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December 2009

[from Peter K. Austin
Department of Linguistics, SOAS
24 December 2009

The Endangered Languages Academic Programme at SOAS is holding a workshop on Endangered Languages, Endangered Knowledge and Sustainability on Saturday 27th February 2010, from 9.30am to 6.00pm. The goal of the workshop is to explore sustainable approaches in our field: sustainability of endangered languages, and sustainability of research (in both theory and practice).

Issues to be discussed include:

  • how communities can sustain languages and linguistic ecologies
  • links between language maintenance and sustainable human development
  • preservation of traditional knowledge and indigenous paradigms of teaching, learning, and research
  • making the outcomes of our research sustainable
  • whether sustaining languages and knowledge is something that researchers can contribute to, or is solely the responsibility of communities and speakers

The keynote speaker at the workshop will be Professor Lenore Grenoble, Carl Darling Buck Professor at the University of Chicago. Prof Grenoble is a world leader in research on endangered languages, with several influential publications and extensive fieldwork experience. She is an ELDP panel member, Vice-president of the Endangered Language Fund, and is involved in several other major international projects, with a focus on the impact of climate change on languages and cultures of the Arctic.

Proposals are invited for papers which present cutting-edge research on any of the topics outlined above. Each speaker will have 20 minutes plus 10 minutes for discussion, followed by further plenary discussion. Abstracts should be a maximum of 300 words (not including any references) and should be sent to: elap -AT- soas.ac.uk.

The deadline for abstract submission is Friday 15th January 2010. Notification of acceptance will be sent by 30th January. We plan to publish the proceedings of the workshop in our journal Language Documentation and Description.

The workshop is one of the events planned for Endangered Languages Week 2010.

To attend the workshop, you need to submit a booking form [.doc] by Friday 19th February 2010. The cost is GBP17.50 for full registration and GBP12.50 for student/ELAP alumni/staff registration. Registration will include a reading pack, tea and coffee and lunch.

[From Nick Thieberger, University of Melbourne]

On the topic of trying to locate material in a small language, I was reading Kaisa Maliniemi's 2009 article on the discovery of new linguistic material in Kven and Sámi in Norway's public records archives. She discusses the fact that the records have been publicly available for some time and that a number of researchers must have worked with them in the past, but there was no trace in that activity of the fact that the records included considerable amounts of information in these two minority languages. She argues that archives can make available to 'the other' those voices and knowledge marginalized by the western-dominated global mainstream. But the point that the article made strongly for me is that we should be able to provide a means for tagging such collections so that they can be located by others interested in those languages (this was also a topic at the ELIIP conference reported on by Jane Simpson here and here ).

The suggestion that we can use Wikipedia [in Peter Austin's reply to Jane's blog] is only part of a solution. I have put links to South Efate material into a Wikipedia entry here as a way to make the information available. We can, however, do better than an unstructured language page that is made by hand, as in the Wikipedia approach, rather than being automatically populated by web-based information in Web2 style. Using Web2 technologies, the Open Language Archives Community (OLAC) harvests information from participating collections and then establishes a page for every language represented in those collections, like this one, where the three-letter language code (ISO-639-3) designates the language, in this case 'erk' = South Efate (Vanuatu). Of course there are languages without ISO standard codes and they need to be brought into the system too.

A focus of our archive, PARADISEC, is to make previously unlocatable material available, and we have done this in several ways. The first, and most straightforward, is to provide an online catalog of material in our own collection. The catalog, using standard terms like country names, language names and the metadata given by the Open Language Archives Community, allows depositors to enter their own metadata. For many, this is the first time they have actually systematised their collection. Because the catalog is part of the OLAC federation, it is accessible via their search mechanisms, and is also locatable via Google.

Second we have made material available by taking scans of around 14,000 pages of notes and placing them online, with enough contextual information to allow them to be located [see Arthur Capell's notes here, or Stephen Wurm's notes here, or Calvin Roesler's notes here]. If you look at the OLAC page with South Efate material listed you will also find a number of references and links to Arthur Capell's notes which we put online.

Third, we can enter a record in our catalog to make an existing resource more widely available, and, as our catalog is harvested by the Open Language Archives Community, it will then be more generally locatable. For example, George Grace is a linguist who has worked in various parts of the western Pacific, and his fieldnotes have been scanned and put online at the University of Hawai'i (UH) library. If you know that it is there and you search for his name, then you can find it in Google. However, there is no provision made by UH for standardising language names by use of the three-letter code (or ISO-639-3) that reduces ambiguity in searching. The UH library catalog currently does not list these items, nor does their 'Online resources' catalog. By entering a record into the PARADISEC catalog (here) the information is then propagated through to OLAC:

Waropen olac search.jpg.

A Google search for one of the languages mentioned in this collection, 'Waropen', locates our record (hit number 3) in OLAC:

Waropen google olac find.jpg
The item at UH comes in at hit number 57:
Waropen hit at UH google number 57.jpg

OLAC's language pages are an excellent source of information, and if we can add to each page by providing a fairly minimal pointer in an OLAC-compliant record then that may also solve the problem for the Kven and Sámi material that Maliniemi discovered.

Maliniemi, Kaisa. 2009. Public records and minorities: problems and possibilities for Sámi and Kven. Archival Science. Vol. 9, Numbers 1-2: 15-27 DOI 10.1007/s10502-009-9104-3

In 2006 Tom Honeyman began an e-thread on the benefits of and complications relating to using digital video to record natural conversation in a fieldwork setting (see also here, here and here and here). For several years I have been trying to record conversation without actually being present to monitor the recordings. It can be quite tricky because there are so many variables. Mostly I haven’t been completely satisfied with the results. I began by using straight audio, partly because it is easier to bring it off successfully but then the visual information was sadly lacking. My first attempts with video were not very successful, partly because of inadequate equipment. I had a large imposing camera with a huge tripod. The resultant recordings were far from naturalistic. Three years ago I said that I hoped for success adapting techniques reported here, for audio, to video. It has taken a while to provide an update because even with a smaller camera, I felt I hadn’t got the mike placement right, or the images were overexposed, or they weren’t clear enough to see people’s faces easily. In fact I’ve been getting sick of trying to transcribe this sort of material. On my latest fieldtrip I was determined to do a really good recording. This meant getting outdoors in the bush, away from the sounds of ceiling fans, vehicles, aeroplanes and whippersnippers.

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[ from Peter K. Austin
Linguistics Department, SOAS

4th December 2009]

The Foundation for Endangered Languages (FEL) has established a fieldwork scholarship to sponsor one MA student in the Endangered Languages Academic Programme (ELAP) at SOAS. The scholarship, funded by income from FEL book sales through the SOAS Endangered Languages Project website, will support one student to undertake fieldwork during 2010 in Guernsey on the endangered language Guernesiais.

SOAS is very grateful to FEL for this support.

[ from Peter K. Austin]
3 December 2009

Language Documentation and Description Volume 7 is a special issue containing lectures on topics in language documentation and description from the 3L Summer School held at SOAS in June-July 2009. The lectures have been revised and expanded for publication, with added examples, diagrams, tutorial questions and exercises, and suggestions for further reading. Additional papers, by Peter Austin (practical advice on applying for a research grant) and David Nathan (on the role of audio, based on a paper published in the International Association of Sound Archives journal), will make the volume particularly useful to aspiring language documenters.

The lectures and papers represent state-of-the-art discussions of the theory and practice of language documentation and description by leading exponents, and the volume will be of interest to anyone teaching or learning about documenting and describing languages. The volume will be published in early 2010.

The price for LDD 7 is normally GBP 10 however until 31 January 2010 only, we are offering a special pre-order price of GBP 7.50 (plus P & P), a 25% discount. To order use the discount order form [.doc], or visit our website.



[ from Peter K. Austin
Department of Linguistics, SOAS
1 December 2009

On Friday 20th November at Can Ricart in Barcelona, the permanent home of Casa de les Llengues (House of Languages) of Linguamón was officially opened by the Vice-President of Catalonia. The site is an old fabric factory (see photos) that is being completely renovated to house both permanent and temporary exhibitions on the nature of language and on linguistic diversity. The new buildings were designed by Italian architect Benedetta Tagliabue, and the building works will cost approximately 18 million euros to complete. Currently an exhibition space of 100 square metres has been set up (featuring things like the United Voices interviews), and events such as music concerts are planned for the Can Ricart location to attract visitors while the building works progress. The boldness of the vision of Director Antoni Mir i Fullana and his team at Linguamón is amazing. Casa de Les Llengues is located in the new 22@ zone in Barcelona which is being developed as a hub for cultural and educational activities, and will include a range of museums and other education spaces.

On the previous day the Linguamón International Scientific Committee (of which I am a member) met and discussed plans for the permanent exhibition that is expected to open in 2011. There will be 10,000 square metres of permanent exhibition space highlighting the nature and use of human languages, both spoken and signed, the history of writing, and the diversity of languages across the world. There will be a special focus celebrating the hundreds of languages spoken by people living in Catalonia, especially those brought in by new settlers. The economic and political value of these languages to Catalonia was emphasised by the Linguamón team (the results of a survey on language and business in Barcelona were presented to the Committee by Isidor Mari, who is Linguamón-UOC Chair in Multilingualism, supported by Linguamón and the Open University of Catalonia), and also by the Vice-President in his public speech. Members of the International Scientific Committee noted that there had been a shift in rhetoric associated with this initiative since we last met two years ago, with less emphasis on the Catalan language and more on the diversity of languages present within Barcelona and Catalonia more generally, especially the significance of these to business, trade, and culture.

Visitors to Barcelona with an interest in language should call in to Can Ricart to see how things are developing.

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