[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