So, the 12th International Congress of Finno-Ugric Studies has finally begun. Despite the fact that Mr. Harri Mantila implicated that the congress has become somewhat tinier than before, we are pleased to enjoy about 111 long papers and 195 presentations in 19 symposia. The CIFU XII has around 380 participants from 21 countries, so I wouldn’t consider this event as a small rendez-vous at all.
The first day begun with the usual speeches and welcoming words. We all know them. The less-known fact was the staging of a Sami-speaking rap artist Ailu Valle, who sees his art as a great tool for language revitalization. I agree! This was the first time I experienced his rap alive and even though the venue was far from perfect for his art, I reckon that his act was a good reminder for those 380 academic attendees that you got to go to the grass root level in order to make an impact in society too. Bear that in your mind. Otherwise, your science is frivolous.
The academic part of CIFU XII was started by Lyle Campbell and Bryn Hauk from the University of Hawai’i. They presented the outcomes of the Catalogue of Endangered Languages from the perspective of Uralic Languages in their plenary “Language endangerment and endangered Uralic languages”. I have to thank them for their encouragement to address their message to this people, even though they didn’t quite succeed.
Was that a provoking, message-delivering, inspiring speech? In my opinion, it was far from it, but maybe the organisators should be blamed here too? They have the responsibility for the programme and they must ensure that the first plenary of a congress is a world-class delivery. Especially when the congress is taking place in five years’ intervals. Unfortunately, this wasn’t exactly the case and there was no new information on the subject for me and I am not even a specialist in this field.
And speaking of language endangerment, I was a bit surprised by Campbell’s and Hauk’s list of actions that would help the languages to revitalize. As a librarian and as a person who has some (minor) knowledge in digital document preservation, my major attention was paid to their request for gathering together scattered digitized sources and provide such an access that could be available for the researchers in ease. Yes, that could be nice, but also I wonder why they didn’t mention the fact that native-speakers should have the same rights? Maybe they just forgot to mention that part.
All this, however, could be easily achieved in co-operation with preserving institutions like libraries or archives. The scholars have got the experience in languages and probably in needed/longed/available sources, but the preserving institutions got the knowledge. They’ve got the tools. They know what to do with metadata, so why wouldn’t you be trusting to them? (Or, is YOUR science too sacred to leave that work for us?) Nonetheless, their requests for ensuring the possibilities of language revitalization did sound familiar to me, especially when it comes to the Fenno-Ugrica collection and Uralica service, in which the National Library of Finland has tried to create a gateway to these scattered resources. I know, everything’s not there, but that’s what we have managed to do in odd two years. And no, it hasn’t been easy road to travel, but at least there’s some progress.
One more issue to raise up from their plenary. There was a request by Campbell and Hauk that all documentation should be harmonized in order to make it more accessible for the English-speaking audience. Their argument was that the language documentation should be made in the native language and in English. In order to increase the reach, perhaps? Regardless of the fact that I am not a linguist, but a librarian (of some sort), I take a liberty to disagree with you. There is a firm tradition that a plenty of language documentation has been made in German and Russian. Yes, this might sound as a relic matter to a reader, but historically that has been the case. And as a matter of fact, the knowledge of German and Russian could be more beneficial to the scholars in this field even though most of the scientific results are being published in English. It is a matter of competency too. Ask a Russian linguist whether they should do the language documentation in English? Exactly, why they should?
Sorry, I am whining today, but the lunch break was badly organized by the orgkom and the catering service, Uniresta. 30 minutes to feed the congress guests isn’t just enough. I queued about 40 mins in order to get to the food serving area, but I was left without food, because a staff member blocked my way to the food trays as they were calling off the day. Improvement is needed here. Show your mercy on us. Thanks in advance.
The second plenary was held by Cornelius Hasselblatt, who questioned the traditional, stereotypical and ever-lasting attributes of Fenno-Ugrianness, like language, mythology, shamanism, traditional religion, smallness, particular position of nature, richness of folklore and oral traditions, silence, reticence, distribution of black grouse, defensiveness and ethnofuturism etc etc.
According to Hasselblatt, these attributes are not exceptional and don’t belong to the Finno-Ugric cultures only, which is nothing but a truth. If I got the plenary of Hasselblatt correctly, his argued that it is the diversity among Finno-Ugric people is the glue that makes their mark. The diversity was highlighted with a trailer of Kukusha, a movie in which three different people, with three different languages and three different cultures combine in one world. Nice catch, thank you and have an enjoyable anniversary.
The second day of CIFU XII is about to begin. There is a plenty of papers I want to listen, but my greatest worry is that whether I am able to spend my lunch coupon or not. If the food is good and queue is short, I might even use the spare one twice.