The 2013 FEL Conference (The Seventeenth Conference of the Foundation for Endangered Languages) will be held at Carleton University, in Ottawa, the capital of Canada and headquarters of the country’s national Aboriginal organizations. The many endangered Indigenous languages across Canada make it an excellent setting for a conference that will explore collaboration, community involvement, and cross-disciplinary research on endangered languages. The conference will highlight community connections, collaborative approaches, intergenerational cooperation, technological and social media related innovations, and community-researcher alliances. We seek to bring together speakers, activists, and researchers, from a range of disciplines, organizations, and governments, all striving to understand and improve the situation of endangered languages, and to broaden awareness of the importance and implications of language maintenance and revitalization for individual and community well-being overall.
Efforts world-wide to preserve, maintain, and revitalize endangered languages often encounter limited resources and funding. This points to the need for collaborative approaches and for the pooling of resources, whether on a local, national, or international scale. Such cooperative ventures extend beyond the constraints of boundaries, whether these involve linguistic or ethnic identities; geography; jurisdictions; community size, type and location (urban, rural, isolated); political or social considerations; language status (official or unofficial, dominant or minority); familial and generational ties; academic disciplines; or institutional or group affiliations.
Such barriers, and the challenges they may pose, can raise significant issues for collaborative and community-centred approaches aimed at strengthening endangered languages. For example:
Where there are multiple dialects, should language support efforts be prioritized or focused on the more viable varieties of a particular endangered language or language group? Do endangered languages and their variants need a critical mass? Should efforts to support them lead to their coalescence despite these boundaries? On what basis should these decisions be made?
What challenges (and compromises) are involved in decision-making related to language standardization? Should there be an effort to standardize across the dialects to establish one definitive version of a writing system?
What collaborative approaches, such as the sharing of existing language resources, curriculum development, knowledge transfer, training and best practices, can best aid communities with critically endangered languages or dialects (e.g. providing opportunities to individuals to learn a dialect even if it is not their own)?
What types and models of collaborative research and communication can help communities to ensure that their language perspectives and goals are integrated? For example, strictly linguistic classifications of a community’s language may differ from those based on social considerations and political boundaries.
To what extent can existing standardized frameworks of language assessment, such as UNESCO’s Language Vitality Endangerment (LVE) Framework and Fishman’s Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale (GIDS), help to yield comparable data? How can community-defined factors and aspects of a given community unique to it be integrated into these frameworks?
How can surveys and data be used to develop measures and indicators in the assessment of language vitality?
In contrast to isolated communities, the situation can be exacerbated in urban environments by the prevalence of the dominant language. How can urban language revitalization efforts be enhanced? How can people play a major role in the mainstream culture without sacrificing their endangered language and culture?
How can people in the dominant culture and their governments be made aware of and sensitive to the issues of endangered languages?
How can endangered language practitioners take advantage of technology to increase awareness among the mainstream about endangered languages? How can technology be used to teach and increase the use of endangered languages?
How can generations support each other in strengthening their endangered languages? How can Elders, adults, and youth work together to develop terminology in new domains, such as technology and social media, that existing vocabulary may not cover
What is the importance of language learning and revitalization for individual and community well-being, health and educational outcomes?