Endangered Languages Project

Jacqueline Arrol-Barker info at eldp.soas.ac.uk
Fri Jul 26 11:08:18 UTC 2002

Press Release

To help explore and record linguistic diversity across the globe, a British
foundation has provided £20,000,000 over ten years to create an
international scholarly program to study endangered languages.

The scale of the funding is commensurate with the urgent--and
enormous--threat to the world's linguistic diversity. Many of the languages
that will be studied are linguistic isolates. All are very nearly extinct.
They have never been adequately analysed or recorded, and they are typically
spoken only by a few elderly people. These languages--and their
speakers--deserve to be remembered, and to take their place in history. At
the same time, this worldwide project to preserve crucial knowledge about
the world's linguistic heritage will vitally illuminate the history of how
humanity settled the earth.

The Lisbet Rausing Charitable Fund aims to support research in the
humanities and the social sciences. This grant, together with other family
benefactions amounting to many millions of pounds, is intended by the Hans
Rausing family to help British universities maintain the highest standards
of academic scholarship.

When deciding to secure the participation of SOAS in this program--a process
that took many months of consultation--the Fund's trustees expressed the
greatest confidence in the achievements and potential of the School, and in
enthusiasm and dedication of its scholars and leaders. The trustees were
impressed by the fit between their own profound concern at the threat to
knowledge of linguistic and cultural diversity globally, and SOAS's
long-standing and distinguished study of small languages in Africa, Asia,
the Middle East and elsewhere. The Fund's trustees also share with SOAS a
commitment to the highest ethical standards when co-operating with small
language communities-- people who are often marginalized and dispossessed.

Part of the grant will underwrite an academic programme within SOAS,
utilising SOAS's staff and facilities. It will train field-workers and
deepen knowledge of endangered languages through specially designed courses
in field linguistics generally and endangered languages in particular as
well as by co-ordinating scholarly activity, publicity and consultation in
the field.  But the bulk of the fund will be administered by SOAS to provide
grants to scholars throughout the world to document and analyse endangered

Professor Colin Bundy, Director and Principal of SOAS, voiced unqualified
delight at the news of the award.  "SOAS was founded in 1916 as a specialist
institution for the study of languages in Asia, and later in Africa.  We
created the first British linguistics department (in 1932) and our Library
was identified in 1961 as a national resource for the study of Africa and
Asia.  Our history, mission and ethos equip us for this visionary project."
He stressed that in addition to the School's regionally defined departments
concentrating on language and culture its range of disciplinary
departments – such as anthropology, history, linguistics – offered a rich
opportunity for becoming a world leader in the documentation and study of
endangered languages.

SOAS and the Fund together will underwrite the infrastructure to manage this
grants programs. This means that other families, foundations and companies
that would like to donate to this cause, will have the security of knowing
that 100% of their money goes directly to the recording and study of nearly
extinct languages.  The costs of research and documentation to ensure that
full knowledge of a language and its use are preserved will vary, but the
average is about £150,000: we urge all readers of this to give generously to
this profoundly important cause--before those thousands of the world's
languages (well over 50% of the total) that are now highly threatened,
disappear forever. No sum is too small, and all money donated will go
directly, fully, and only to the cause of recording near-extinct
languages--and thus save a unique world heritage.


Direct payments to SOAS can be made direct to the School’s bank at:

National Westminster Bank plc
94 Moorgate
London EC2M 6XT
Sort Code: 56-00-23     Account No: 08622655

All general enquiries should be addressed to Mary O’Shea at SOAS on 07898
4075 or mo2 at soas.ac.uk

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