Conference: Working Together for Endangered Languages

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Fri May 18 14:32:53 UTC 2007

 Working Together for Endangered Languages Short Title: FEL XI

Date: 26-Oct-2007 - 28-Oct-2007
Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Contact Person: Maya David
Meeting Email:
Web Site:

Call Deadline: 31-May-2007

Meeting Description

The Eleventh Conference of the Foundation for Endangered Languages, in
collaboration with University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia:  Working
Together for Endangered Languages: Research Challenges and Social Impacts,
26-28 October 2007 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 presence.

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 mobility.

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 revitalization?

- 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 community?

- 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 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 deadline - 31 May 2007 (extended from 15 May)

- Committee's decision: 25 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

- 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 is
responsible for 80 co-curricular courses, including ''Ethnic Relations.''

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. (

Kuala Lumpur is the capital of Malaysia, in an enclave within the state of
Selangor. Besides the Malay peninsula Malaysia includes the Sarawak and
Sabah regions of Borneo. It has 140 indigenous languages. The indigenous
people of Malaya, the orang asli, numbered 105,000 in 1997, 0.5 per cent
of the nation's population. By contrast in 1990 there were 900,000
indigenous people in Sabah, and 1.7 million in Sarawak. As the country's
largest city, K.L. hosts spectacular modern buildings, notably the
Petronas Twin Towers, and most recently, the 'Eye of Malaysia' Ferris
wheel. K.L.'s best-preserved colonial buildings are mostly in Merdeka
Square, and its Chinatown is also famous.  The Batu Caves, 272 steps below
ground, house the Hindu Lord Muruga. K.L.'s climate is equatorial: warm,
sunny and often wet, year-round.


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