Lost Language Day

Luisa Maffi maffi at cogsci.berkeley.edu
Tue May 21 08:10:09 UTC 1996

To everyone on this list:

I am extremely pleased to see so much support for David Cheezem's wonderful
Lost Language Day idea. David has sent his suggestions on how to implement
it, and I would like to follow up on that, also addressing some of the
questions that have been raised. First of all, though, since we may be
embarking on a complex multilateral effort, I think it is crucial to
establish some ground rules. And, in my mind, Ground Rule #1 is the
following: "At no time and under no circumstance should it be forgotten or
neglected that the Lost Language Day was David Cheezem's original idea." In
a message to me, David says "he would like to be involved if we have a use
for him". Now this is what I call remarkable humility. We all owe a lot to
David for his idea, and can certainly "use" more of his thinking! But most
of all, it must always be openly stated and acknowledged that it was *his*
idea. I'm sure I'm preaching to the converted--it would be ironic if we
were all so concerned with indigenous linguistic and other rights, and at
the same time unwilling to hold up individual intellectual property rights!
Still, I think this basic principle needs to be stated at the outset.

This said, it seems clear that, as David has suggested, we need both an
international steering committee and local "nodes". Presumably, the first
step is making sure we reach all the main organizations we know of around
the world that are involved in endangered languages issues. We have already
heard from the German Committee on Endangered Languages (Dr. Sasse) and the
British Foundation for Endangered Languages (Dr. Ostler), as well as from
Terralingua, the fledgling international organization (based in the U.S.)
of which yours truly is the inaugural president. It is important that we
hear from the Linguistic Society of America's Committee on Endangered
Languages (Dr. Yamamoto); the Tokio Clearinghouse (contact??); the
International Committee of Linguists (contact I know is Dr. Sterkenburg in
Leiden, The Netherlands [Drs. Ostler and Sasse, everybody else: is any of
you on ICL or in contact with that group? As I understand it, ICL has
UNESCO sponsorship, although not funding, and that connection should become
crucial once we get going. Any info on this will be essential.]; and any
other group we collectively are aware of.

Members of this list could start out by providing names of organizations
and contacts and state who they will take responsibility to inform.
Perhaps, to facilitate this, we could come up with a short "call for
interest", that would include David's Lost Language Day idea and "You will
never read [hear] these words again" statement, along with some initial
suggestions about forming a steering committee. Volunteers for this? Or
would you, David, like to prepare a draft?

Once we have enough support to form the committee, perhaps the next step
should be making sure we have the local links too, which obviously must
include individuals (be it linguists or community members) knowledgeable of
a sufficient number of more or less recently lost languages from different
parts of the world, who could translate the statement as well as act as
liaisons for local activities. At this stage, if all goes well (and it's
going to be a lot of work, but we shouldn't get discouraged!), we would
have enough materials to start contacting international organizations for
support. Note that up to this point we could do with volunteer work, but
not beyond it. We will need money to produce printed materials and organize
activities; but we will need to have done the groundwork first for
international organizations to listen to us at all. In other words, we need
to be able to show that we have the momentum and the *intellectual*
instruments to do what we say we want to do--then they may consider giving
us the *financial* instruments to do it.

I guess I'll stop here for now, and let the ball roll. I hope to hear from
as many of you as possible on these initial steps.

Luisa Maffi
Inaugural President
Terralingua: Partnerships
for Linguistic and Biological Diversity

Institute of Cognitive Studies
608 Barrows Hall
University of California
Berkeley, CA 94720
Phone: (510) 643-1728
Fax: (510) 643-5688
E-mail: maffi at cogsci.berkeley.edu

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