Endangered Languages in Museum

Heiko F. Marten daffke at ZEDAT.FU-BERLIN.DE
Sat Aug 31 10:39:20 UTC 2013

Dear endangered languages community,

just a short comment on the debate re the “language death” metaphor in the context of the posting by Lena and her exhibition:

The coffin might maybe not be the best choice for raising awareness for the continuing endangerment of many languages in this world, in particular in a children’s museum.

Yet, what I am missing very much in this discussion is the support and encouragement of Lena and her idea to draw attention towards language issues in general and endangered languages in particular.
Let’s not forget, dear colleagues, that for the overwhelming majority of people (in Germany or elsewhere), languages, linguistics and questions of language endangerment are a rather exotic topic. Even many well-educated people are not aware of the fact that, in spite of revitalisation efforts around the globe, many languages in this world are spoken less and less by fewer and fewer people every day. Even further, many people would are not even aware that there are good reasons for trying to reverse these processes.

In this sense, the discussion whether “language death” is actually a useful metaphor or not doesn’t seem to meet the purpose – it is, quite contrary, an academic discussion seemingly far beyond Lena Terhart’s target audience.

I would like to thank Lena for raising awareness towards linguistics in general, and language endangerment, language death, reversal of language shift, language revitalization or whatever you prefer to call it in particular, among children, their parents and other members of the general public, for many of whom this is probably a topic about which they hardly ever think at all. I wish you many constructive comments by the academic community which may really help you to develop an interesting exhibition, and hopefully many interested visitors! Good luck!

Best wishes to all,

Heiko F. Marten

Dr. Heiko F. Marten
Tallinn University
Dept. of German
Narva mnt 25-29
EST-10120 Tallinn
heiko.marten at tlu.ee

From: Julia Sallabank 
Sent: Saturday, August 31, 2013 1:09 PM
Subject: Re: Endangered Languages in Museum

I agree that the coffin is gruesome, pessimistic and unconstructive.  

How about something about ways in which children themselves are helping to maintain and revitalise languages? e.g.  language nests, language clubs, songs, dance/s, crafts, storytelling, drama, the Manx-language football team at the Bunscoill Ghaelgagh? The TWF childcare initiative in Wales? 

Best wishes


Dr. Julia Sallabank
Senior Lecturer in Language Support and Revitalisation, 
Endangered Languages Academic Programme, 
Department of Linguistics,
School of Oriental and African Studies, 
Thornhaugh Street 
London WC1H 0XG

Tel. +44 (0)20 7898 4326 (I can access voicemail)
E-mail  js72 at soas.ac.uk

On 31 August 2013 10:18, Anne Dykstra <dykstraanne at gmail.com> wrote:

  Hi there,

  There is a monument to dead languages at Vilnius University. Maybe you could use that for your museum?



  Verstuurd vanaf mijn iPad

  Op 31 aug. 2013 om 10:36 heeft "King, Dr Alexander D." <a.king at ABDN.AC.UK> het volgende geschreven:

  > I find the coffin metaphor repulsive and offensive. I know that many of my Koryak friends share that opinion because I have been talking to them a lot about "language death" metaphors  versus shift and other terms. I know other Koryaks, though, would agree that the language is "dying", but those people tend to be purists, whose attitude does nothing to help revitalization efforts.
  > Now is the time for those people in control of the terms of discourse, such as this exhibition curator, to work harder to come up with more imaginative metaphors to create a wider and more sophisticated public discussion about language shift, revitalization and indigenous peoples.
  > Just getting the word out to ignorant elites in western Europe is not food enough. It is bad politics.
  > Sincerely,
  > Alex King
  > (just back from Kamchatka, Russia)
  > Sent from my iPhone
  > On Aug 30, 2013, at 18:17, "Margaret Ann Noodin" <noodin at UWM.EDU> wrote:
  >> Ah!  What a relief to hear others find the coffin scary.  I can see the power of the metaphor but if this display is for children at your museum I hope coffins are not familiar to them (as they might be for some children in the world right now).
  >> Have you considered the metaphor of the children themselves?  Or of something comforting?  Maybe a rocking chair with words painted all over it?  Or a swing with words entwined in the ropes that hold it up?  Or a rocket ship to the stars built of panels with different phrases from earth?
  >> For any of those I would be happy to contribute something in Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe).
  >> Here is a poem of mine which is also a song. Feel free to use words, lines or the entire poem. Let me know if you would like an MP3 of the audio.
  >> No matter what you do - keep us posted and thanks for sharing a concern for languages with the public!
  >> Waawaatese by Margaret Noodin
  >> Aanii ezhi pagozi dibikgiizis? / How does moonlight taste?
  >> Aanii ezhi noodin pagwad / How much does the wind weigh?
  >> Aanii ezhi ezhichigeyaamba / What do I need to do
  >> Ji-nsostaawaag waawaateseg / to understand the fireflies?
  >> Jiimaanan ina n'ga pagadanan giizhigong / Throw kisses or canoes to heaven?
  >> Maage mikzhaweyaanh gdo'wiikweodenong / Or row to a heart's shore?
  >> N'wii bodewaadiz gonemaa / Perhaps I will set myself alight
  >> Miidash tonaanan shkodensan shpemsigong / then place the flames in the sky
  >> Anongziibike minajiwong dibikong / making a river flowing through night
  >> Miidash wii baashkaazoying dibishko / where explosions echo
  >> Zaagigaabaag ziigwaning. / the bursting leaves of Spring.
  >> ----- Original Message -----
  >> From: "Peter Austin" <pa2 at SOAS.AC.UK>
  >> Sent: Thursday, August 29, 2013 11:56:21 PM
  >> Subject: Re: Endangered Languages in Museum
  >> Will there be a day when this death and dying metaphor can be put to rest? A coffin? My goodness, can't we be a little bit more creative? And a little bit more sensitive?
  >> How about sharing some lessons from communities working to revitalise their languages? There are lots of games, apps and other fun interactive things for kids to do that are freely available on the internet now. Put a nice package of them together and sensitise the kids to how languages are threatened but communities are responding to strengthen their languages. You could start by looking at www.firstvoices.com and moving on from there.
  >> That's my 2p worth.
  >> Peter Austin
  >> On Friday, 30 August 2013, Lena Terhart < lena.terhart at gmx.de > wrote:
  >>> Dear Colleagues,
  >>> the UNIKATUM children's museum in Leipzig, Germany, is preparing an exhibition on language ( http://www.kindermuseum-unikatum.de/papperlapapp.html in German). I thought it would be nice to present language endangerment as part of the exhibition and together with the responsible people of the museum, we are now thinking about one exhibit, probably a coffin that shall be filled with words that may die out.
  >>> In order to present a big variety of endangered languages, I would like to ask you to contribute with
  >>> - a list of max. 5 words in the endangered language (basic vocabulary, something that may be interesting for children, e.g. animals, plants, natural phenomena, or maybe also simple verbs)
  >>> - in the orthographic convention you use
  >>> - together with a translation
  >>> - and some basic info about the geographic location and number and age of speakers or alternatively a link to your website where I can find the information
  >>> Additionally, photographs of the speakers and/or environment could be very nice, and ideally also recordings of the words (MP3), but that is not a requisite - I know that the search for individual words and cutting process may be too time-consuming.
  >>> The mounting of the exhibition will start on the 16th of september already so that I need the word lists until the 13th latest.
  >>> Thanks!
  >>> Lena
  >> --
  >> Prof Peter K. Austin
  >> Marit Rausing Chair in Field Linguistics
  >> Director, Endangered Languages Academic Programme
  >> Research Tutor and PhD Convenor
  >> Department of Linguistics, SOAS
  >> Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square
  >> London WC1H 0XG
  >> United Kingdom
  >> web: http://www.hrelp.org/aboutus/staff/index.php?cd=pa
  > The University of Aberdeen is a charity registered in Scotland, No SC013683.

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