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Urmas Bereczki
The Languages of Smaller Populations: Risks and Possibilities. Lectures from the Tallinn Conference, 16–17 March 2012

The Languages of Smaller Populations: Risks and Possibilities. Lectures from the Tallinn Conference, 16–17 March 2012
Urmas Bereczki

16.–17. märtsil 2012 toimus Eesti Rahvusraamatukogus rahvusvaheline ja interdistsiplinaarne konverents, mille pealkirjaks ja teemaks oli „Väikerahvaste keelte riskid ja võimalused“. Ürituse patrooniks oli Riigikogu esimees pr Ene Ergma, president Toomas Hendrik Ilves saatis kirjaliku läkituse konverentsi ja sellel osalejate tervituseks. Konverentsil osales kokku 20 teadlast 9 erinevast riigist: Eestile lisaks Gröönimaalt (Taani), Walesist (Ühendkuningriik), Prantsusmaalt, Itaaliast, Ungarist, Lätist, Soomest ja Venemaalt. Ettekanded tegelesid osalt väikerahvaste keelte ellujäämisstrateegiatega, osalt aga keele ja kultuuri erinevate ilmnemisvormide ning nende omavaheliste seoste dünaamikaga, millest pika peale keelte jätkusuutlikkus paljuski oleneb.

Urmas Bereczki

The Languages of Smaller Populations: Risks and Possibilities. Lectures from the Tallinn Conference, 16–17 March 2012

We do not know how many languages were spoken on our planet over the last two thousand years. We do know, however, that by the end of the 21st Century over 90 % of the languages spoken today are endangered. It is seen as a scientific probability that of the 6,000 languages currently spoken, between 50–90 % will have died out by the end of the XXI Century. Will our mother tongue be among them? This is the question that immediately comes to mind. This fear may be related to our natural instinct of self-preservation, as we tend to identify the fate of our language with the fate of our nation and the nation’s destiny with our individual fate.

The fear of the extinction of our language and our very nation may be a fear as old as human culture itself. This fear, while perhaps inherent, became part of common discourse as influenced by the thoughts and activities of Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744–1803). Herder’s concepts, the “death of nation” among them, had a direct effect on the development of several branches of science and more indirectly on the shaping of certain nations’ fates through their respective writers’ ideas and works. Cognizant of this or not, this fear of the extinction of our language still plays in our minds both consciously and subconsciously. If this instinctive fear is unavoidable, we must realize and articulate it. Thus, we would have a better chance of allaying our fears, fears which would otherwise paralyze our ability to move beyond them.

    Urmas Bereczki


Languages of Smaller Populations: Risks and Possibilities

The Small Conference Hall of the National Library of Estonia

Tallinn, Estonia

16–17 March, 2012

The Hungarian Institute in Tallinn, the Estonian Ministry of Education and Research, and the NPO Fenno-Ugria, are organizing a conference which will focus on the different aspects of fear that coincide with losing one’s mother tongue. The dual purpose of this interdisciplinary conference will be to highlight key aspects of the history of the concept of language extinction as well as to look for possible links between the concerns about the loss of a language and the cultural phenomena (like survival strategies for endangered languages) of society today.

The Program Committee invites proposals for papers, which should focus on the presenters’ individual research in the context of the aforementioned concepts. Proposals should consist of a 200–250 word abstract; a brief academic curriculum vitae, including degrees earned and academic concentration(s) (50–100 words); institutional affiliation; compete contact information and a description of any audio-visual requirements. Proposals must be received by the deadline date of 10 February 2012. Submissions must be sent as an email attachment (Word document only), to the Program Committee Secretary as listed below. Proposals must include the participant’s last name in the document’s title as in “Smith.doc”

Presentations will be limited to no more than twenty minutes with an additional ten minutes allocated for discussion following the presentation. The primary language of the conference is English. The lectures will be simultaneously translated to Estonian.

The conference will take place in the Small Conference Hall of the Estonian National Library, Tõnismägi 2 ,15189 Tallinn on March 16, 2012 13:30–17:30 and March 17, 2012 10:00–17:30.

Round-trip airfare to Tallinn and accomodations during the conference will be provided for invited lecturers by the organizers and/or sponsors of the conference. Participants will be personally contacted by the Program and Organizing Committee regarding specific transportation and accommodation needs.

Program and Organizing Committee

Urmas Bereczki, Hungarian Institute

Martin Ehala, University of Tartu

Kadi Raudalainen, NPO Fenno-Ugria

Tõnu Seilenthal, University of Tartu

Jüri Valge, Ministry of Education, Estonia

Anna Verschik, Tallinn University


British Council

The Danish Cultural Institute

Embassy of Hungary

Embassy of Latvia

Estonian Ministry of Culture

Estonian Ministry of Education and Research

Finnish Institute in Estonia

French Institute in Estonia

Hungarian Institute

NPO Fenno-Ugria

Representation of the European Comission in Estonia



AS Veskaru, catering

Estonian National Library

Keel ja Kirjandus

Linguistica Uralica


Secretary of the Program and Organizing Committee

Helina Pukk, Hungarian Institute


Opening Words

Your Excellencies Ene Ergmaa, Speaker of the Estonian Parliament (Riigikogu), Former First Lady Ingrid Rüütel, distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen! I welcome you to the Conference on „The Languages of the Smaller Populations: Risks and Possibilities.“

First and foremost, I would like to thank you for having accepted the invitation to participate in this conference. Our topic is timely; it is, in a sense, „in the air.“ Topics of similar themes are presently the focus of various other conferences taking place in Estonia and abroad.

Our conference is unique in that our goal is to analyze the relationship between language and culture from unconventional and often astonishing points of view via a variety of different disciplines and in direct relation to current situations. Building on this foundation, our conference will also consider the prospects for the survival of the languages of smaller populations. Unfortunately, we will not be able to focus on as much of the historical background of these problems as we had originally planned due to the inability of some of our original participants to ultimately attend the conference. Nonetheless, this conference will address the realities of a far larger geographic territory than we had originally dared hope. The conference will span territories and related language concerns from the Far-East, across Eurasia, through Europe to British Isles, Greenland, and across the Atlantic to Mexico.
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