Indigenous Languages Symposium at Sofia University, Bulgaria
On May 27, 2019 a Symposium on Indigenous Languages was organized at Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”, the oldest and largest university in Bulgaria. The event was part of the calendar of 2019 – the International Year of Indigenous Languages, declared by UNESCO.
The symposium was also part of a series of events dedicated to May 24 – the Day of the Cyrillic Script and Bulgarian Language, which is a public holiday in Bulgaria and attracts nationwide celebrations of culture and language.
Prof. Madlen Danova, PhD, the Dean of the Faculty of Classical and Modern Philology, welcomed the speakers and guests. In her speech she emphasized the importance of indigenous languages and the urgency of the documentation of endangered languages around the world, because “every time a language dies, a whole world disappears with it since language is the heart of every culture”. Associate Professor Tsvetomira Pashova, PhD, Deputy Dean of the Faculty and the main organizer of the event, presented the speakers and chaired the event.
The first speaker was Tihomir Rangelov, a former student of Scandinavian studies at Sofia University and currently a PhD candidate at the University of Waikato in New Zealand, and a holder of an ELDP grant. He talked about indigenous languages, language endangerment and language documentation in general, and about his experience working on Ahamb, an endangered language of Vanuatu, which he is documenting and describing for his PhD.
Svetlana Koleva, a lecturer at the Uralic Languages department, talked about the endangered Uralic languages of Northern Europe and Siberia. She discussed the context in which these languages are spoken, government policies, endangerment status and literacy in the respective indigenous languages among their speakers.
Patricia Couture, a lecturer at the French department, talked about the indigenous languages of Canada and the policies of Canada regarding its indigenous languages, including very recent developments.
Associate professor Gueorgui Jetchev, PhD, head of the French department, talked about the languages of New Caledonia, their status and vitality and the history of indigenous language developments in New Caledonia.
To wrap up the symposium, Tihomir Rangelov gave a short talk about the practical aspects of language documentation – the technology and software used, data collection, ethical considerations, funding, archiving.
Tihomir Rangelov gave great answers to our questions:
- What was the motivation behind holding this event in the first place? Or What was the motivation behind the creation of this output in the first place? What need does it fulfill?
The two main purposes of the event were to acquaint the academic community and the general public in Bulgaria with the issues related to indigenous languages around the world, and to motivate students at Sofia University to consider a career in the field of language documentation and description and the related fields.
Bulgaria is a country with a long history and the Bulgarian language (in its modern form and its historical forms) has been the predominant language of the country throughout its history. A major linguistic shift did not take place during the 5-century-long Ottoman rule. Neither did Bulgaria colonise other countries and impose its language on them. In this context, the issues related to indigenous languages in the post-colonial context are not necessarily obvious to Bulgarians, although they are of concern to everyone around the world, including Bulgarians.
The second main purpose of the event was to motivate students at SU to consider a career in language documentation or other fields related to indigenous languages around the world. In Bulgaria it is considered quite prestigious to study Philology (Linguistics, Literature and related fields) and some of the programmes at the Faculty of Classical and Modern Philology are among the most popular programmes at the university, attracting students with the highest results from nationwide admission exams.
The Faculty of Classical and Modern Philology has over 500 students in over 20 programmes at the bachelor, masters and PhD level. The programmes cover the classical languages Latin and Greek, most European languages (except for Slavic languages, which are in a separate faculty), as well as many Asian languages (Turkish, Caucasus, Arabic, Persian, Indian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese and Southeast Asian Studies). The faculty’s newest programme is in African Studies. Traditionally, in philology programmes students are taught the respective language to a proficient level. The programmes also involve training in Linguistics, Literature and Cultural Studies. This gives students a good basis for further studies and research on indigenous languages. More specifically, students of Indian, Chinese, Persian, Arabic, Southeast Asian or African Studies graduate with excellent competence in the lingua franca(s) and cultural aspects of the respective regions, where many indigenous languages are spoken and linguistic fieldwork is necessary.
- If the event has already taken place, can you tell us a bit about how it happened and who attended?
The symposium was attended by members of the Faculty and other scholars from Sofia University and abroad, students and journalists. The event was widely publicized at the university and in the media. Tihomir Rangelov was interviewed by the Bulgarian National Radio before the event, which you can listen to here.
- Can you share any insights from the users/attendees/community collaborators?
The documentation of dialects of larger languages was also discussed during the event. The speakers and attendees pointed out that it was very important to collect data from dialects of larger languages as well, because they carry precious linguistic data and can be a source of identification and social integrity for their speakers just as much as a separate (indigenous) language can be for its speakers. The Bulgarian language has many different varieties throughout the country and outside of it and even though most of these dialects have been documented, ongoing work is necessary to track the changes that occur in them.
- Why is this important? What advice would you give to someone wanting to do something similar?
I think it is very important to use the occasion that the International Year of Indigenous Languages gives us to popularise work related to indigenous languages and language documentation around the world. I would advise anyone planning to organise a similar event to plan well ahead and advertise it as widely as possible through the media and on social media. For example, the radio interview before the event and the event’s Facebook page attracted a few attendees from outside the university community.
With thanks to Tihomir Rangelov and the Sofia University SU in providing us the information & images for this blog post!