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Foundation for Endangered Languages

Conference themes

FEL XXVII (2023)

Rabat, Morocco, 23-25 November 2023

Theme of the conference


Theme: Endangered Languages and Cultural Diversity

Language loss, it is now understood, is a loss for all humankind. As language is both a vehicle of culture and an integral part of culture, the extinction of a language very often means the extinction of a culture, and the extinction of one culture severely impacts all other cultures. Language loss seriously affects cultural diversity and therefore threatens the future and viability of Mankind.

Recent research and study of endangered languages have increased global awareness of the extent and rate of the problem, drawing attention to the growing number of disappearing languages and the speed at which they disappear, but they have also uncovered the serious consequences that extinction of languages may have on the future of humankind.

The loss of cultural practices and traditions, as well as ancestral or indigenous knowledge, experience and worldview, impacts not only specific linguistic communities but also affects all the human community. Just like the disappearance of one animal species (such as the bee) can threaten the entire balance, or even all life, on the planet, the extinction of one single language diminishes our planet’s cultural diversity and therefore reduces the survival chances of mankind.

The threat to one language can signify danger to many others, and language extinction may entail the disappearance of significant amounts of cultural knowledge of vital importance for the human species. Socio-economic pressures, and political disorder can, and often do, provoke dramatic changes with often terrible consequences for linguistic and cultural diversity. Communities everywhere are faced with the challenge of embracing progress and development while fighting to preserve their traditions, cultural practices and languages. As human culture is created and nurtured by particular communities before it spreads to and is adopted by others when a community disappears, its culture and knowledge die with it, and it does not benefit other communities.

This conference aims to bring a multidisciplinary light on endangered languages and the impact of language extinction on linguistic and cultural diversity. It will encourage study of indigenous and minority languages and cultures and their role in enhancing our general knowledge of the animal, vegetal and mineral world, as well as the links and harmony between the cultural and the natural world.

Topics to be examined and questions that may be asked include, but are not limited to:

  • Endangered languages as vehicles of ancestral knowledge and repositories of the common human cultural heritage (examples include current biological, cosmological, agricultural, animal behaviour, cultural histories, and medical knowledge including traditional pharmacopeia from specific communities;
    • how these have been passed on to the outside world and
    • how the risk of extinction of some languages threatens cultural diversity and potentially deprives mankind of ancestral knowledge)
  • The contribution of endangered languages to world knowledge (examples include knowledge which historically or currently, has proved beneficial, helped save lives, offered new wisdom, presented alternative behaviour)
  • New threats to cultural diversity (includes deliberate political measures targeting specific languages, the spread of more dominant languages through political alignment, identity (re)definition, technological factors)
  • The effect(s) of the increasing loss of linguistic and cultural diversity in the world (new threats to cultural diversity increase the threat to language or languages - including political and ideological measures)
  • Defending cultural diversity (communities’ initiatives, language revitalisation with wider impact, increased awareness).

The focus of the conference will be on the relationship between language endangerment/extinction and the threat to cultural diversity. While it has a universal scope, it aims to also encourage scholarship and accounts of community initiatives from the African continent as well as those relating to African situations.

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