Call for Abstracts: FEL XI - Working Together for Endangered Languages: Kuala Lumpur, Oct 2007

Nicholas Ostler nostler at
Wed Apr 18 14:44:18 UTC 2007

The Eleventh Conference of the Foundation for Endangered Languages: 
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

*Working Together for Endangered Languages: Research Challenges and 
Social Impacts*

**University of Malaya
Kuala Lumpur

Dates: 26-28 October 2007

Call for Abstracts:** FEL XI*

* *Globalisation has an impact on societies on various levels. One of 
its implications is the further endangerment of languages, especially 
those of minority communities. The looming threat of language loss and 
death is due to the hegemony of more dominant languages in 
sociopolitical and economic domains. Linguists therefore have an 
important role in documenting, projecting, and providing information on, 
languages which face extinction.

        Linguists undertaking such research must tread carefully in any 
community which faces language endangerment. The researcher by his or 
her very presence can disturb the established social relations, the 
socio-economic organisation, and the power relations within a community, 
bringing in more globalisation, and more awareness of and exchange with 
the outside world. Researchers must be made aware of the impact of their 

Communities facing language endangerment may not be cooperative towards 
outsiders and may view them with suspicion. In some communities breaking 
such barriers requires tact, effort, and strategic planning. Members of 
the community facing endangerment should be perceived and treated by the 
researchers as experts in their heritage language. Such a view 
inevitably reduces the power inequality between researchers and members 
of the endangered language and eases collaboration. Cooperation and 
collaboration may be impeded if the linguist sees him/herself or is seen 
as someone who is more authoritative and linguistically more ‘correct’ 
than members of the community facing endangerment. Such a perception may 
result in the infamous observer’s paradox where subjects become less 
natural in the presence of the researcher.

When researchers do not take members of the studied communities 
seriously, collaborative work is impeded as the input provided may be 
distorted due to the researchers’ belief that they are the language 
experts. Linguists must be objective and this can be a challenge as 
prior knowledge may interfere in their objectivity. Lack of trust and 
collaboration may result in information not being provided. One way of 
combating the failure to share information is to ensure that researchers 
are aware that different members of the community facing language shift 
are responsible for different kinds of information.

If communities are informed of the dangers of losing their languages, 
they may be inclined to collaborate with the linguists to provide 
information of the language they speak as on them is entrusted the onus 
of transmitting their heritage to family members. Promoting the 
popularity of an endangered language in domains such as the workplace, 
at home and at school may prove to be difficult, as endangered languages 
face many obstacles namely from the economic functionalities of more 
dominant languages and the attitudes of younger speakers. At worst, 
linguists could be seen as counter-productive by the very community 
whose language they want to save, because the shift away from an 
endangered language is at times motivated by upward economic and social 

        The task of the linguist in this is by no means simple. To 
penetrate and immerse oneself in an ethnolinguistic speech community 
whose language may be on the verge of death provides the linguist many 
challenges on the social and relationship levels. While the linguist is 
required to collect data as a researcher, s/he must also form a 
relationship with the members of the community so as to collaborate with 
them in efforts to promote and preserve the language, in ensuring its 
revival, in establishing devices and procedures to stop endangerment 
etc. Given that the endangerment of languages can be handled sensitively 
through collaboration between researchers and members of a community 
facing language extinction, this Conference will address the research 
challenges and social impacts of such collaborations. Amongst the 
questions raised in this Conference are: 

·        What can researchers do to ensure collaboration with members of 
the language community? What should the researcher do to find a way into 
the community through proper and accepted channels? What benefits can a 
language community expect from such collaboration?

·        What are the boundaries that the researcher should not cross in 
order to protect the rights and privacy of the subjects and to safeguard 
collaborative ties between community and researcher? What are the limits 
of researchers’ duties to the language community, and vice versa?

·        What is ‘best practice’ for researchers in order to be accepted 
and trusted as in-group members of the community? Does this require the 
linguist to reduce his/her role as an expert, in order to build trust 
and collaboration with the community? Can cultural immersion act as a 
collaborative means in data collection, creating the notion that the 
researcher is part of the community’s in-group? Are there any advantages 
in maintaining distance between researcher and community?

·        What options do researchers have if they encounter 
non-collaborative behaviour from their target subjects?

·        Can support for maintenance of an endangered language actually 
be socially counter-productive, when the shift away from an endangered 
language is seen as progress in economic and social mobility? In such 
conditions, can the community be made aware of the importance of 
language maintenance? How can the researcher convince the community of 
the negative impact of language loss on their culture and history and, 
conversely, of the benefits of recovery, preservation, promotion?

·        How can language documentation work, and its fruits, be 
integrated into community activities and community development? In what 
other ways can linguistic research benefit language maintenance and 

·        How can the researcher guard against personally causing damage 
to existing social and political structures? In particular, how can the 
researcher avoid disturbing established social relations and 
organization by seemingly conferring favours on specific members of the 

·        How can the researcher ensure that s/he is not unwittingly the 
agent of globalisation within the community and thereby the cause of 
further socio-economic and cultural disruption?

*Abstracts should make reference to actual language situations , and 
ideally should draw on personal experience. The aim of the conference is 
to pool experience, to discuss and to learn from it, not to theorize in 
the abstract about inter-cultural relations.*


*Abstract and Paper Submission Protocols*

In order to present a paper at the Conference, writers must submit in 
advance an abstract of not more than 500 words before 15 May 2007. After 
this deadline, abstracts will not be accepted. Abstracts submitted, 
which should be in English, must include the following details:


·        Title of the paper

·        Name of the author(s), organisation to which he/she belongs to

·        Postal address of the first author

·        Telephone number (and fax number if any)

·        Email address(es)

·        Abstract text (not more than 500 words)


The abstracts should be sent via e-mail to waninda2001 at and  
fel at <mailto:nostler at> with the 
subject of the e-mail stating: “FEL Abstract: <last name of author(s)>: 
<title of paper>”  Abstracts will acknowledged on receipt.

The name of the first author will be used in all correspondence. Writers 
will be informed once their abstracts have been accepted and they will 
be required to submit their full papers for publication in the 
proceedings before 1 September 2007 together with their registration 
fee. Failure to do so will result in the disqualification of the writers 
to present their papers. Once accepted, full papers can be submitted in 
English or Malay. Each standard presentation at the Conference will last 
twenty minutes, with a further ten minutes for discussion and questions 
and answers. Plenary lectures will last forty-five minutes each; these 
are awarded by invitation only.

*Important Dates*

·        Abstract arrival deadlines – 15 May 2007

·        Committee's decision: 15 June 2007

·        In case of acceptance, the full paper should be sent by 1 
September 2007. (Further details on the format of text will be specified 
to the authors)

·        Conference dates: 26-28 October 2007

 The site for the 2007 conference of the Foundation of Endangered 
Languages, hosted jointly this year with SKET, University of Malaya, 
will be Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

 University of Malaya is the oldest university in Malaysia, and SKET, 
i.e. the Section for Co-Curricular Activities, Elective Courses by Other 
Faculties and TITAS, is responsible for the teaching of 80 co-curricular 
courses, and the compulsory course “Ethnic Relations.” (For more 
information, visit <>).

The Foundation for Endangered Languages is a non-profit organization, 
registered as Charity 1070616 in England and Wales, founded in 1996. It 
exists to support, enable and assist the documentation, protection and 
promotion of endangered languages. It awards small grants (of the order 
of US$ 1,000) for all kinds of projects that fall within this remit, and 
also publishes a newsletter, OGMIOS. It hosts an annual conference, with 
Proceedings that are available as published volumes. (For more 
information, visit <>).

 Kuala Lumpur is the capital and the largest city of Malaysia. It is an 
enclave within the state of Selangor, on the central west coast of 
Peninsular Malaysia. Amongst some of the famous landmarks that the city 
houses are the Petronas Twin Towers, Menara Kuala Lumpur, Tugu Negara, 
the National Palace and most recently, the ‘Eye of Malaysia’ Ferris 
wheel. Kuala Lumpur enjoys a year-round equatorial climate which is warm 
and sunny. Rainfall is especially plentiful, during the southwest 
monsoon from April to September.

Nicholas Ostler 

Chairman, Foundation for Endangered Languages
Registered Charity: England and Wales 1070616
172 Bailbrook Lane, Bath, BA1 7AA, England
nostler at

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