Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports,
Science, and Technology
"Endangered Languages of the Pacific Rim"
Opening Address at the Second International Conference
(November 30, 2001)
I would like now to open this Second International Conference and Fourth General Meeting of the Scientific Research on Priority Areas (A) project,"Urgent Investigation and Research on the Endangered Languages of the Pacific Rim."
First of all, I would like to express our deepest gratitude and warm welcome to participants from overseas, who have traveled to this conference from all over the world despite the unhappy events of September and the continuing uncertain situation.
We have been able to receive support for this conference from the Linguistic Society of Japan, the Boards of Education of Kyoto Prefecture and Kyoto' City, and the National Federation of UNESCO Associations in Japan. This support is most welcome inasmuch as they are lending us their great strength to propagate general interest in endangered languages. We are very appreciative indeed- Today we are scheduled to hear later from Professor Hinako Sakamoto, the chair of the Subcommittee for Endangered Languages of the Linguistic Society of Japan, and, at the end of the day, from Professor Noboru Noguchi, director-general of the National Federation of UNESCO Associations in Japan.
This Scientific Research on Priority Areas project is now in its second year. Thanks to the cooperation of our participants, we are achieving steady progress. I am pleased to report that some results have already been published and further results are scheduled for publication.
Be that as it may, the fact is that compared with the problems of destruction of the natural environment and shrinking of biological diversity, general interest in endangered languages remains at an extremely low level in Japan. I see that today there are media representatives attending this conference, including representatives from NHK and national newspapers. I ask these people not to have just a superficial interest in the problem but to accurately report on the essence and significance of the issue. And regarding media coverage, we have received strong guidance from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology to state clearly that this project on endangered languages is being conducted with grant-in-aid for Scientific Research on Priority Areas. In view of the substantial budget for this project, we have an obligation toward taxpayers in this respect, so I ask for your cooperation on this matter.
Generally speaking, general interest and research efforts on endangered languages in Japan are still lagging behind the international level, but nevertheless a change is definitely taking place. For example, a growing number of young researchers, upon receiving permission for overseas research or a sabbatical of six months or a year, are choosing to spend their time not in comfortable university towns overseas where life is easy but in doing field work in remote places where even communication by telephone, and therefore e-mail, is not possible. Such researchers realize that if they wait another 10 years or so, even if they can take six months' or a year's leave at that time, the languages might well not have survived.
I have great expectations of this young generation of researchers who can commit themselves in this way to endangered languages. For this very reason, we must further search for ways to make possible the long-term continuation of our steady efforts, and this project in particular. I look forward to hearing your opinions and suggestions on this matter.
Now, as I have stated in the Handbook (pp. 14 - 32 after the green sheet), I believe that the traditional cultures that have been cultivated by ethnic groups consist of adaptive strategies (behavior patterns) that are directly connected to the mode of perception of the environment-that is, the environment in the broad sense of the term-encompassing not only nature but also society and the supernatural. And because human language is deeply and fundamentally involved in perception of the environment, I believe that culture is ''built into" language. Thus, language itself is culture, and we can even say that a culture is a linguistic ecosystem. Moreover, we can conclude, I believe, that the totality of the world's diverse cultures, or linguistic ecosystems, forms what Dr. Michael Krauss calls the "logosphere" (Lectures on Endangered Languages 2 [ELPR C-002], pp. 30-32, 2001).
Following on from this line of thought, given that languages are at the heart of their cultures, it seems true to say that the environmental problem (that is, destruction of the natural environment and diminution of biological diversity) on the one hand, and on the other hand the problem of endangered languages (that is, the crisis of extinction that is creeping up on an increasing number of languages, accompanied by a rapid diminution in linguistic diversity), have exactly the same source. They have an underlying mutual connection. And it seems true to say that the root cause underlying the two problems - in other words, the factor that is threatening both biological and linguistic diversity - is the "internal endocrine disruptors," or "environmental hormones", within human beings, particularly ''civilized" human beings. The recent international situation is cause for serious concern that these "environmental hormones" may have further increased their concentration and rampancy.
The environmental protection movement is already a powerful current. Is not now the time for us to give serious consideration to ways Of linking up with this movement, or integrating ourselves into it? Needless to say, for this purpose it is necessary for us to further promote recognition and understanding, in a convincing manner, of the fact that the environmental problem is connected to and lies behind the problem of endangered languages and that the diminution of linguistic diversity will probably have an irreversible effect on the future of humankind. In view of the connectivity and topicality of these two problems, I believe that ties with the movement are appropriate, and indeed that it is now an urgent task for us to take active steps toward establishing such ties.
We are all aware that the extinction of languages is proceeding at a faster pace than the extinction of living species. But it is not only languages -we researchers, too, must struggle against time. We cannot help but be alarmed at this thought. Before the conference gets underway, I have to report some very sad news. Three researchers who had achieved notable results in the field of endangered languages passed away in September and October. Professor Otto Nekitel of Papua New Guinea, who was to have attended this conference; Professor Kenneth Hale of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, whom we were unable to invite because of illness; and Professor Stephen A. Wurm of Australia, who enlightened us so much at last year's conference, all tragically passed away. I would like to ask you to join me in a minute's silence in their honor.
May their souls rest in peace.
This conference will consist of two keynote speeches, two special presentations, and two panel discussions.
The two keynote speeches were scheduled
to be delivered by Professor Ofella Zepeda of the University of
Arizona and Professor Luisa Maffi of Terralingua. However, Professor
Zepeda, a Native American, although she obtained a doctorate at
an American university as a researcher of her native language Tohono
O'odham, is unable to attend because she was unable to obtain a
In the presentations, Ms. Noriko Aikawa, director of UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage Section, will talk about UNESCO's efforts relating to the problem of endangered languages, and Ms. Mizuki Miyashita of the University of Arizona's graduate school will talk about that university's electronic dictionary project. Actually, we had intended this presentation to be a supplement to the keynote speech by Professor Zepeda, who, as I mentioned earlier, is unable to be here.
The panelists for the panel discussions will be introduced later by the chairpersons, Professor Honore Watanabe and Professor Fumiko Sasama for the first discussion tomorrow, and Professor Komei Hosokawa for the second the day after tomorrow.