The CELP encourages the study and documentation of endangered languages and makes technical assistance available to language communities seeking to maintain their languages as living means of communication, or to document them for future generations. The Committee encourages academic institutions to offer assistance and support to members of language communities at risk of, or currently experiencing, significant language or dialect loss who are committed to the maintenance and revitalization of their language varieties. It also encourages institutions to offer training and degree programs oriented to the compilation of grammars and dictionaries of threatened and poorly documented languages, as well as to the documentation and study of naturally-occurring speech of all kinds in communities whose traditional linguistic variety is threatened. As neither of these endeavours is possible in the absence of qualified and interested faculty, CELP recommends that departments and institutions give due weight in hiring and promotion decisions to the importance of research on endangered languages and their maintenance. The Committee coordinates its activities with other relevant organizations, such as CIPL, the American Anthropological Association (AAA), the Society for the Study of Indigenous Languages of the Americas (SSILA), the Society for Linguistic Anthropology, the endangered language committees of the linguistic professional societies of Canada, Australia, Germany, and others, and several private organizations and foundations focused on language endangerment, including the Institute for the Preservation of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas.
See the LSA FAQ: What is an endangered language?
Why do we need to document linguistic diversity?
If the central concern of linguistics is essentially anthropological or psychological, i.e., to provide insight into the nature of “humanness” by investigating the structure of human language, then linguistics will without question benefit by supporting research on the documentation of dying or endangered languages. Taking the study of universal grammar and linguistic typology (the study of the restricted ways in which languages may differ from each other) as more concrete manifestations of this central concern, linguistic typology is obviously enriched by knowledge of linguistic diversity, as languages on the geographical or linguistic “fringe” sometimes turn out to be the most diverse typologically (Nichols, 1990). Somewhat less obviously, the positing of language universals must necessarily be revised and thus become more accurate when the structure of divergent languages is made known. The loss to humankind of genetic diversity in the linguistic world is thus arguably greater than even the loss of genetic diversity in the biological world, given that the structure of human language represents a considerable testimony to human intellectual achievement.
The following recommendations, made by the Linguistic Society of America to academic departments that include linguistics, are made for the sake of the future of linguistics, with the intent of enriching and preserving linguistics, and is not meant to be viewed as dictating the details of program curricula.
The LSA recommends that linguistics departments support the documentation and analysis of the full diversity of the languages which survive in the world today, with highest priority given to the many languages which are closest to becoming extinct, and also to those languages which represent the greatest diversity (e.g., language isolates and languages belonging to un- or underdocumented families of languages). By “documentation” we mean primarily the recording (on audio or videotape) of a variety of textual styles and grammatical and lexical information from a variety of speakers of all ages. Furthermore, we recommend that this documentation be systematically preserved in a network of repositories which also regulate the availability of this documentation. Departments are encouraged to recognize that a language is a complex system of interfacing components, that the preparation of a grammar of a whole language is an intellectual achievement which requires considerable depth of skill and linguistic expertise, and that the informed collection and analysis of linguistic data is thus a fundamental and permanent contribution to the foundation of linguistics. We urge that this work continue to be recognized as deserving through the awarding of advanced degrees and through favorable hiring, promotion, and/or tenure decisions.