LINGUIST List 7.609

Wed Apr 24 1996

FYI: Foundation for Endangered Languages, and its Newsletter

Editor for this issue: Ljuba Veselinova <>


  1. Nicholas Ostler, Announcing the Foundation for Endangered Languages, and its Newsletter, Iatiku

Message 1: Announcing the Foundation for Endangered Languages, and its Newsletter, Iatiku

Date: Mon, 15 Apr 1996 01:19:04 -0000
From: Nicholas Ostler <>
Subject: Announcing the Foundation for Endangered Languages, and its Newsletter, Iatiku
The Foundation for Endangered Languages, which began its life at a
meeting in London in January 1995, but was first publicised at the
University of Bristol Seminar on the Conservation of Endangered
Languages in April 1995, has now reached the stage of asking for
subscriptions. These will most immediately support the production and
distribution of the Newsletter, the fees for formal incorporation of
the Foundation as a charitable "Company Limited by Guarantee" in the

We have, in fact, already received a request for a modest level of
support from the Livonian community (in Latvia, on the Baltic coast)
for support of a lexicographical project. This would neatly combine
community support with documentation.

There have in fact now been 6 meetings of the Foundation, the latest
one just before the LAGB meeting at the University of Sussex, in
England, on 11 April. The current Committee members are:

Nicholas Ostler President
Andrew Woodfield Secretary
Daniel Nettle Treasurer
Stephen May Publicity
Christopher Moseley Group Liaison

The Foundation is affiliated to the Philosophy Department at Bristol

We should have liked to send this issue of Iatiku to anyone who wishes
for a copy, but since it is quite bulky (36 pages) and international
postage is significant, I can only do so to those who are willing to
subscribe to the Foundation for the year beginning on 1 May 1996.

To give you some idea of what you would be subscribing to, I enclose
in this message:

I. The Foundation's Manifesto, agreed at Meetings 4 and 5
II. The Editorial of the 2nd issue of Iatiku, FEL's Newsletter
III. Details of How to Subscribe


I. The Foundation's Manifesto

1. Preamble

1.1. The Present Situation

At this point in human history, most human languages are spoken by
exceedingly few people. And that majority, the majority of languages, is
about to vanish.

The most authoritative source on the languages of the world (Ethnologue,
Grimes 1992) lists just over 6,500 living languages. Population figures
are available for just over 6,000 of them (or 92%). Of these 6,000, it may
be noted that:
* 52% are spoken by fewer than 10,000 people;
* 28% by fewer than 1,000; and 
* 83% are restricted to single countries, 
 and so are particularly exposed to the policies of a single
At the other end of the scale, 10 major languages, each spoken by over
109 million people, are the mother tongues of almost half (49%) of the
world's population.

More important than this snapshot of proportions and populations is
the outlook for survival of the languages we have. Hard comparable
data here are scarce or absent, often because of the sheer variety of
the human condition: a small community, isolated or bilingual, may
continue for centuries to speak a unique language, while in another
place a populous language may for social or political reasons die out
in little more than a generation. Another reason is that the period in
which records have been kept is too short to document a trend:
e.g. the Ethnologue has been issued only since 1951. However, it is
difficult to imagine many communities sustaining serious daily use of
a language for even a generation with fewer than 100 speakers: yet at
least 10% of the world's living languages are now in this position.

Some of the forces which make for language loss are clear: the impacts
of urbanization, Westernization and global communications grow daily,
all serving to diminish the self-sufficiency and self-confidence of
small and traditional communities. Discriminatory policies, and
population movements also take their toll of languages.

In our era, the preponderance of tiny language communities means that
the majority of the world's languages are vulnerable not just to
decline but to extinction.

1.2. The Likely Prospect

There is agreement among linguists who have considered the situation
that over half of the world's languages are moribund, i.e. not
effectively being passed on to the next generation. We and our
children, then, are living at the point in human history where, within
perhaps two generations, most languages in the world will die out.

This mass extinction of languages may not appear immediately
life-threatening. Some will feel that a reduction in numbers of
languages will ease communication, and perhaps help build nations,
even global solidarity. But it has been well pointed out that the
success of humanity in colonizing the planet has been due to our
ability to develop cultures suited for survival in a variety of
environments. These cultures have everywhere been transmitted by
languages, in oral traditions and latterly in written literatures. So
when language transmission itself breaks down, especially before the
advent of literacy in a culture, there is always a large loss of
inherited knowledge.

Valued or not, that knowledge is lost, and humanity is the poorer.
Along with it may go a large part of the pride and self-identity of
the community of former speakers.

And there is another kind of loss, of a different type of knowledge.
As each language dies, science, in linguistics, anthropology,
prehistory and psychology, loses one more precious source of data, one
more of the diverse and unique ways that the human mind can express
itself through a language's structure and vocabulary.

We cannot now assess the full effect of the massive simplification of
the world's linguistic diversity now occurring. But language loss,
when it occurs, is sheer loss, irreversible and not in itself
creative. Speakers of an endangered language may well resist the
extinction of their traditions, and of their linguistic identity.
They have every right to do so. And we, as scientists, or concerned
human beings, will applaud them in trying to preserve part of the
diversity which is one of our greatest strengths and treasures.

1.3. The Need for an Organization

We cannot stem the global forces which are at the root of language
decline and loss.

But we can work to lessen the ignorance which sees language loss as
inevitable when it is not, and does not properly value all that will
go when a language itself vanishes.

We can work to see technological developments, such as computing and
telecommunications, used to support small communities and their
traditions rather than to supplant them.

And we can work to lessen the damage:
* by recording as much as possible of the languages of communities
which seem to be in terminal decline; 
* by emphasizing particular benefits of the diversity still
remaining; and 
* by promoting literacy and language maintenance programmes, to
increase the strength and morale of the users of languages in danger.

In order to further these aims, there is a need for an autonomous
international organization which is not constrained or influenced by
matters of race, politics, gender or religion. This organization will
recognise in language issues the principles of self-determination, and
group and individual rights. It will pay due regard to economic,
social, cultural, community and humanitarian considerations. Although
it may work with any international, regional or local Authority, it
will retain its independence throughout. Membership will be open to
those in all walks of life.

2. Aims and Objectives

The Foundation for Endangered Languages exists to support, enable and
assist the documentation, protection and promotion of endangered
languages. In order to do this, it aims:-

(i) To raise awareness of endangered languages, both inside and outside
the communities where they are spoken, through all channels and media;
(ii) To support the use of endangered languages in all contexts: at
home, in education, in the media, and in social, cultural and economic
(iii) To monitor linguistic policies and practices, and to seek to
influence the appropriate authorities where necessary;
(iv) To support the documentation of endangered languages, by offering 
financial assistance, training, or facilities for the publication of
(v) To collect together and make available information of use in the
preservation of endangered languages;
(vi) To disseminate information on all of the above activities as widely
as possible.


II. Editorial of the second issue of Iatiku, the Foundation's Newsletter

(Iatiku is the mother goddess of the Acoma tribe of New Mexico, who
caused people to speak different languages so that it would not be so
easy for them to quarrel. - Sam Gill & Irene Sullivan, Dictionary of
Native American Mythology, New York: OUP 1992: p. 5. Contra: Genesis
XI, 1-9.)

This is the second issue of Iatiku, the first public expression of the
Foundation for Endangered Languages. The Foundation is conceived as a
free and independent association of those who are concerned at the
loss of more and more of the world's languages...

Since the first issue of Iatiku appeared, on the 1st of May last year,
the Foundation has elected its first officers, identified the range of
languages with which it will first look to set up links, and agreed
its Manifesto.

The Foundation will be constituted formally in the UK as a company
limited by guarantee. This will enable us to act as a recognized
charity. There is a draft Memorandum and Articles of Association
available for members to inspect, and these will be the Foundation's

We aim to ally concerned linguists with the growing interest and
compassion of the public at large, to give the cause of endangered
languages as sharp a profile among monolinguals in the first world as
among those whose own linguistic heritage is actually threatened.

Based initially in a corner of Europe, south-west England, where there
is no surviving competition to the global weed of English (like other
weeds, not without its charms), it is not involved directly in
particular linguistic battles, but it is well placed for access to the
world's Anglo-Saxon media. We are not an outgrowth of any one
language's, or group of languages', struggle for recognition. At the
same time, the presence of Celtic languages, in Wales and by conscious
revival in Cornwall, is close enough for us to hear the din of real
combat, and to witness the nurturing of real linguistic growth.

We have access to some of the best linguistic expertise in our part of
Europe, and through global media to members all over the world. Yet
we are an organization not just of linguists, but of concerned and
knowledgeable citizens of the world. A major aim is to provide funds
for recording lesser known members of world's stock of languages.

But we also have a mission is to explain and interpret to our
neighbours what the pattern of those languages is like and how that
pattern is changing, not always for the better. Through this we can
hope to do something to influence that change, as well as to increase
scholarly knowledge.

This Issue of Iatiku

This is the second issue of our newsletter, which is intended as a
quarterly publication. Conditions are still exceptional, however, and
with this delivery it only just avoids being an annual one! With our
organization still to be formally established, and the newsletter's
circulation still very restricted, we have not yet attempted to secure
articles written specifically for Iatiku.

Even so, there is no lack of material that warrants
distribution. Besides the accounts of our own meetings, and the
re-echoes, as far as we have been able to trace them of our Seminar on
the Conservation of Endangered Languages held last April), I have
included a variety of pieces that have appeared on the Internet in the
course of the last year. The reach of the Net is, as yet, nothing
like universal, even among the concerned linguists who we see as the
first, core members of our Foundation. Even for those with access to
the Net, it is difficult to keep track of all the new developments, so
as to find the information when one has the opportunity to use it.
Here you have a repository of new developments world wide in
Endangered Languages since 1 May 1995.

We pass on notes of appeals with relevance to the survival of
languages, which give readers a chance to do something immediate and
concrete for the cause. These vary: in this issue, one concerns
action directly relevant to a tiny language community, a second is a
request for funds for a minority language publishing venture, and a
third is an explicitly political call.

Among descriptions of recent meetings, we offer November's Symposium
in Tokyo which served as the inaugural meeting of the International
Clearing House for Endangered Languages, which has been set up as part
of the UNESCO initiative and manages the Red Book. This section is
drawn from the Clearing House's own Newsletter. Besides the overview
of the symposium itself, it contains much useful comment and
suggestion from Profs Shigeru Tsuchida (of Tokyo) and Akira Yamamoto
(of Kansas). In particular, Yamamoto lists ten talking points, issues
which could usefully set the focus for future conferences.

We propagate the latest details known to us on new activities around
the world which increase knowledge of, or concern for endangered
languages: here we bring you up to date on Terralingua (Partnerships
for Linguistic and Biological Diversity), which is being organized by
David Hermon from a base in Hancock, Michigan, USA; and the recent
Language Documentation Urgency List, set up by Dietmar Zaefferer at
the University of Munich, which is now beginning to collect language

The next two sections are a miscellany, first of fragments of
discussions of issues (and a poem!) related to endangered languages,
and then of a few sources, both in the electronic world and the real
one, where useful information may be sought. Discussions range
widely:- how should a linguist react when resources seem to go to
languages with little hope of recovery? what use is literacy to
peoples whose languages may only ever have flourished with out it?
what consistency can or should there be in what linguists pay their
informants? The round-up of sources continues with a list of
forthcoming conferences (interpreted widely enough to include a film
festival), and recent publications.

In future issues I shall be including readers' letters, and also
literary or discussion pieces which will start to make Iatiku a real
forum for Endangered Languages. As the Foundation's activities begin
to make themselves felt, they will provide a natural focus for Iatiku
articles, but the Newsletter should remain more general than the
Foundation, with a place for topical content, wherever the diversity
of human language, and efforts to protect it, may roam.

This will be the last issue of Iatiku that is issued free. It
contains, as a final page, a form to request membership of our
Foundation: you will be a "Friend" of Endangered Languages until we
are fully incorporated later this year. Later issues of Iatiku will
go to subscribing members only. I hope you will want to join our
enterprise in taking action on behalf of the world's endangered
languages. And if you do, please write in with your own suggestions
and comments on this issue, as well as contributions for the next one
- due out in July!


If you wish to support the Foundation for Endangered Languages, please
fill out the order form below, and send it with your subscription to
the Foundation's Treasurer:

Daniel Nettle, FEL,
Anthropology, University College London
Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, England

Those who find difficulty (technical or financial) in sending
subscriptions in one of the three ways suggested should contact the
President (Nicholas Ostler, address as below) in the hope that an
accommodation can be reached.


Please enrol me as a Friend of Endangered Languages. I enclose my
subscription fee, as indicated below, for the year beginning 1 May
1996. With my receipt I I expect the latest issue of Iatiku (no. 2),
and thereafter to receive the quarterly newsletter Iatiku, together
with full details of the Foundation's incorporation, meetings and
other activities in that year.

Subscription fees in pounds sterling or US dollars:

[] Individual member (19 pounds or 30 dollars) Regular.
[] Individual member (9 pounds or 14 dollars) Concessionary: 
 please enclose proof of unwaged status.
[] Corporate member (59 pounds or 95 dollars) Voluntary bodies 
 (incl. university dept)

[] Corporate member (99 pounds or 155 dollars) Official bodies: 
 (incl. university)
[] Corporate member (199 pounds or 310 dollars) 
 Commercial companies.

 * * *

[] I enclose a cheque (in pounds sterling) payable to "Friends of
Endangered Languages". 

[] I enclose a check (in US dollars) payable to Nicholas Ostler, and
annotated "Subs. to FEL: year from 1 May 1996"

[] I enclose proof of having sent an equivalent sum in my own
currency to the society's account, "Friends of Endangered Languages",
Account no: 50073456, The Cooperative Bank (Sort code: 08-90-02), 16 St.
Stephen's Street, Bristol BS1 1JR, England.

Signed: Date:

Name: Tel. (daytime):
Address: Fax:

Thank you for your support.

Nicholas Ostler
President, Foundation for Endangered Languages 
Address for correspondence:

 Batheaston Villa, 172 Bailbrook Lane
 Bath BA1 7AA England

 tel +44-1225-85-2865 
 fax +44-1225-85-9258

Nicholas Ostler 
 Linguacubun Ltd
 Batheaston Villa, 172 Bailbrook Lane
 Bath BA1 7AA England
 +44-1225-85-2865 fax +44-1225-85-9258
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