SOAS University of London

SOAS’ Endangered Languages Documentation Programme receives a further $11 million from Arcadia

27 April 2015

The Endangered Languages Documentation Programme at SOAS, University of London, has been awarded a new grant of $11 million (just over £7.25m) by Arcadia Fund. The grant is a renewal of the original £20 million donation Arcadia gave to SOAS in 2002, which resulted in the inception of the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme (ELDP).

The ELDP provides funding in annual grant rounds to enable scholars to undertake vital documentation of disappearing languages. To date the programme has funded over 350 documentation projects globally. ELDP also trains grantees and local scholars in modern language documentation methods consequently building capacity in the next generation of scholars active in the preservation of linguistic diversity. The documentary materials resulting from ELDP grants are preserved and made available online and openly accessible in the Endangered Language Archive (ELAR) housed at the SOAS library.

Endangered Languages
Researchers Gwendolyn Hyslop and Karma Tshering recording Mr. Kuenga, one of the four semi speakers of Olekha in Rukha village in Bhutan. Photo taken by Karma Tshering 2010

Dr Mandana Seyfeddinipur, Director of the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme, explained: “Nearly half of the 7,000 worlds’ languages spoken today will have fallen silent by the end of this century due to globalisation and urbanisation. Many of these languages have never been recorded before and the world is losing its linguistic diversity and the knowledge encoded in these languages without a trace.

“Through our programme, we preserve these endangered languages and make them available openly accessible online to everybody. Speakers, researchers and the public can watch or listen to such recordings which are made available through SOAS’ online open access Endangered Languages Archive.”

Among important achievements of ELDP is the recording of the last speaker of Bo, a Great Adamanese language from the Great Andamanese Islands in the Indian Ocean. With the death of the last speaker in 2010 the language which was estimated to be 70,000 years old has now fallen silent. With the support of an ELDP grant, the Indian linguist Anvita Abbi conducted the Vanishing Voices of the Great Andamanese documentation project. She was able to document the Bo language and to make the probably only and very last recordings of Boa Sr. This unique collection is available online at the Endangered Languages Archive.

Peter Baldwin and Lisbeth Rausing said: "Arcadia's original grant of £20m has documented more than 350 endangered languages from across the world, making them freely available to all in an online, open access archive. It has also transformed the discipline of linguistics by enabling more field work. We are delighted to continue to support the programme we started at SOAS in 2002."

SOAS Director Professor Paul Webley said: “Arcadia’s long-standing support for endangered language research, documentation and preservation here at SOAS shows its continued trust in our expertise and demonstrates our commitment to languages and linguistic diversity across the world. We would like to thank them for their continued generosity and support.”