

We join Unesco and the rest of the world in celebrating linguistic diversity and multilingualism on this day, and throughout the year. You can help us to continue our work by becoming a member of FEL and/or donating to our fund for small grants (go to section (5) of this form and add payment details) to support the use of mother tongues in all aspects of people’s lives.

FEL Executive Committee member Nicholas Ostler

Today we introduce another member of the FEL Executive Committee.

Nicholas Ostler

I was born and bred in the south-east of England, in the county of Kent (which happens to be oldest county name in the country), and currently live in Hungerford, Berkshire, with my wife Jane Dunn Ostler and family. I studied Greek and Latin, and then philosophy and economics at Oxford University, followed by a PhD in theoretical linguistics (on noun cases, verb voices and classical Sanskrit) at MIT in 1979.

My main career activity has been as a consultant on language technologies (including machine translation), often reporting to the UK Department of Trade and Industry, and the European Union, and also occasionally undertaking fact-finding visits to Japan, India and the USA. I am currently on the Integration Panel (IP) of the Internet Corporation for Assignment of Names and Numbers (ICANN), advising on general use of Unicode characters in internet labels. I have also written four books on language history (Empires of the Word: a language history of the world, Ad Infinitum: a biography of Latin, The Last Lingua Franca: English until the return of Babel, Passwords to Paradise: how languages have reinvented world religions) and am currently working on Sanskrit Ocean, emphasizing the language’s connections between India and South-east Asia.

For family reasons, I have regularly visited Colombia, South America, since the 1990s and taken the opportunity to become an expert on its main pre-Hispanic language, Chibcha, spoken by the Muisca or Muysca. Besides the technical interest in recognizing long-lost grammatical rules, it has been fascinating too for me to watch the first stirrings of revival in the language community (Chibcha ceased to be spoken on a daily basis in the 18th century).

I have been Chairman of FEL since Chris Moseley, Andrew Woodfield (Bristol University), and I founded it as a charity in 1996, having been stimulated by Martin Krauss’s alarm call about language endangerment. I have taken part in almost all the FEL conferences held over the past 24 years, and edited many of our Proceedings volumes.

FEL Executive Committee member Mujahid Torwali

Today’s blog introduces another member of the FEL Executive Committee.

Mujahid Torwali

I live in Bahrain Swat, a tourist resort in the extreme north of Pakistan. I did my Masters in International Relations and History at the University of Malakand from 2012 to 2015, and from 2011-19 I was engaged as a language researcher with Idara Baraye Taleem-o-Taraqi (IBT), a civil society organization in Bahrain Swat. I undertook five weeks of teacher training at the University of Massachusetts in June 2018, and now I am working as a government school teacher in the Torwali belt of Swat.

I am interested in the indigenous language and culture of the Torwali community, who speak a Dardic language belonging to the Indo-Iranian family. Since 2011 I have been writing blogs, letters, and articles about various situations in Pakistan, along with news stories of the indigenous cultures and languages of northern Pakistan in local and national newspapers. I co-organised the FEL XXIII conference in December 2019 at the University of Sydney with FEL Executive Committee member Jaki Troy, for whom I currently work as a research assistant/

FEL Executive Committee member Fazal Hadi

In this blog post, we introduce another member of the FEL executive committee.

Fazal Hadi

I live in the north of Pakistan which is a home of numerous endangered indigenous languages. I am a language activist and development professional. I did my Master’s in business administration and MS in Management Sciences. For the last twelve years I have worked on different positions, i.e. Finance Manager, Program Manager, Monitoring and Evaluation Officer, and field researcher in various humanitarian organizations, but for the last eight years I have been connected with a number of organizations working for revival and documentation, preservation and promotion of endangered indigenous languages in north Pakistan. Currently, I am working on the preservation and documentation of the Ushojo language, developing its orthography, documenting its history and folk tales, and creating materials for mother tongue-based multilingual education (MTB-MLE). This work is being done in collaboration with community members and speakers.

I am driven by the same mission as FEL for the preservation of endangered languages. The aim of my activism is to influence government policymakers to officially recognize the indigenous languages of this region and make MTB-MLE a part of the national curriculum.

FEL Executive Committee member Sebastian Drude

In today’s blog post, we introduce another member of the FEL Executive Committee.

Sebastian Drude

Since March 2019 I have lived in Belém, Brazil, where I work as an associated researcher at the Linguistics Division of the Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi, holding a senior post-doctoral research-grant from the Brazilian government. This is my second time here: I was previously a guest researcher with the Museu Goeldi from 1997 to 2011, when I studied and documented the Aweti language in Mato Grosso. The Aweti live in the Upper Xingu cultural area together with nine other ethnic groups speaking six languages of different families. Aweti is a Tupian language and had about 90 speakers when I initiated research in 1998; today they are more than 200. These worrying numbers alone were reason enough for me to get interested in language endangerment, and engaging in the new field of language documentation.

As a German documentary-anthropological linguist I am interested in linguistic diversity, and also in language technology. I obtained a Dr. Phil degree at the Freie Universität Berlin in 2002 while doing fieldwork and language documentation within the DOBES programme (2000–2006). From 2008 to 2011 I held a Dilthey-Fellowship developing a digital grammar of Aweti at the Goethe-Universität Frankfurt, where I continue to be affiliated as Privatdozent. From November 2011, I was Scientific Coordinator and Head of The Language Archive, Max-Planck-Institute for Psycholinguistics. Then, in 2015-2016, I was General Coordinator in the European Language research infrastructure CLARIN ERIC, followed by two years as Director of the Vigdís International Centre, University of Iceland.

I believe that FEL is an important institution with a huge potential to raise interest in endangered languages and support their study. It was a pleasure to me to host the 2018 FEL conference in Reykjavík, Iceland, and to take a role in FEL publications, co-editing the first digital proceedings volume, published by EL Publishing.

FEL Executive Committee member Peter Austin

In today’s post, we introduce another Executive Committee member.

Peter K. Austin

I live in the UK where I am Emeritus Professor in Field Linguistics at SOAS, University of London, and Visiting Researcher at Oxford University. Previously, I was Foundation Chair in Linguistics at University of Melbourne (1996-2001) and Marit Rausing Chair in Field Linguistics at SOAS (2002-2018).

I have been working with speakers of highly endangered Australian Aboriginal languages for 48 years in New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia (documenting 12 languages). I have published books, articles, dictionaries, and websites (including the first fully hypertext bilingual dictionary (of Gamilaraay), co-authored with FEL EC member David Nathan).

Since 2013 I have been collaborating with the Dieri Aboriginal Corporation, running community-based workshops and preparing materials for linguistic and cultural revival, described on the Ngayana Diyari Yawarra Yathayilha blog. Since 2018 I have been working with the Yinggarda, Bayungu and Thalanyji communities to create bilingual dictionaries and learning materials for linguistic and cultural revival. I am collaborating with the Baiyungu Aboriginal Corporation and the WA Parks and Wildlife Service on linguistic and cultural aspects of a joint management plan for the Nyinggulu (Ningaloo) Marine Park.

I established the journal Language Documentation and Description in 2003 and am co-founding editor of the free open access platform EL Publishing. In 2018 we worked with FEL to publish its first online Conference Proceedings.

I have collaborated on summer schools and training courses for endangered languages documentation, description and revitalisation, including working with minority language speakers, in UK, Sweden, Italy, Germany, France, Estonia, Poland, Argentina, USA, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, and India. In 2020 I will participate in events in Germany, Italy, Australia, and India. I have given numerous conference talks, public lectures, and outreach events advocating for endangered languages and their speakers, and published a book called 1,000 Languages on language diversity for a general audience (translated into Dutch, German, Italian, Romanian, Spanish, Polish, Estonian, Icelandic, Japanese, Chinese). I am currently co-editor of the FEL blog and the FEL Facebook page.

FEL Executive Committee member Ichchha Purna Rai

This post introduces another member of the FEL Executive Committee.

Ichchha Purna Rai

I live in Nepal and have been working since 2009 as a lecturer at Dhankuta Multiple Campus, which is affiliated with Tribhuvan University. I am currently President of Tribhuvan University Teachers’ Association, Dhankuta Multiple Campus Unit Committee (2019-2022). Before teaching at Tribhuvan University, I worked as a research assistant on the Chintang Puma Documentation Project (CPDP), which was funded from 2004 to 2009 by the Volkswagen Foundation in its DoBeS programme. After that project, my interest began in endangered languages documentation, and I started to document and analyse endangered languages of Nepal. I have involved in documentation of five endangered Kiranti languages of Nepal so far, namely Chhintang, Chhulung, Belhare, the Mugali variety of Yakkha, and Wambule. On the basis of this documentation and analysis, I have published articles in national and international journals, and in 2018 I published a book entitled Chhintang Mundum Text: Interpretation and Translation into English with Lambert Academic Publishing.

My main interests are endangered languages documentation, oral literature, multilingualism, and critical pedagogy.

FEL Executive Committee member Eda Derhemi

In this blog post, we introduce another member of the FEL executive committee.

Eda Derhemi

I live in Champaign, Illinois, USA and was born in Albania, where I completed my undergraduate education and then worked for five years at the University of Tirana. After this, I lived for five years in Sicily, and then completed my graduate studies in linguistics and communications at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) where I now teach linguistics and Italian language in the Department of French and Italian.

I first encountered linguistic endangerment in practical terms, and then theoretically, during my years in Sicily, and have often visited two strongholds of the endangered Arbëresh language (related to Albanian), Piana degli Albanesi and Contessa Entellina. I have conducted sociolinguistic studies on Arbëresh (in 50 villages) that are not just descriptive accounts of different linguistic systems of the language, but are led by a theoretical framework of language endangerment guided by the pioneering studies of Fishman and Dorian. In the last five years I have undertaken fieldwork on Arvanitika, another Albanian language spoken throughout Greece, working mostly in Attika, Thives, Levadia and Hydra. Arvanitika is a severely endangered language; its speakers and socio-political conditions show traits that are completely opposite to those of Arbëresh.

I am also active in Albanian public communication as a writer, essayist, and literary critic, and have recently translated poetry and prose, including Miele sul coltello by Romeo Çollaku (co-translated from Albanian to Italian with Francesco Ferrari). I have served as a FEL executive committee member since 2018, and recently agreed to contribute regularly to the Ogmios newsletter and assist Chris Moseley, the editor.