European Science Foundation and Endangered Languages

Over the past two years a group of European researchers including myself, Michael Fortescue (University of Copenhagen, Denmark), Nikolaus Himmelmann (Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany), François Jacquesson (LACITO, CNRS, France), Maarten Mous (Leiden University, Netherlands), and Mauro Tosco (L’Orientale, Naples, Italy) have been working on a European Science Foundation EUROCORES proposal called “BABEL: Better Analyses Based on Endangered Languages”.


The overview in our BABEL project proposal says:

The diversity in the world’s languages is on the verge of becoming dramatically reduced in the decades to come. Partly due to the attention that has been drawn to this problem, the field of linguistics has been moving to take the diversity in languages into account. The dramatic change in the amount and the nature of language data that is being analyzed has proven to have and will continue to have a profound influence on our insights into the human language faculty. A strong research input from the European Science Foundation can solidify this development and strengthen the impact of European research on linguistics as a whole. By conducting the research in close cooperation with researchers in the countries where the most linguistic diversity is found, we can accelerate the process of linguistic description, documentation and analysis of the under-described languages. The proposal is crucially different from existing documentation initiatives in that our emphasis lies on bringing the newly gathered data into the development of linguistic theory. The proposal is for a number of projects to gather primary data on strategically chosen minority languages, to concentrate on analysis of the material and use the results to expand and correct our insight into the structure and nature of human language. Dissemination of the data gained from these projects will be published in monographs, articles in general linguistics journals, papers at general linguistic. Exchange of experience from the projects is carried out in thematic work groups and at intensive training sessions (‘summer’ schools).

We have just heard that the ESF has selected 6 proposals (from the large number submitted) for development as full project applications. Our proposal is the only Humanities project chosen. If our full project proposal is selected for funding there will be money (possibly up to 4 million euros) for 3-4 years for:

      salaries (PhDs, Post-docs, senior scientists, technicians, etc.)
      equipment and consumables
      publications and general dissemination
      access to large infrastructures (e.g.archiving)
      participation in conferences and other travel
      networking (workshops, conferences, summer schools etc.)

Over the next 6 weeks we will be working on the full project application, including giving a presentation to the ESF in Brussels in November. Hopefully, our full application will be selected for funding, and we will see in 2008 a major new European collaboration initiative on endangered languages.
We will be approaching various groups for expressions of support for the project – if anyone is interested in further details, or in writing a letter of support, please contact me by email (via SOAS directory).

3 thoughts on “European Science Foundation and Endangered Languages”

  1. Congratulations Peter et al!
    I’m really curious about the phrase strategically chosen minority languages. Have you already chosen the languages, and how?
    Best of luck with the full project application.

  2. Congratulations! Sounds like an excellent project well worth the funding.
    I too am curious about “strategically chosen minority languages”. What sort of theoretical issues are the choices based on? Are these specific to one particular subfield, e.g. syntax? Are languages chosen because they exhibit interesting phonological features, or rare morphological behavior, or the like? Because they are key languages in historical debates? Or because they are theoretically interesting for a number of different reasons?
    The idea of selecting languages according to theoretical interest is a new one, and an interesting idea.

  3. Good luck with this impressive and important application, Peter. I really must pop next door to SOAS and have that glass of vino you suggested soon!

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