Endangered Languages Outreach

Well, Endangered Languages Week 2008 has drawn to a close, and apart from feeling knackered after a week of full-on EL activities, we at SOAS reckon it all went pretty well. We had a lot of fun, especially during the kick-off debate about What is your language footprint? when the “for team” of David Nathan, Chaithra Puttaswamy and Juliette Rutherford were soundly defeated by the “against team” of Peter Austin, Julia Sallabank and Peter Sutton. Superior debating skills combined with some bad jokes won the day. Another highlight of the week was the UK Premiere of the film “The Linguists” which was attended by over 90 people, many of whom got to meet in person K. David Harrison, one of the dynamic duo who star in the film.
Our main goal for EL Week 2008 was showing what we are doing in EL research, teaching, and archiving at the Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project and communicating with as wide an audience as possible. We feel we achieved that, both in the real and virtual interactions we had with visitors, most of whom have never come to Project activities before. Some students even travelled from Paris to attend the workshops and films. We also made contact with the Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies which is a publicly funded service, providing UK-wide support and services for higher education in these three areas. They featured EL Week 2008 on their website and mailed out a special e-bulletin about our activities to their 3,000 subscribers – as a consequence, a number of teachers came to SOAS during the week, and we now have great opportunities for future collaboration.
So, here are some statistics about the week (all numbers are approximate):

Event

Attendees
The
Linguists
film
 
90
Meet an
Endangered Language
sessions
80
Open
Day
85
Film
Day
65
Workshops on Engagement
and Activism
and GIS
for Linguists
60
Two seminars
on moral and ethical issues in linguistic fieldwork
40
Debate on What
is your language footprint?
25
Total 445

We also had over 150,000 hits on our website during April, the highest monthly total ever, due to the public interest in endangered languages that a focus like EL Week 2008 provides.
This year we experimented with some alternative avenues for publicising our work. One of these was collaboration with SOAS Open Air Radio to record and publish a series of podcasts on EL topics (one of our MA students, Cathy Edwards, works as a volunteer for the station). The second was a Facebook events page [login required] which aroused quite a bit of interest. Our “innovation” in these areas was even noticed by SOAS management and is being talked about as a potential “model” for outreach that other Departments could explore.
Putting on a packed six day programme like EL Week 2008 required a lot of teamwork, energy and commitment from staff and students at SOAS (as well as from our international visitors, all of whom were fabulous). But I believe it also had an important function of reinvigorating our own engagement with endangered languages work and our desire to tell as many people as possible about what we are doing.
Endangered Languages Week is now be a regular event at SOAS, so we look forward to readers joining us in London for the next one in April 2009.

1 thought on “Endangered Languages Outreach”

  1. Congratulations on what sounds like a fantastic week!
    I’d love to hear more about the ‘Language Footprint’ debate: how the arguments ran etc.
    Cheers.

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