42nd Meeting Prague, 1999: Report by E. Tryjarski

Source: Edward Tryjarski: “Zachowanie języków i kultur przez ludy azjatyckie 42 sesja stałej międzynarodowej konferencji ałtaistycznej”, Nauka 1999 No. 4, pp. 223–225. Raw computer-aided translation by deepl.com, edited by Oliver Corff.

Preservation Of Languages And Cultures Among Asian Peoples

42nd Meeting of the Permanent International Altaistic Conference

Prague, 23–27 August 1999.

This year’s Annual Meeting of the Permanent International Altaistic Conference, held in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, was characterised by the large number of participants (around 140), including a large group of young academics, mainly from the Russian Federation and the Turkic-speaking Asian republics, and the very efficient organisation of the meeting (two hotels, high catering standards, bus service, accurate information). All these advantages were linked to the fact that the main sponsor of the meeting was the powerful organisation “Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty”, which — having had its headquarters in the very centre of Prague for some time — has also shown a keen interest in the scientific side of research into the languages and other aspects of the cultures of Asian peoples. The attendance at the opening session of RFE/RL’s chairman, T. Dine, and the reception he gave, as well as the participation of other officials from the aforementioned radio stations in the meetings, among other things, were clear evidence of this. In addition, a number of receptions for the participants of the meeting were funded by Hughes Network Systems, while the Open Society Institute from Moscow also covered the travel costs of a group of participants. In this situation, the famous Charles University (Carolinum), represented by the Vice-Chancellor Prof. Dr. P. Klener and Dr. M. Štenberkova, took on the role of patronising the scientific side of the meeting, welcoming the participants within the walls of the University and cooperating in the future on the publication of the conference proceedings.

The chairman of the Prague Meeting of the PIAC was the American Dr. Charles F. Carlson, an orientalist and also a high functionary of the aforementioned radio stations. The patronage given to the session by the aforementioned institutions gave PIAC’s Secretary General, Prof. D. Sinor, an opportunity to recall that an informal scholarly organisation such as the PIAC was and remains apolitical.

According to the list of participants, the largest group came from the Russian Federation (27), while a significant number also came from Turkey (17). However, the actual number of participants from the USA and countries such as Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan is difficult to pin down, as the participants, and often the speakers from them, are sometimes permanent or temporary employees of the RFE/RL. German scholars showed great participation in the Prague session (11), while only a few French scholars participated (2 or 3). From Warsaw and Krakow, three turkologists participated, but no scholars of Mongolian and Manchu studies.

Approximately 80 papers and communications were delivered, with the leading theme of the meeting being: “Language and cultural maintenance in the Altaic World.” In connection with this, a number of reports were given on subjects that are currently very much discussed in many Altaic countries, where numerous reforms are being carried out, including the latinisation of alphabets, with issues such as the creation of an own scientific terminology, the social and national functions of language and teaching methods playing an important role. The following reports can be mentioned as being related to the main theme: Language and the search for identity in contemporary Central Asia (B. Kellner-Heinkele); Turan, Anatolia or the West? In search of identity for contemporary Turks (X. Celnarová); Kyrgyz as a state language (B. Orozbaeva); The persistence of the Mongolian language in China (Uljeyt); Adapting indigenous Central Asian languages to the needs of modern terminology (B. Pannier); Why do Kalmyks not know their native language? (E. Schlueter); The revival of Karaite dialects in Lithuania and Ukraine (É. Csató Johanson); The coexistence of languages and alphabets in Tashkent (V. M. Alpatov); The systematic sinicisation of Uyghur (E. Alptekin); The collapse of the three Kipchak languages: Armenian-Kipchak, the language of the Polish-Lithuanian Tatars and Karaite (E. Tryjarski).

Numerous speakers presented issues beyond the main theme of the session. Among them, the new proposals for the interpretation of Byzantine sources and archaeological testimonies proposed by A. Róna-Tas (Where was Kubrat’s Bulgaria?) generated great interest. I. Zimonyi, on the other hand, presented a justification of the question plaguing generations of researchers as to why Muslim sources refer to Hungarians as “Turks” (The Ethnonym “Turk” used in Muslim sources for Hungarians). There were also reflections on the military relations between Turkic peoples in the old period (K. Konkobaeva), attempts to reconstruct the old Kyrgyz military terminology and even to adapt it to modern needs (K. Konkobaev, Old Kyrgyz military vocabulary). The contribution of Polish scholars to the study of the history, culture and languages of Asian peoples was addressed in two papers: L. Antonowicz-Bauer, The Culture of the Kalmyks in the works of Professor Władysław Kotwicza, and M. Pomorska, Notes on some Polish research on the Altaic peoples. The above-mentioned reports do not exhaust the richness of the presented subject matter.

The varied cultural programme included, in addition to the official receptions, visits to Prague’s historic districts (the Old Town with Hradčany and a boat walk on the Vltava River) and visits to four exhibitions organised by Russian colleagues (D. D. Vasil’ev): “Northern Islam”, “Ancient Crimean city Chufut Kale”, “Shamil and his era” and a Hungarian exhibition: photographs from Mongolia and other Asian countries, made and presented by D. Somfai and his father. A farewell party combined with demonstrations of Czech folklore took place at the “Starý vrch” farm near Prague.

The Indiana University Prize for Altaic studies (PIAC gold medal) was this year awarded to the eminent Japanese philologist and historian Hidehiro Okada.

Warsaw, Edward Tryjarski

September 1999.