According to UNESCO, it is believed that at least half of the nearly 7,000 languages spoken around the world will cease to be used within the next 100 years. If this issue is neglected, people will lose not only their cultural heritage but also invaluable understandings about the history of all humankind. In other words, with the disappearance of unwritten and undocumented languages, humanity would lose not only cultural wealth but also important ancestral knowledge embedded, in particular, in indigenous languages.

As many of these languages are no longer being handed down from generation to generation, the number of the native speakers of these languages is decreasing, leaving them endangered. For instance, the Ubykh language, one of the languages spoken in the Northwest Caucasus, became extinct when the last speaker Tevfik Esenç died in 1992. For such reasons, if efforts are not made to document the speech and cultural practices of those who use these languages, many speech forms will disappear along with the cultural heritage they embody.

Local Context:

The Caucasus University Association (CUA) is an academic association that gives priority to issues related to language and culture with a particular emphasis on the issue of endangered languages. The CUA views each language as a star in the sky that could turn into a meteor and believes that as many of these languages should be documented as possible before they vanish. The region in which the participant universities of the CUA are situated is home to a rich linguistic diversity, much of it highly endangered, making it particularly appropriate to situate the conference at Ardahan.

The risk stated by UNESCO was discussed at the 3rd Ordinary Congress of CUA held in Baku and attended by Minister of National Education Prof. Dr. Nabi Avcı and the president of Higher Education Council Prof. Dr. Gökhan Çetinsaya. It was then decided that an International Conference on “endangered languages” should be held in Ardahan in 2014.

As a result of the contacts made about the International Congress, Harvard University and Rice University accepted to provide academic support and cooperation to the congress. The Turkish Language Association, the main supporter of the conference, kindly agreed to sponsor the international and domestic flights of all participants.
1st International CUA Conference on Endangered Languages will welcome 40 distinguished academics, scholars and community members to Ardahan from 13-16 October 2014. The regional focus of the Conference is global, with a particular emphasis on the languages and cultures of the Caucasus. The aim is to bring this international discussion to a linguistic diverse and unique corner of the globe, through which local scholars across the Caucasus will be able to benefit in their work.

Objectives and Scope:

The aim of the conference is to bring together 40 prominent scholars from a range of disciplines who are actively engaged in research projects and partnerships on different aspects of language endangered, documentation and revitalization.

The primary intent is not to address specific linguistic issues but rather emphasise the wider issues that affect all languages and share experiences and best practices in the field. Participants may wish to address issues such as the state of the field of language documentation, conservation and revitalization; experiences that reflect on establishing research centres and international research collaborations; or topics related to technology, data collection, archiving and preservation.

The conference will conclude with an action plan for which the ultimate goal is to establish an “Endangered Languages Research Centre” at Ardahan. The intellectual goals and governance of the Research Centre will be discussed at the conference.