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History of Linguistics
A few days ago, I posted a query to the linguistlist asking for help
''... in identifying publications, conferences, LSA events, etc. that
might be identified with the birth of current interest in endangered
There were a number of very helpful responses to my query, and
I thank all those who replied: Greville Corbett, Karl Gadelii, Akira
Yamamoto, Mike Maxwell, Jon Reyhner, Maria Carreira, Charles Bigelow,
Melissa Kronenthal, Joseph Tomei, Larrivee Pierre, Robert Orr, and
Steve Moran. There were a few replies on efforts to preserve specific
languages. While those are indeed relevant to my question, they do not
directly answer it, so I have not included those in the summary. I was
specifically concerned about the history of the concept 'endangered
languages', rather than about efforts to preserve specific languages.
I summarize below the responses received.
Greville Corbett reminded me that the Linguistics Association
of Great Britain (LAGB) held a workshop on endangered languages in
September 1993, in Bangor, Wales, with papers by Greville Corbett,
Nigel Vincent, Alastair Walker, and Collette Craig.
Akira Yamamoto provided several references. He reminded me of
several LSA efforts in this respect, especially the 1991 session on
Endangered Languages, led by Kenneth Hale. Ken's efforts led to the
establishment of the LSA Committee for Endangered Languages and their
Preservation in 1992, with Michael Krauss as the first Chair. Also,
there were several presentations at the 1993 Linguistic Society of
America's annual meeting symposium on 'Preservation of North American
Indian Languages', which included presentations by Yamamoto, Marianne
Mithun, and others. He also informed me about the Native American
Language Issue Conference held in September 1992 and attended by
representatives from several different organizations. This meeting led
to the 'birth of a follow-up law' in October 1992, committing two
million dollars for 1993 for community-based language programs. Akira
also informed me that from the late 1980s, UNESCO has been interested
in language endangerment via the Permanent International Congress of
Linguists, publishing the first book with the title, Endangered
Languages, in 1991. In 1994, the LSA published a policy
statement on 'The need for the documentation of linguistic diversity'
(LSA Bulletin 144:5). Since this statement, the LSA formally
established the Field Reports/Endangered Languages section of the
annual LSA meetings.
Mike Maxwell also reminded me that in the 1950s several SIL
International members took on the specific job of documenting dying
languages in Peru, Brazil, and elsewhere.
Jon Maria Carreira of Cal State University sent me a copy of
the useful August 2002 Scientific American article on endangered
languages which discusses issues and some history of interest in this
Charles Bigelow reminded me of the importance of the notion of
language 'salvage' to many of the early American linguists, e.g. Boas
and his students, as well as in the work of students of Mary Haas and
her students at UC Berkeley.
Melissa Kronenthal from Edinburgh University sent me a list of
conferences, given below, on endangered languages, followed by a brief
bibliography on endangered languages in the media. I repeat her list
of conferences below, since it is so useful (!):
LSA Endangered Languages Symposium 1991 ''Endangered Languages and
15th Int'l Congress of Linguists 1992 ''Endangered Languages''
Noordwijkerhout, The Netherlands, September 1992: 2nd Int'l Conference
on the Maintenance and Loss of Minority Languages
LAGB (Linguistic Association of Great Britain) Sept 1993: special
session on ''Endangered Languages''
48th Int'l Congress of Americanists Stockholm 1994 Symposium:
''Endangered indigenous languages of the Americas and their future''
LSA Meeting New Orleans Jan 1995: ''Field Reports/Endangered Languages''
Conferences on Linguistic Rights Barcelona and Hong Kong
MIT Cambridge, Mass. Jan. 1995: Workshop on Endangered Languages and
Dartmouth Feb 1995 Conf: ''Endangered Languages: Current Issues and
Bristol April 1995: ''The Conservation of Endangered Languages''
Tokyo 1995 : International Symposium on Endangered Languages (at newly
inaugurated International Clearinghouse For Endangered Languages)
Barcelona June 1996: World Conference on Linguistic Rights
Hong Kong June 1996: First International Conference on Language Rights
Berkeley Oct 1996: ''Endangered Languages, Endangered Knowledge,
Leipzig, July - Aug 1997: Symposium on Endangered Languages in Africa
Edinburgh 1998 FEL Annual Conference: What Role for the Specialist?
Maynooth 1999 FEL Annual Conference: Endangered Languages and
Charlotte, NC 2000 FEL Annual Conference: Endangered Languages and
Agadir, Morocco 2001 FEL Annual Conference: Endangered Languages and
Helsinki Aug 2001: Linguistic Perspectives on Endangered Languages
Antigua, Guatemala 2002: FEL Annual Conference: Endangered languages
and their literatures
International Conferences on Minority Languages (there have been 8 so
Joseph Tomei informed me about a AAA panel organized in 1995 on
endangered languages, and reminded me of work by several
Let me, DLE, add here that Darcy Ribeiro, one of the most important
Brazilian intellectuals of the 20th Century, was responsible for
inviting SIL to Brazil in the 1950s, when he was at the Museu Nacional
in Rio de Janeiro. Later, Ribeiro became the equivalent of the US
White House Chief of Staff, under president Janio Quadros (Chefe da
Casa Civil). In his recent autobiography (he has since died),
Confissoes, he explicitly links his invitation to SIL with his concern
for documenting and preserving dying languages of Brazil. It might be
the case, therefore, that Ribeiro is one of the first people, at least
in the Americas, to commit government resources and planning
explicitly and specifically to the documentation of minority
languages. Certainly, Ribeiro must be considered one of the pioneers
in this area.
More recently, England has seen a significant increase in interest and
research on endangered languages. In 2001 The University of Manchester
held a Language Endangerment Day, to bring the problem of endangered
languages to the attention of the local and national community. This
was reported on in Time magazine, July 2001.
In 2002 a ?20 million endowment was pledged by the Marit Rausing
Foundation to the School of Oriental and African Languages in London,
and the first holder of the Marit Rausing Chair in Field Linguistics,
Peter Austin, was selected. Austin will administer this endowment and
work on behalf of endangered languages as the representative of the
Foundation and SOAS. This is a major milestone in the study of
Endangered Languages internationally.
If there are important facts which I have omitted, I would appreciate
hearing from readers of LinguistList.
Thanks again to all who sent in responses.
University of Mancheser
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