Language contacts in the Arctic

August 31 is the deadline for paper submissions to a congress in Moscow. Judging from the keynote speakers, this should be also very interesting for us anthropologists, because it’s not only about hard core linguistic studies, but very much about the cultural context in which speakers of different languages get into contact. Have a look

Language contact in the circumpolar world

Institute of Linguistics RAS, Moscow, Russia; 27-29 October 2017

Extension of deadline to August 31

The circumpolar world includes the Arctic as defined by AMAP (Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program) with adjacent areas. This vast territory has a number of common features that set it apart from any other part of the world: extremely harsh climate conditions, low population density, large distances between speakers of different languages or even of the same language, seasonal migrations for hundreds of miles, prevalence of hunter-gatherers with absolutely no traditional farming, etc. While language contact has been a popular topic of linguistic research in the last couple of decades, there have been few studies that would concentrate on the circumpolar region and specifics of language contact in the area.
The ‘Language contact in the circumpolar world’ conference will bring together researchers studying language contact in the North, and discussions of any aspect of the topic are welcome. Of particular importance is the question of whether language contact in the circumpolar world is different from that of other areas, and if so, in which particular respects.
The conference will feature papers selected by the Organizing committee, invited lectures by leading international experts specializing in the topic, and two extended tutorials on particular parts of the circumpolar world, ‘Language Contact in Arctic Canada & Greenland’ by Michael Fortesque (University of Copenhagen) and ‘Language Contact in Arctic Europe’ by Jussi Ylikoski (The Arctic University of Norway & University of Oulu).
We welcome abstracts from colleagues working on a variety of topics pertaining to language contact in the circumpolar region that include but are not limited to:

  •           language change conditioned by language contact,
  •           mixed languages,
  •           linguistic areas or Sprachbund’s,
  •           reconstructing the past through linguistic data,
  •           patterns of traditional or modern multilingualism,
  •           sociolinguistic details of modern or historic language contact,
  •           northern varieties of larger languages that are not restricted to the region (e.g. dialects of Russian, Swedish, English, etc.),
  •           cartography of language contact areas,
  •           methodology of language contact studies which takes into account specific features of the region.

The conference is organized by a new research group on Language Contact in the Circumpolar World at the Institute of Linguistics, supported by the Russian Science Foundation, see for more details.

Confirmed plenary speakers:
Michael Fortescue (University of Copenhagen)
Lenore Grenoble (University of Chicago)
Brigitte Pakendorf (CNRS, Lyon)
Nikolai Vakhtin (European University of St. Petersburg)
Jussi Ylikoski (The Arctic University of Norway & University of Oulu)

Organizing committee:
Olesya Khanina & Andrej Kibrik (Chairs), Maria Amelina, Mira Bergelson, Valentin Gusev, Olga Kazakevich, Elena Klyachko, Yuri Koryakov, and Natalia Stoynova.

The conference will be held in English. Organizers will assist participants in finding accommodation in the vicinity of the conference location.

The extended deadline for abstract submission is August 31, 2017. Notifications of acceptance or non-acceptance will be sent via email soon after that date. Please submit an anonymous abstract of no more than 1 page (excluding references) by email to circumpolar.conference2017(at); include a title, authors, and affiliations in your email


VSP Journal in Arctic Anthropology – by Nikolai Vakhtin

(A Fantasy)

No one can read everything others write in one’s field.

Drowning in too many writings of your colleagues? picture credit:
Drowning in too many writings of your colleagues? picture credit:

One of the reasons is that we use too many words to express our thoughts. Papers start with theories and explanations that the reader either knows or doesn’t need – because we want to write papers, not abstracts. Books are usually much longer than they could have been because we want them to be books, not papers, and books can’t be shorter than… – many publishers will even provide you with exact number of pages.

Most books are 270 pages long. Some are 900 pages long. Some time ago I had to review a book that was 1400 pages long. Who can read all this carefully, not simply scan the text, if books come out at the rate of ten per month? Continue reading “VSP Journal in Arctic Anthropology – by Nikolai Vakhtin”

SEC Seminar – Preserving Endangered Languages and Local Knowledge: Learning tools and community initiatives in cross-cultural discussion

Unfortunately interdisciplinary approaches are often declared but rarely put into practice. That’s why I was especially happy to take part in a joint endeavour of linguists and anthropologists at the Foundation of Siberian Cultures in Germany to organize a seminar and a joint publication project on language preservation and education activities in indigenous communities in the North and in the South.

Next to a beautiful lake in the small town of Fürstenberg, ninety kilometres north of Berlin Erich Kasten and Tjeerd de Graaf organized at the beginning of January 2012 already the second meeting to discuss papers dealing with alternative school models for reindeer herders in Siberia and with the situation of language minorities in the Netherlands, Russia and China. The presented papers facilitated a deeper understanding of processes of language change and of the preconditions for the preservation of linguistic diversity.

Erich Kasten, Olivia Kraef, Stephan Dudeck, Tjeerd de Graaf, Victor Denisov and Michael Duerr

A lot of languages are in danger of extinction and minority languages experiencing a loss of language prestige and interest in intergenerational transmission. Scientific research deals with endangered languages often like biologists with rare plant or animal species that are only worth of scientific analysis before they will inevitably die out.

The top-down approach for the development and implementation of educational materials and language preservation programs usually suffers from a lack of response from local communities. State policies claim the safeguarding of languages, but they regularly promote artificial standards and folklorized and commodified versions of indigenous cultures and often provide the colourful façade for the attempts to erase any difference in lifestyle and values for the purpose of integration and bureaucratic control of the minority population. But in some cases the local population reacts with resistance to colonizing policies and use sometimes colourful façades to hide their internal cultural practices from the interference of outsiders.

"Lenin lives, lived and will live"  a rare preserved Lenin in Eastern Germany
"Lenin lived, lives and will live" or "Everything was forever until it was no more"

First responses of the participants of the seminar indicate that particular attention should be paid to the discussion of adequate modern learning tools and culturally-related teaching methods. In addition, we should consider the particular social and political environments and – as far as possible – find out how to influence these in favourable ways. Without careful ethnographic work and sociolinguistic analysis projects aiming at the preservation of languages and local knowledge can have the opposite effect.

Two of the researchers involved in the Orhelia project will contribute to the planned volume with papers about alternative educational projects in Western Siberia. Roza Laptander writes about the development of a model for a tundra school in the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Region as a new form of education for children from nomadic and semi-nomadic Nenets families. The title of Stephan Dudeck’s paper is: “Challenging the state educational system in Western Siberia: taiga-school and multimedia centre on the Tiuityakha river.”

Additionally, a DVD with booklets in various languages will summarize the outcomes of this seminar for local communities. Annotated video clips will give examples of similar initiatives from the various cultural contexts around the world. The aim is to enhance cross-cultural awareness within the communities that should encourage them to develop community-driven initiatives for the preservation of their cultural heritage.