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Conference on American Indian Languages

John Koontz (koontz@alpha.bldr.nist.gov)
Wed, 31 Oct 1990 09:07:37 MST

[ The following article was written prior to the annual CAIL meeting.
Perhaps John will write another article to let us know how things
actually went at this year's meeting. --Gary ]

At the request of Gary Trujillo I am submitting a brief descrip-
tion of the Conference on American Indian Languages (CAIL).

The CAIL is held annually in conjunction with the Annual Meeting
of the American Anthropological Association (AAA meeting). The
CAIL was founded in 1964 by Carl F. Voegelin, now deceased, a
prominent figure of the preceding generation of American
linguists, whose career embodies the devotion to the indigenous
languages of the Americas characteristic of American linguistics
before the Chomskian Revolution. The tradition of linguistics in
the United States before Chomsky had its roots in American
anthropology, and the anthropological associations of the CAIL
derive from this. Carl Voegelin himself was for many years the
editor of the International Journal of American Linguistics, a
journal devoted to the linguistics of American languages. IJAL
continues in publication.

Since 1981 the CAIL has been organized by the Society for the
Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas (SSILA), which
also exists to publish the SSILA Newsletter, a valuable source of
news on the linguistics of American languages.

Unfortunately, the association of the CAIL and the AAA meeting
may be in jeopardy. This year the two AAA Program Committee
Chairmen exercised their authority to reorganize the proposed
scheduling of the 10 CAIL sessions so that 8 of them were
scheduled for Sunday, all in conflict with each other. This
change from the suggestions of the CAIL Program coordinators was
only revealed when the Anthropology Newsletter was published in
September, i.e., the two individuals in question did not have the
courtesy to notify the CAIL Program coordinators of their inten-
tions directly. When asked to explain their actions they
responded in insulting terms. See the SSILA Newsletter of October
1990 for the details. Although the AAA's present and incoming
presidents have protested to the AAA Program Chairs, and
apologized to the SSILA on their behalf, it was only possible to
reschedule a net of 3 of the sessions to some day other than
Sunday. If no assurances are given that this outrage will not be
perpetrated in the future, it seems possible that the association
of the CAIL with the AAA meeting will end.

This year's AAA meetings and CAIL are being conducted November 28
- December 2 in New Orleans. It is probably too late, practi-
cally speaking, to arrange for attendance if you were not already
planning on it. If you were planning on it, you may be wondering
how to withdraw gracefully!

The ten sessions of this year's CAIL are:

Muskogean and Siouan Languages; Algonquian and Iroquoian Lan-
guages; Mayan Discourse; Mayan and Chibchan Languages; Eskimo,
Athabascan, and Northwest Languages; Session in Memory of
Florence M. Voegelin; South American Languages; Meso-American
Languages; Californian Languages; Southwest Languages.

Date: Wed, 27 Mar 91 08:38:14 MST
From: NativeNet@gnosys.svle.ma.us
Subject: CAIL 1990 Meeting; SSILA and CAIL in General
Message-ID: <Q7F0B999@pc-koontz>

[In the 11-DEC-90 issue of the NativeNet language digest, I
reported on the gloomy situation of the Conference on American
Indian Languages (CAIL). CAIL sessions had been mangled,
apparently maliciously, by the scheduling committee for the
parent meeting, the annual meeting of the American Anthropologi-
cal Association. Per Gary's request, here is a follow up report
now that the Conference has been held. This report is extracted
literrally from Newsletter IX:4 (January 1991) of the Society for
the Indigenous Languages of the Americas (SSILA). It is the
report submitted by Victor Golla, the Secretary-Treasurer of SSILA.
I did not attend the meeting myself. JEK]


[As the Minutes of the 1990 Business Meeting indicate, the future
of the Conference on American Indian Languages, SSILA's most
important function, is uncertain. The difficulty we had with the
AAA Program Chairs in 1990 may well be an aberrance, but the
experience has made us wary of continuing with the status quo.
At the very least, we will have to negotiate a formal agreement
with the AAA [American Anthropological Association]. Meanwhile,
other possible venues for the CAIL have been suggested, particu-
larly the LSA [Linguistic Society of America]. During 1991 the
"Correspondence" columns of the Newsletter will be open to a
wide-ranging exploration of the possibilities, setting the stage
for a serious debate at a special session of the 1991 Business
Meeting in Chicago. All members are invited to express their
opinions. Especially welcome are the views of members who have
not regularly attended CAIL meetings in the past. To start off
the debate, I print below the short history of the CAIL that I
prepared for the 1990 Business Meeting, followed by excerpts from
several letters received this Fall in response to the program
debacle. V[ictor]. G[olla].] [excerpts of letters deleted JEK]

The CAIL and the AAA: A Short Historical Survey

The first Conference on American Indian Languages was convened at
the 1964 Linguistics Institute (at Indiana University, Blooming-
ton) to discuss the classification of American Indian languages
in general, and specifically to prepare a new version of the wall
map of North American languages published by the American Eth-
nological Society in 1944 [footnote lists 31 participants in the
session]. Two follow-up meetings were apparently held during the
next 18 months [footnote solicits information on these]. The
fourth in the sequence took place at the 1965 Annual Meeting of
the AAA, in Denver. Subsequent CAILs have been held as part of
the AAA annual meeting every year without interruption. (The
1990 Conference is the 29th.)

In its first years, the AAA version of the CAIL was small by pre-
sent standards. The 1965 CAIL consisted of two sessions with a
total of 14 papers. By 1975, the CAIL (held that year in San
Francisco) had expanded to five sessions with a total of 28
papers. The original focus on deep genetic relationship and
classification was soon broadened. In 1965 all but two of the
papers read dealt directly with historical linguistics (mainly
genetic classification); by 1975, only eight of the papers were
on historical or classificatory topics (11 if three areal papers
are counted), with the remainder (17) being purely descriptive
studies of the phonology, morphology, or syntax of a specific
language. Thus, by the 1970s the CAIL had become, in effect, the
annual meeting of an as yet unorganized SSILA. Every February or
March, Carl and Flo Voegelin, later aided by Eric Hamp, independ-
ently solicited abstracts from American linguists (usually by
postcard to a mailing list based on the previous year's
participants). They organized the submissions into sessions andpresented
the result (on the appropriate AAA forms) to the AAA
program committee by the program deadline in April.

On several occasions during the first 15 years of the CAIL the
propriety of this arrangement was questioned by certain non-
linguist members of the AAA. Partly in response to such com-
plaints, the AAA Program Committee sporadically exercised its
right to reject specific CAIL papers, to restructure proposed
sessions, or to depart (in mild ways) from the scheduling recom-
mended by the CAIL organizers. The results of these interven-
tions were seldom deleterious, and were counted by the organizers
as the price they had to pay for inclusion in the AAA program.
In 1980, however, a more serious challenge to the arrangement
arose. In an attempt to bring a rapidly inflating Annual Meeting
program under control, the 1980 Program Committee recommended
that session submissions from individuals or unorganized groups
be severely limited. Strictly interpreted, such a rule would
have precluded the organizers from submitting the CAIL sessions
as a package. In response to this threat, the CAIL participants
decided at the 1980 meeting in Washington, DC, to organize them-
selves as a formal society. During the following year, under the
leadership of Wick Miller, and interim "Society for Native
American Languages" was formed, with membership open to all
scholars involved in work on American Indian Languages. The
provisional constitution and by-laws of this entity were debated
and approved by CAIL participants at the Los Angeles meeting in
1981, officers were elected, and the name "Society for the Study
of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas" ("SSILA") was for-
mally adopted.

Within a year of its founding SSILA had over 250 members, a
quarterly Newsletter, and an explicit relationship to the AAA as
organizer of the Conference on American Indian Languages. The
Executive Director of the AAA, Edward Lehman, was strongly sup-
portive of SSILA and of its continuing sponsorship of CAIL ses-
sions on the Annual Meeting program.

Meanwhile, the American Anthropological Association itself was
undergoing considerable structural change. A decade or more or
fissioning, most visible in the split between archaeologists and
other anthropologists, had taken its toll. In the early 1980s
the AAA - prompted by an IRS ruling that made it difficult for
the Association to offer services such as publishing and organiz-
ing meeting for groups not formally affiliated with it - restruc-
tured itself as an "umbrella" organization composed of a number
of constituent societies ("units") reflecting the intellectual
diversity of the field. In this process the "Society for
Linguistic Anthropology" ("SLA") was formed to represent
linguistics within the Association, and this "unit" became the
formal link between the SSILA and the AAA Annual Meeting. Since
1984, the CAIL has technically formed part (usually the lion's
share) of that portion of the Annual Meeting program organized by
SLA. CAIL sessions, after having been solicited and assembled by
the SSILA organizers and submitted by the AAA, are now passed on
to the SLA program committee for review and possible restructur-
ing, the SLA's decisions (both for CAIL sessions and for other
program submissions) being subject to a final review by the over-
all AAA Program Chair.

The relationship between SSILA and SLA - like that between the
CAIL organizers and the AAA in the 1960s and 1970s - remains
informal. SSILA has no voice in SLA program decisions, nor does
it seek one. There is a clear understanding that SLA will serve
as the proposer of the CAIL sessions in name only, with the
actual organizing of the CAIL left almost entirely in the hands
of the SSILA (the current year;'s President serving ex officio as
Chair of the CAIL Organizing Committee).

Until the 1990 debacle, this gentleman's agreement seemed to be
working adequately. It was, of course, aided by the fact that
for five of the past six AAA Annual Meetings either the overall
AAA program chair, or the SLA program chair, or both, were mem-
bers of the SSILA. This year, however, it didn't work at all.
Besides showing how much we have relied on word-of-mouth trans-
mission of a long-standing arrangement, it clearly warns us that
we must seek alternatives.

Having been created specifically to organize and preserve the
distinctive quality of the annual Conference on American Indian
Languages, SSILA must always place the integrity of the Con-
ference above all other considerations. If the CAIL is to remain
associated with the AAA Annual Meeting, then SSILA must be given
assurances - preferably formal ones - that its right to organize
the CAIL will not be eroded or subverted by AAA program com-
mittees at any level. Ideally, the AAA would treat the CAIL ses-
sions as what they in fact are: the annual meeting of a sister
society that, for reasons of tradition and intellectual propin-
quity, chooses to meet with the American Anthropological Associa-

Victor Golla
Secretary-Treasurer, SSILA

To report, from other sources, on the circumstances of the actual
meeting: the revised scheduling - adopted as a rescue effort
after the rejection of the sessions by the AAA Program Chairs -
was unfortunate, but the meeting was held anyway under those cir-
cumstances. It was discovered that the AAA Program Chairs had
similarly attacked other non-CAIL sessions on various pretexts,
so that SSILA was not the only hotbed of resentment against them,
and now these individuals are no longer serving as Program
Chairs. One of the oddest aspects of the whole affair has been
that not one word of it has appeared in the AAA's Anthopology
Newsletter, which is not usually inclined to pull its punches
when dealing with social and political wrongs in this country and

Also, to clarify a few points not relevant to the 1990 meeting,
Dr. Victor Golla is the editor of the SSILA Newsletter, and is
generally seen as the one indispensible person in SSILA. Without
him the whole thing would collapse, unless everyone else did a
lot more work. Also, a revised map of the languages of North
America is in the works, and SSILA contributions are currently in
the hands of the editors of a major world atlas being prepared in
Edinborough. I've lost track of the details, but I don't expect
to see it out soon!

The SSILA Newsletter is a very useful source of news, national
and local meeting data, and bibliographical information on the
subject of the indigenous languages of the Americas, and is
available for $10US annual from Victor Golla, SSILA, Dept. of
Ethnic Studies, Humboldt State Univ., Arcata, CA 95521.

John E. Koontz


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