Lost Language Day

T.Matthew Ciolek tmciolek at coombs.anu.edu.au
Mon May 20 01:03:40 UTC 1996

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BOUNCE endangered-languages-l: Non-member submission from [dcheezem at alaska.net (David Cheezem)]


I can't tell you how pleased I am at your repsonse to the Lost Language Da
idea.  This really could work, and there's no reason to think small about

>>From your response, as well as those on the list serve, it is clear that
the day would meet a variety of needs.  Summing up:

        -- The need for public mourning
           Those working closely with endangered people (and vicariously,
those of us like me who are "watching") need some sense of closure, some
ritual to acknowledge and witness the loss

        -- The need for education
           Languages and cultures are dying "right under our noses" and yet
there has not been a public response.  Perhaps materials could be developed
for K-12 classrooms, and activities could be organized at universities and

        -- The need for funding
           Private and public foundations should be targeted.

I would expect that you would set up a steering committee of some sort with
representatives from various organizations like Terralingua.  Timing has
always been a confusing issue for me with these kinds of things:  When do
you start contacting UNESCO and other large organizations?  When you
already have everyting lined up, with formal proposals and tentative dates
etc.?  Or do you try to include them in the organizatinal process from the

How do you collect the snippets of lost languages and with their "biographies?"

Please let me know how/if I can help out, keeping in mind my absolute lack
of expertise.  (For example, I am not using the megabyte alotted me for a
web page.  I could throw together a graphically unsophisticated web page
with appropriate links)

At some point, of course, this sort of nitty gritty stuff will have to move
off the Endangered Languages listserve.    I'm just afraid that the purpose
of the listserve would be crowded out by what is essentially an online
committee meeting.  Of course, with the moderator's approval, it would be
useful to make a series of announcements.

>David, your idea about a Lost Language Day is so powerful, that it gave me
>goosebumps! Others on this list have expressed their support for it, but I
>think we should not just support it, we should try to think of how to
>implement it! Can you imagine managing to have such a day in which people
>throughout the world would do what you suggested?! It may sound
>unrealistic, but all such initiatives started with just someone somewhere
>having a great idea. Now let me throw out a few thoughts for consideration.
>First of all, how about alerting all organizations/programs/committees we
>know of working on endangered lgs as to this idea (assuming they haven't
>all read about it on the list), and getting their feedback?
>Secondly, knowing that UNESCO specifically supports such work being done by
>the International Committee of Linguists, wouldn't it be worth trying to
>propose this idea to UNESCO for sponsorship? International organizations
>have "Years of this" and "Days of that" all the time, and indigenous
>peoples/lgs have definitely caught their attention. The appropriate
>contacts could probably be found through the ICL.
>Otherwise, if the consensus should be that it'd better be a total
>grassroots initiative, then the various organizations/programs/etc. could
>take up creating a network to spread the idea and announce the day as
>broadly as possible, with instructions on what do do, and trying to make
>sure that enough people in as many places as possible actually do it. I
>myself and the other people getting a copy of this message are on the
>Organizing Committee of Terralingua: Partnerships for Linguistic and
>Biological Diversity, whose announcement you may have seen on the list. I
>think I can speak for all of us if I say that we would be very interested
>in working with you and others on such a project. I'm sending this message
>to you rather than to the whole list because I thought I should get your
>own feedback first. Let me know what you think. [TL pals, please do so
>too!] If you wish, do feel free to post this message and your response on
>the list. Looking forward to hearing from you. Best,
>Luisa Maffi
>Postdoctoral Researcher
>Inaugural President, Terralingua
>Institute of Cognitive Studies
>608 Barrows Hall
>University of California
>Berkeley, CA 94720

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