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September 2009

[Media release from Nicholas Ostler, Foundation for Endangered languages]

This year's conference of the Foundation for Endangered Languages will take place in the High Pamirs, at Khorog in Tajikistan, on 24-26 September 2009.

The conference will discuss the contribution of Endangered Languages to History and how the study of history can encourage the preservation and promote the revitalisation of endangered languages.

Tajikistan itself, although a small and remote country with a population of 7 million, is home to nine languages, most of them in the mountainous south, the Pamirs. Unlike its surrounding Central Asian countries, where the national languages are Turkic, its primary language is Tajik, a form of Persian. It also shares a long border with Afghanistan, where Dari Persian is also widely spoken.

Conquered by Tsarist Russia in the 1870s as part of the Tournament of Shadows, the "Great Game" played between the British and Russian Empires, Central Asia had its languages re-organized and re-alphabetized in the 1920s and 1930s, all its scripts changing from Arabic to Roman to Russian in the course of 15 years. Nevertheless, this was the basis on which Tajik literacy has leapt from a tiny minority to almost 100 percent. The relative roles of languages, Tajik, Russian, Uzbek, and Yaghnobi and the many languages of the Pamirs, remain a highly charged issue in Tajikistan's policy.

Tajikistan is heir to many peoples who played key roles in ancient struggles between East and West: the Sogdians, great traders of 'heavenly' horses for silk at the courts of China; the Tajiks, who transmitted the fresh news of Muhammad's revelation within Central Asia at the forefront of an invading army, and brought the Persian language with them; the Samanids, who created the first civilization that used New Persian, the poetic culture made familiar in the west by the Rubai'yat of Omar Khayyam, and the Golden Road to Samarkand. As well as being a stage on the Silk Road, it was home to Tamburlaine the Great, whose bloody conquests straddled Asia from Ankara to Delhi, and to Babur, who founded the Mughal dynasty in India. Truly Tajikistan can be called the home of History. And the peoples who speak its surviving languages have seen more than most.

The conference will be held in collaboration with:

  • The Academy of Sciences of Tajikistan,
  • The Institute of Humanities, Khorog, Tajikistan
  • The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London.

Conference delegates will also visit the Ishkashimi language community in the Badakhshan region of the country. Badakhshan was long famous as a source of rubies, emeralds and lapis lazuli.

Further details of the conference can be found at the FEL website. Or contact Nicholas Ostler,
Chairman, Foundation for Endangered Languages
Registered Charity: England & Wales 1070616 nostler AT chibcha.demon.co.uk

1 comments |

anindilyakwa-number-IMG_NEW.jpg

We sold out of the first printing quick as a flash with just local orders, so now we have re-printed and we have plenty to meet international demand (ha!) if the need should arise.

The book is simple and aimed mainly at parents or schools who wish to teach young people how to count to 20 in Anindilyakwa, however it is a vibrant and charming book that will open up to newcomers some of the delightful features of the language. For instance, the range of noun classes, and the mathematical precision of language structures.

Besides provoking the reader to deep thoughts about counting, the reader will enjoy being put in touch with the bush foods of the Groote Eylandt area through the many photos.

The book gained instant notoriety when the first printing arrived, coming almost to the day at the same time as the southern newspapers were heralding some research done with children on Groote Eylandt,
research which "demonstrated" that in languages where there were no words for counting more than one, two, and many, children still had a concept of counting in greater quantities.

Pity they picked on Groote Eylandt, where people do have words for numbers up to twenty. Children would have watched as women traditionally divided out collected turtle eggs into groups. True, a five year old may not have been taught to count yet, but on the days royalty money comes around they watch as the adults divide out their share, and numbers have an important function in daily life.

There are 54 pages, card cover, full colour, lots of photos, some word glossaries in the back, and even a few puzzles to test out what you can learn from your reading.
Cost: $25.00 each plus freight.

Available from Groote Eylandt Linguistics, Angurugu Community Mail
Agency, Angurugu via Darwin, Northern Territory, 0822
Email: linguistics AT activ8.net.au
Phone: 08 8987 6614 or 08 8927 1842
Mobile: 0439 827 073

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Indigenous Australian languages have been in the news recently. On the positive side, Liza Power has a long piece in The Age, The new songlines which looks at Indigenous languages and music [thanks Myf!], and brings in Nick Evans' new book Dying Words. It's in my bag waiting to be read when I get through oh the Mound of marking and stuff.....

Four Corners did a program on the decision to abolish bilingual education in the NT, focussing on Lajamanu, but with some footage at Yirrkala. They’ve also come up with a good set of links and resources, and extended interviews with Djuwalpi Marika (Chairman Yirrkala School Council), Wendy Baarda (former teacher-linguist, Yuendumu) and Gary Barnes, CEO NT Education Department. Barnes' most quotable quote:

GARY BARNES: We absolutely want our young indigenous people to become proficient in the use of English language... It's the language of learning, it's the language of living, and it's the language of the main culture in Australia.

And a quotable one-worder from the Chief Minister and Minister for Education:

DEBBIE WHITMONT (to Paul Henderson): Is it fair to expect that children who are trying to learn in a second language should meet the same benchmarks at the same time as children in other parts of the country who are learning in their first language?

PAUL HENDERSON: Absolutely.

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Contact

11 Sep

Yuwali in front of Yimiri.jpg

Last night I saw a fascinating documentary about a group of Mardu people’s first contact with Europeans. As Australia entered the space race the group of about twenty women and children found themselves literally in the firing line. In 1964 a rocket, the Blue Streak, was about to be launched from Woomera in South Australia. The “dump zone” for the rocket was the area of the Percival Lakes in the Great Sandy Desert, Western Australia. A pair of patrol officers was dispatched to the area to make sure that the region was uninhabited. Of course it wasn’t. Pretty soon they found recent fires and human tracks.

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[Meladel Mistika points to Steven Bird's new paper in the open access journal Computational Linguistics.]

Steven Bird's promoting for there to be more Comp Ling research to be aimed at assisting field linguists in maintaining and organising their data. He's redefining what should be included as part of core Comp Ling research. Studies that would assist in language documentation should be valued as much, well actually more than the current studies in Comp Ling, which is too often aimed at squeezing out an extra percent on whichever evaluation metric they are using based on somebody else's Machine Learning algorithm to form a small part of a solution to an NLP problem.

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[An extraordinary and disturbing story about Ainu teaching at the Hokkaido University of Education has emerged in the Times Higher Education Supplement (3/9/09) (thanks Sadami!)].

Ryuko Kubota, Department of Language and Literacy Education, University of British Columbia, writes:

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Four Corners is planning a program on bilingual education in the Northern Territory, currently scheduled for 14th September. It's timely, as there've been several news items recently on the topic.

Miliwanga Sandy, Jeanie Bell and Jo Caffery did an interview on Bush Telegraph on endangered languages. Peter Buckskin has headed a review into education (reported by Anna Patty in the Sydney Morning Herald, and also here):

Professor Buckskin, who is the dean and head of school at the David Unaipon College of Indigenous Education and Research at the university, said his review found no proof that teaching Aboriginal students in English only would result in better literacy.
''What evidence did the Government of the day have to say this was the best way forward? We can't find it,'' he said. ''There was more evidence to support bilingual education than there was against it.''

To provide contrasting views, Patty turned, not to specialists in education or language, but to Helen Hughes, an economist, whose views, perhaps, are coloured by her experience emigrating to Australia as a child from Czechoslovakia.

''It is absolute nonsense they don't have enough time to spend on their own language,'' she said. ''Aborigines, like other Australians, have to speak fluent English, and the way to do that is to start very early.''

This misses several points. First, bilingual education is exactly that - education in TWO Languages. Children are taught English right from the start. Second, if children don't understand English, they'll learn faster if they are taught in their own language, and are given proper classes in learning English. You can't learn if you don't understand what the teacher is saying. Immersion education, such as Hughes probably experienced, works best when children have already grasped the concept of reading and writing through learning to read and write in their first language, when their parents are literate, and when the language they are learning has plenty of reinforcement in the community. That's not the case in many Indigenous communities.

Back to Peter Buckskin for the third point. Interviewed by Sara Everingham on the ABC along with Wendy Baarda, stalwart of bilingual education at Yuendumu, he said

"The Northern Territory has a real privilege of having inter-generational language speakers and that should never, never be lost to the communities of the Northern Territory,"

He's right. Helen Hughes' grandchildren can go to Europe and refresh and reinforce their Czech or German. But if Indigenous children don't have the chance to strengthen their languages, the languages will disappear. And there's absolutely no need for this to happen - there's plenty of room in the curriculum for Indigenous languages and English. Done properly, it will enhance the children's education. The catch is 'done properly'. There are plenty of ways to stuff up bilingual education - as any education program.

Meanwhile, in Papua New Guinea... passed on via Lila San Roque - A new mailing list has been set up for people who are interested in vernacular language education issues in Papua New Guinea. This list is intended to help share information and foster the network of people working with, researching, and/or developing the use of tok ples in the formal and non-formal education sectors in PNG.

If you would like to join the PNG Vernacular Education Network (VEN) mailing list you can do so at:
http://mailman.anu.edu.au/mailman/listinfo/ven

1 comments |

From: Peter K. Austin
Department of Linguistics, SOAS
5 September 2009

In Italy over the last couple of months the right-wing Lega Nord ("Northern League"), led by the indefatigable Umberto Bossi, who is also Minister for Institutional Reforms in Silvio Berlusconi's government, has been engaged in a series of rather polemical discussions about Italy's dialetti. Although this translates literally as "dialects", many of the multitude of local speech forms covered by the term are in fact separate Romance languages, not mutually intelligible with each other or Italian. Over the past 50 years they have been retreating in the face of the expansion of standard Italian.

On 28th July, Lega Nord issued a proposal that all would-be school teachers should be tested on:

"la conoscenze della lingua, della tradizione e della storia delle regioni dove si intende insegnare" knowledge of the language, traditions and history of the regions where they plan to teach

and this test might include knowledge of the local "dialect". The next day, the Minister for Public Instruction, Mariastella Gelmini, backed away from this position a little by saying that there would not be dialect exams (no doubt realising the impossibility of setting them up or carrying them out), but repeated that teachers, especially those from the "South" wanting to teach in the northern homeland of the Lega, should be tested on their knowledge of "padanian" language, culture and history. By mid-August, Umberto Bossi was claiming that a law to introduce these tests was ready.

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kp͡w (KIOLOA PAPUANISTS' WORKSHOP)

Now calling for papers and for registration of participants.

Following the successful recent Papuanists' Workshops in Sydney, the ANU Papuanists will be hosting a weekend of Papuanist talks at the Kioloa coast campus (c. 3 hours from Canberra and 3.5 hours from Sydney) from 2 pm Friday 30th October to early afternoon Sunday 1st November, with a bushwalk up Pigeon House planned for the Saturday afternoon.

Anyone who has an interest in Papuan languages and linguistics is invited to come and present a paper or just listen to other people's papers and join in the discussion.

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From: Peter K. Austin
Department of Linguistics, SOAS
5 September 2009

The programme is now available for the second biannual Language Documentation and Linguistic Theory conference to be held at the School of Oriental and African Studies on 13th and 14th November 2009.

The conference aims to bring together researchers working on linguistic theory and language documentation and description, with a particular focus on innovative work on under-described or endangered languages. This year the focus is on Africa, with invited speakers:

  • Prof Larry Hyman, University of California Berkeley Good things come in small languages: grammatical loss and innovation in Nzadi
  • Prof Tania Kouteva, SOAS and Heinrich Heine Universität, Düsseldorf Grammatical categories and linguistic theory

Early bird conference registration at reduced cost closes on Monday 14th September 2009 and general registration ends on Monday 12th October 2009. Registration is available via an online form. For payments, follow the instructions at the top of the page. Note that registration for the conference includes a book containing all the papers being presented. (Papers from the first LDLT conference are now available online at: http://www.hrelp.org/eprints/LDLT).

We look forward to seeing you in London for this event.

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From: Peter K. Austin
Department of Linguistics, SOAS
5 September 2009

Just a reminder to blog readers that the special offer for Foundation for Endangered Languages (FEL) publications is ending soon.

The proceedings of the FEL unique annual conferences are currently available through the Endangered Languages Project at SOAS for 12 pounds, a saving of 40% off the normal retail price (usually 20 pounds). This offer is for a strictly limited period and must end on 15th September.

There are 11 volumes available, covering a wide range of topics linking endangered languages to literacy, literature, land, language learning, media, multilingualism, migration and social impacts.

To order one or more volumes at this special price go to http://www.hrelp.org/publications/fel/index.html and complete the order form before 15th September.

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Here's an article [Thanks Nick!] on Steven Bird's interesting attempt to increase data on an endangered language (Usarufa, Highlands New Guinea) by giving speakers voice recorders, and training them in documenting their language.

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Dearest Canberrans,

I'll be giving a presentation of the Wunderkammer mobile phone dictionary software at the ANU in Canberra at 11 am on 18 September. If you're interested and in the area, come by. Full details, including the exact location, can be found here.

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The Transient Building, symbolising the impermanence of language, houses both the Linguistics Department at Sydney University and PARADISEC, a digital archive for endangered Pacific languages and music.
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Links

E-MELD The E-MELD School of Best Practices in Digital Language Documentation

Tema Modersmål Website in Swedish with links to sites on and in many languages

Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project: Language Documentation: What is it? Information on equipment, formats, and archiving, and examples of documentation

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Endangered languages of Indigenous Peoples of Siberia

Koryak Net Information on the people of Kamchatka

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On-line resources for endangered languages

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Projects

ACLA child language acquisition in three Australian Aboriginal communities

DELAMAN The Digital Endangered Languages and Musics Archives Network

PARADISEC The Pacific And Regional Archive for Digital Sources in Endangered Cultures

Murriny-Patha Song Project Documenting the language and music of public songs and dances composed and performed by Murriny Patha-speaking people

PFED The Project for Free Electronic Dictionaries

DOBES Endangered language documentation and archiving, funded by the Volkswagen Foundation and sponsored by the Max Planck Institute, Nijmegen.

DELP Documenting endangered languages at the University of Sydney

Ethno EResearch Exploring methods and technology for streaming media and interlinear text