[NDNAIM] Activists and Scholars Meet at UCSB to Learn How to Save Endangered Languages

rwd0002 at unt.edu rwd0002 at unt.edu
Sat Jul 5 17:31:52 UTC 2008

Hi Paul and all:

I just came back from the first 9 days of the UCSB meet.  The meeting 
was called InField, and it is basically to train people to be better 
fieldworkers for language documentation.  It is an interesting mix of 
language activists (some of which were Native American) and beginning 
and accomplished fieldworkers.  It is obviously clear that activists 
need not be fieldworkers, or vice versa, but everyone was extremely 
friendly and willing to learn from each other.  Several Lakota/Dakota 
speakers were in attendance, including some Siouan List members, and 
one person who studies Mandan.

This first week was very technology oriented.  Teachers were very good. 
  I went there in order to learn some of the ins and outs of SIL's 
Toolbox, and I learned everything I wanted to know.

It makes sense of course that journalists would pick up on the 
newsworthy the "saving endangered languages" issue, but that is, as I 
understood it, not the primary purpose of InField.  In the next week 
they will have three concurrent fieldwork classes with consultants, so 
the language activists who take these will see what fieldwork is all 

Finally, please note that I was just an informal visitor to InField, 
not a full participant, just sharing my informal impression with y'all, 
not representing official InField opinions in any way.

  Quoting voorhis at westman.wave.ca:

> Jimm GoodTracks wrote:
>> *Subject:* Fw: [NDNAIM] Activists and Scholars Meet at UCSB to Learn
>> How to Save Endangered Languages
> < snip >
>> ... to examine successful models of language preservation ...
> < snip >
> I guess I ought to attend the conference to learn the "successful models
> of language preservation," but aside from the obvious success that comes
> from having a million or more speakers in a politically and economically
> independent state, is there any other successful model?  And how do you
> measure success, and how do you know when you've achieved it?  Would the
> Celts have claimed success in preserving their language in 100 BC or the
> Goths in 300 AD?
> But the subject line speaks of "endangered languages."  Success at
> preserving one of those must be measured by restoring the language to
> regular use in a community which has been mostly using some other
> language.  Has that ever happened anywhere?
To comment on Paul's question.  Outside of Israeli Hebrew, the honest 
answer is no. However, there have been individual native speakers of 
English, who by brute force have taught themselves to be fluent in 
languages technically extinct, such as Cornish, Manx, or Karuk. They 
are not numerous enough to form genuine speech communities but they 
form some sort of community in the sense that speakers of Esperanto 
world-wide form some sort of community.

Regardless of how pessimistic or optimistic we personally wanna be 
about such efforts, we all agree, I suppose, that as 
documentary/descriptive linguists (I use both terms together because I 
believe you cannot separate both, but that is another controversial 
issue), we should support individuals and communities involved in such 
efforts, unless requested otherwise.

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