Foundation for Endangered Languages

Home | Manifesto | Membership details | Proceedings | Grant Applications | Newsletter | Links | Bibliography


4. Allied Societies and Activities

Request for Proposals, Endangered Language Fund

The Endangered Language Fund provides grants for language maintenance and linguistic field work. The work most likely to be funded is that which serves the native community and the field of linguistics immediately. Work which has immediate applicability to one group and more distant application to the other will also be considered. Publishing subventions are a low priority, although they will be considered. The language involved must be in danger of disappearing within a generation or two. Endangerment is a continuum, and the location on the continuum is one factor in our funding decisions.

Eligible expenses include travel, tapes, films, consultant fees, etc. Grants are normally for one-year periods, though extensions may be applied for. We expect grants in this round to be less than $2,000 in size.

There is no form, but the information requested below should be printed (on one side only) and four copies sent to:
Endangered Language Fund, Inc.
Department of Linguistics
Yale University
New Haven, CT 06520
Applications must be mailed in. No e-mail or fax applications will be accepted.

If you have any questions, please write to the same address or email to:


Please provide the following information for the primary researcher (and other researchers, if any): Name, address, telephone numbers, email address (if any), Social Security number (if U.S. citizen), place and date of birth, present position, education, and native language. State previous experience and/or publications that are relevant.

Beginning on a separate page, please provide a description of the project. This should normally take less than two pages, single spaced. Be detailed about the type of material that is to be collected and/or produced, and the value it will have to the native community (including relatives and descendants who do not speak the language) and to linguistic science. Give a brief description of the state of endangerment of the language in question.

On a separate page, prepare an itemized budget that lists expected costs for the project. Estimates are acceptable, but they must be realistic. Please translate the amounts into US dollars. List other sources of support you are currently receiving or expect to receive and other applications that relate to the current one. Two letters of support are recommended, but not required. Note that these letters must arrive on or before the deadline in order to be considered. If more than two letters are sent, only the first two received will be read.

A researcher can be primary investigator on only one proposal.

Applications must be received by APRIL 20th, 1998. Decisions will be delivered by the end of May, 1998.

Receipt of application will be made by email if an email address is given. Otherwise, the applicant must include a self-addressed post-card in order to receive the acknowledgment.

Before receiving any funds, university-based applicants must show that they have met with their university's human subjects' committee requirements. Tribal- or other-based applicants must provide equivalent assurance that proper protocols are being used.

If a grant is made and accepted, the recipient is required to provide the Endangered Language Fund with a short formal report of the project and to provide the Fund with copies of all publications resulting from materials obtained with the assistance of the grant.

1997 Annual Report of the LSA Committee on Endangered Languages and Their Preservation (CELP)

Anthony C. Woodbury, University of Texas, Austin, Chair of CELP, wrote on 27 Dec 1997.

Wallace L. Chafe (UCSB), Nancy Dorian (Bryn Mawr), Daniel Everett (U Pitt), George Huttar (SIL), Martha Ratliff (Wayne SU), Colette Grinevald (MRASH), Jane Hill (U AZ), Leanne Hinton (UCB), LaVerne Masayesva Jeanne (U NV), Keren Rice (U Toronto), Joel Sherzer (U TX Austin), Anthony C. Woodbury (U TX Austin)

The CELP encourages the study and documentation of endangered languages and makes technical assistance available to language communities seeking to preserve their languages from extinction. The Committee encourages academic institutions to offer assistance and support to members of threatened language communities working to preserve their languages. It also encourages institutions to offer training and degree programs oriented to the compilation of dictionaries and grammars of threatened and poorly documented languages, as well as to the documentation and study of naturally-occurring speech of all kinds in threatened-language communities. The Committee coordinates its activities with other relevant organizations, such as CIPL, AAA, SSILA, the Society for Linguistic Anthropology, the endangered language committees of the linguistic professional societies of Canada, Australia, Germany, and others, and several private organizations and foundations focused on language endangerment, including the Institute for the Preservation of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas.

CELP had an open meeting at the LSA meeting in Chicago on January 4, 1997, with me acting as chair. The result of the meeting was a list of 'action items,' including many of the items listed below under 'Projects.' It was the sense of the meeting that these items 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.

The committee will have its next open meeting in New York on January 9, 1998, as well as an informal breakfast meeting that same morning for just the officially-appointed committee members.

The committee has otherwise interacted by electronic mail. However, the circle of correspondence has been enlarged well beyond the committee proper through the construction of a CELP electronic mailing list, in keeping with our sense that endangered language activism must involve all interested LSA members. The list now contains 165 names, including those of the committee itself.

Plan for Honoring the Linguistic Contributions of Native Speakers of Endangered Languages

The Executive Committee of the LSA requested that the CELP propose a plan for honoring endangered language speakers who have contributed to linguistics, for example, by carrying out language preservation work in their communities, or by serving as long term consultants for documentation projects. Some specific suggestions have been given, but the issue is complex and there is no consensus on how to proceed or indeed even on the advisability of the idea in the first place. I will be happy to give more details about these issues if the Executive Committee wishes.

A somewhat related suggestion, made by John Ohala, has been for the LSA each year to recognize and publicize an endangered language or language community in North America, possibly in conjunction with the Canadian Linguistic Association. We will discuss this during the upcoming CELP meeting in New York in January. Among the advantages of this suggestion are (a) its potential for reaching the public, (b) its focus on whole languages or communities, and (c) its opportunity for cooperation not only with other professional organizations, but with endangered-language communities.

Endangered-Language Scholarship at the LSA Annual Meeting

For the last three years there have been regular Field Reports/Endangered Languages sessions at the LSA Annual Meeting, as well as special colloquia and symposia. This year's program includes one regular session and two special initiatives by LSA members, to whom the committee expresses its gratitude:

Jan. 9 Regular session. Field reports/Endangered languages. Papers by David Beck, David Bennett, Megan Crowhurst, Laura Walsh Dickey, Stephen Levinson, Jeanette King, Ronald P. Schaefer, Alice Taff, Jacob Wegelin, Ida Toivonen, William F. Weigel.

Jan. 9 Organized session. Colleen Cotter and Sara Trechter. Practical Fieldwork: conflicting constraints on the ethical researcher. Papers by the organizers and Jonathan Bobaljik, Rudolf Gaudio, Monica Macaulay, Will Leben; Colette Grinewald and Tony Woodbury, discussants.



Jan. 10 Tutorial. Dan Everett. Monolingual Situations in Field Research

In addition, the meeting's program of endangered language scholarship is enriched this year by the concurrent meeting of the Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas. They now meet with the LSA in January of each even-numbered year.

The committee gives special thanks to Megan Crowhurst and Sara Trechter for undertaking the production of a CELP pocket brochure. It will list all endangered-language related events at the New York meetings, as well as a brief overview of the committee's mission and projects.


Akira Yamamoto has conducted a survey of endangered language community populations and speaker populations, by world area and language, including numbers of remaining speakers and contact names of linguists. We are in the process of having this survey put on the LSA's web site.


Nancy Dorian suggested putting together a volume that 'would bring out the joys, terrors, difficulties, surprises, elations, bafflements, etc. of linguistic field work, something that could be read with interest and pleasure by college students, beginning graduate students, and a modest part of the reading public,' doing so by gathering individual accounts by field linguists with different experiences. After considerable discussion, two such books are now under way.

Paul Newman and Martha Ratliff have sent a prospectus for such a book to Cambridge University Press. The prospectus includes paper abstracts from: Jonathan Bobaljik and Susi Wurmbrand, Shobhana L. Chelliah, James Collins, Alan Dench, Nancy C. Dorian, Nicholas Evans, David Gil, Kenneth L. Hale, Larry Hyman, Ian Maddieson, Fiona McLaughlin and Thierno Seydou Sall, Marianne Mithun, Keren Rice, and Tony Woodbury.

Colleen Cotter and Sarah Trechter are planning to edit a book on the basis of their LSA symposium, . 'Practical Fieldwork: conflicting constraints on the ethical researcher.'


Bill Poser proposed that information and experience be developed on how linguistic information of various kinds could be mobilized in community language preservation efforts. This includes the development of pedagogical materials from scientific grammars, dictionaries, and text collections, as well as the effective dissemination of scientific results on such topics as multilingualism (e.g., Knowing more than one language won't stunt a child's intellectual growth).

Such a project could take a variety of forms, e.g., a clearing house, a web page, or just the preparation of a survey of relevant research which could be published in an appropriate scholarly periodical. At this point CELP's only action on this issue is described in the next item.


Under the auspices of the Institute for the Preservation of the Indigenous languages of the Americas (IPOLA) in Santa Fe, NM, a Planning Conference for the Clearinghouse of Indigenous Language Programs was held March 19-21, 1997, in Santa Fe. The conference was chaired by Ofelia Zepeda and Akira Yamamoto. The main participants were educators, elders, and others working in a very wide range of ways in communities across the US (including Alaska and Hawaii) to preserve ancestral languages. I participated as representative of CELP (and the LSA in general); Victor Golla represented SSILA.

The planned clearinghouse is likely to be housed at IPOLA and involve an active effort to make both written and human resources available to those in communities pursuing public or private immersion education, traditional language teaching, individual language study, mentoring, elders programs, and other approaches. It may also include training opportunities for individuals, and the sponsoring of site visits by teams with relevant expertise.

I cannot emphasize too strongly that the shaping of language preservation efforts, and even of clearinghouses like that envisioned, is a social, political, and, for many, actually a spiritual issue. It is an expression of the aspirations and will of communities and their members. It is not primarily a technical issue for which linguistic science holds the key. As I see it, our role as a committee and a professional society is to be as clear and as forthcoming as we can about what we do, what we know, and what we can contribute, and then see to it that we do deliver what we can deliver, if and when we are called on. [italics added.] That is the commitment that I made at the meeting [viz of the LSA] on our behalf.

It is certainly very feasible for us to be forthcoming by sharing our results and our information sources. But I think most reflective members of the profession would realize the real challenge that 'being forthcoming' presents. It also means seeing to it that educators, activists, and others in endangered and minority-language communities with an interest in language and linguistics -- and in my own travels I continue to encounter a burning interest -- can get what we, as academic linguists, can give.

And we have a lot. We have the access to obtain, and the ability to use, the welter of rare published and manuscript material created over centuries about and in the world's languages. We know how to use and curate written and tape-recorded texts, speech, prayers, and songs. We know how to compile dictionaries and thesauri. We know how to find principles of grammar and use them for linguistic inquiry, pedagogy, orthography creation, and more. And we know how to teach all this knowledge.

But are we effectively recruiting into our programs those who want all this and can use it to support a language for which they care deeply? Do our programs make these fundamental aspects of our science a centerpiece, such that those whom we recruit (or who recruit themselves) feel they've come to the right place? And if we do in some ways acknowledge this kind of commitment, do we really acknowledge it only rhetorically, or only by including examples from 'exotic' languages in our lectures, articles, and textbooks, or only by using exotic languages as subject-matter for our internal conversations? Do we acknowledge it by allowing innovative text collections, thesauri, or dictionaries as theses? Do we acknowledge it by assigning the teaching of field-based or community-based linguistics to someone who specializes in it, or perhaps even practices it as a community-member him/herself? And if we do acknowledge it in all these ways, do we nevertheless isolate or separate it, finding ourselves unable to see the deep lines of continuity between field/community based linguistics and the rest of the profession, or unable to bridge the discontinuities?


Let me give a brief personal assessment of our progress as a committee.

I am very pleased so far with the intensity of interest and the many thoughtful proposals for action that have come both from the committee and from the wider LSA membership. I feel that the committee has functioned well as a means for encouraging, bringing together, and focusing the efforts of LSA members on endangered language issues.

My one regret is the almost-inevitable gap between what we can plan or wish for, and what we can actually do. While I think our record of accomplishment for this year is good, it is vexing to think of all that has not been done. To that end, I plan to distribute a list of the most significant ideas and proposals that have come up in the course of the year and make it a part of our meeting agenda in January.


The CELP wishes to thank all those LSA members who have contributed ideas, proposed projects, and become involved in carrying them out in the course of the last year. This includes all those mentioned already in this report, and many others too. We also give our special thanks to those relatively more junior members of the profession who have taken part in these ways and have given so freely of their time.

Thanks also to Elizabeth Traugott for her help with a range of issues relating to the committee, and to Maggie Reynolds for her help, kindness, and her many good ideas.

Finally, let me give my personal thanks to the other 11 members of the committee for all their thought and effort.