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Foundation for Endangered Languages

Tjeerd de Graaf is board member of the Foundation for Endangered Languages.


which has the following aims:

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

The Foundation awards grants to projects that further these aims, as and when funds permit.

In 2003 at a meeting of the European Bureau of Lesser Used Languages in Brussels a report on Language Vitality and Endangerment Language Vitality and Endangerment by the UNESCO ad hoc expert group on Endangered Languages was presented.

In October 2004 the FEL VIII Conference on Endangered Languages and Linguistic Rights took place in Barcelona, where Tjeerd de Graaf presented an invited paper on The Status of Endangered Languages in the Border Areas of Japan and Russia.

In November 2005 the FEL IX Conference took place in Stellenbosch (South-Africa) with the title Creating Outsiders: Endangered Languages, Migration and Marginalization. There Tjeerd de Graaf presented a paper on "Dutch in the Steppe" The Plautdietsch Language of the Mennonites in Siberia and their relation with the Netherlands, Russia and Germany.

Specification of the conference theme:


Today's world-maps, political and linguistic, were laid out through human population movements, some ancient but some of them very recent. In this year's conference we want to address the effects of these
movements on language communities: how they dissolve communities, and change their status; how communities may re-form in foreign places, and the relations between incomers and the established populations, whichever has the upper hand; the impact of empires, mass immigration, population loss from emigration. Remembered migration histories may be relevant to the modern self-image of communities. Internal migration by dominant-language speakers into the territories of minorities may lead to the marginalization of others in situ/; and minorities often decamp to the dominant centres under various pressures.

The UN has declared a second International Decade of the World's Indigenous Peoples. The languages we talk about will be very varied, and likely to include the languages of communities all over the world. Some
of them are spoken by indigenous communities, which have become a minority on their own original territory due to the immigration of a dominant majority group. This kind of marginalization is very common, and notable examples include the San languages in South Africa, the Ainu language in Japan or the American Indian languages in California. It plays a major role in the current civil disorder in Nepal. In some cases, endangered languages may have gone into their own world-wide diapora: such is the case of Plautdietsch, language of the Mennonites, who emigrated to many places (Siberia, Canada, Mexico, Paraguay), where often their language became marginalised.

Marginalization can, however, result from a variety of causes: a state policy of forced assimilation, military domination, religious conversion, the wish for social betterment, attendance at boarding schools, etc. We shall look at how both the State and communities can address the causes of marginalization, and of course its effects on the survival and development of languages.

Besides the international dimension, this year's location in South Africa will give members an opportunity to get acquainted with many of the local linguistic issues, among them the position of Khoe and San, but also the Makhuwa-speaking ex-slaves from Durban, the Phuthi speakers from Eastern Cape, etc.

Issues that may arise include:

  • Why are migration histories so treasured as sources of language identity?
  • Do language-communities always (or ever) have better prospects of survival in their home territories than when transplanted?
  • Can language-communities on their home ground and in diaspora give each other effective support?
  • Can small language-communities create new identities in remote territories?
  • Can new communities resulting from migration or deportation establish a new quasi-indigenous identity based on a shared language?
  • What is the value of cultural resources for maintenance of status and active language use within endangered language communities?
  • Do technical media have a significant role in combatting or reinforcing marginalization?
  • Is it possible to reconcile the recognition of official languages with respect for a much larger number of indigenous languages?
  • Can minority and even endangered languages play an active role in a state’s policy of multilingualism?

Local Site:

The University of Stellenbosch is in South Africa's Western Cape, close to Cape Town. It has had a Department of African Languages for more than half a century (http://academic.sun.ac.za/african_languages); it has a Department of General Linguistics and a Language Centre.