Recent news and updates regarding the Endangered Languages Project
Recent news and updates regarding the Endangered Languages Project
Tuesday, December 19, 2023
by Beulah Waritimi
Food is a multi-faceted tool. Not only is it essential for our survival, it can be described as a vehicle for helping us understand or formulate our individual and group identity. Through preparing, serving, and eating food, we are able to express and create connections that are instrumental in helping us develop our own identity and establish our identity within a group or community. In this blog post, I’d like to share a little of my own journey with language revitalisation and food.
Growing up in a multicultural and culinarily diverse country such as Nigeria, food as a big part of identity has certainly been my story. I was always surrounded by the sweet and tantalising aromas of my mother’s cooking that would envelop the entire house. As a child, I remember running straight to the kitchen when I could hear the pounding of pina beribá and boru with our wooden mortar and pestle. These ingredients would later transform into a soft pliable doughy texture that would be submerged in the most fragrant and rich soup, using your hands to pull it apart. This dish is synonymous with my childhood, and the joyous experience of a home-cooked meal that celebrated the ingredients indigenous to the Niger Delta region.
As I’ve been on my own journey of language reclamation, I’ve been examining the relationship between food and language and how that can be instrumental in the reclamation of the Izon language for myself and my family.
As part of this journey of language reclamation, I was afforded the opportunity during my ELP internship to host a Zoom cooking class with my grandma, through which she taught me how to make kekefịyàị, a dish that is integral to Izon cuisine.
|Adding fụ́ (salt) to our kekefịyàị
This experience was incredible because not only was it an introduction to the master-apprentice method of language learning, but it was also a moment to share my culture with my fellow interns. In the course of the class, my grandma and I were able to teach the ELP team Izon cooking vocabulary such as “Fụ́” which means salt and “Ịmbele” which translates as delicious. The team also had the opportunity to ask my grandma questions about Izon culture and her experiences growing up as an Izon woman in Nigeria. Although we attempted to have the cooking session in Izon, there was never a feeling of disconnect between my grandma and I and the ELP team. It was so comforting to realise that food can be a unifying tool, crossing boundaries and borders, and paving new ways for conversation.
As someone who thinks food is not just a source of nutrition but a catalyst for language revitalisation, I am excited to see the ways in which I can continue to engage with food on an individual and communal level within the scope of language revitalisation.
What would a blog post about food be without a recipe? Here is how to make a vegan kekefịyàị, using my grandmother’s recipe.
2 unripe plantains
½ white onion
2 tbsp of palm oil
½ tsp of dry pepper powder
1 can of chickpeas (we are using chickpeas to replace the seafood traditionally in kekefịyàị)
3 tsp of dried mushroom and nori powder
1½ cups of water
1 vegetable stock cube
Peel your plantain and slice diagonally or into circles and set aside.
Chop/dice your white onion and set aside.
Bring a medium-sized pot to your stove and pour in your water on medium/low heat.
Add your sliced plantain and can of chickpeas.
Then, add your white onion, palm oil, dry pepper, mushroom powder and vegetable stock cube.
Add a pinch of salt to taste.
Leave to cook with the lid partially on for about 25-30 minutes. At this point, the sauce should have thickened and the plantain should be soft and easy to cut through.
Serve hot and enjoy!
|Our finished vegan kekefịyàị. Ịmbele!
Tuesday, September 19, 2023
ELP intern Akano Johnson Adewale spoke with linguist Dr. Bolanle Arokoyo, who has worked for many years on the documentation and revitalization of Nigerian languages. In this interview, she shares about her path and experiences working with Nigerian languages, and her advice for linguists interested in documentation and revitalization.
Could you tell us a bit about you and what you do?
My name is Bolanle Arokoyo, a linguist and an Associate Professor at the Department of Linguistics and Nigerian Languages, University of Ilorin in Nigeria. Over the years, I have worked on the documentation, description, and revitalization of many Indigenous languages here in Nigeria.
Why and how did you become interested in the documentation, description, and revitalization of Nigerian endangered languages?
Personally, I have always loved language, and that's why I found myself in linguistics in the first place. However, my interest in the documentation and revitalization of Nigerian Indigenous languages began 20 years ago when I lost my Mom. In the preparation for the burial, I wrote my tribute in English and at one point I discovered it would be interesting to have a copy too in my dialect Owé, and in the course of doing this, I discovered I was able to pass across my message more in Owé than in English. Which means language is more than a means of communication, it encompasses a knowledge system. On the day of the burial, I read the tribute on behalf of my family in English, and I read the Owé version after, but before I could finish, almost everyone present was in tears, meaning this had a great effect and was able to convey more information than English. At that time, Owé was endangered because of the presence of the standard Yoruba and English. That day, I made up my mind to work on the documentation and revitalization of Owé, which was already endangered, so it could be passed on to younger generations.
However, for Olukumi, I came across the language about 10 to 15 years ago. I became interested in it because the name "Olukumi " in my dialect Owé means "my friend". So when I heard about that, I became curious, did a lot of research and came to the knowledge that it is spoken in Delta State. Its location in an area predominantly dominated by Igbo and Isan languages led me to start working on it to prevent it from extinction.
How many languages have you had the opportunity to work on?
For the most part, I have worked on standard Yoruba, but also its dialects, especially Owé, which is my dialect spoken in Kogi state in Nigeria. Then I worked extensively on the Olukumi language spoken in Delta State.
Language in this part of the world is sensitive. What strategies do you employ to engage and collaborate with language communities and native speakers to attain this much success?
Language belongs to the people. Owé is my dialect which made it easier for me, but despite that, I still make my intention about the language clear to relevant stakeholders. For the Olukumi, the community sees me more as a member of the community than a linguist. They accepted me as theirs. I make sure I build that relationship with the community to the point that, if you are a linguist or researcher going to that community, the Ọlọ́zà(King) will ask if the person knows me and refers such person to me first.
I must say you have to build a relationship, with that they won't see you as an external or stranger but as someone interested in the development of their language.
What impact do you believe language documentation and description have on the preservation and revitalization of endangered languages?
At this moment, many African languages are understudied. These languages rely on oral traditions, they don't have a standard orthography and aren’t put into written form. Talk more about the dialects of these languages! To revitalize most of these languages, more documentation is needed. In fact, description and revitalization efforts will help African languages because documenting and archiving them is not enough to preserve languages. Until we put more effort into description and revitalization, languages won't feel the impact of linguists.
What are the benefits the language community normally derives from you working on their language?
To Olukumi for instance, my work has been able to bring visibility to the language. I was also able to develop a bilingual dictionary which fosters learning of the language. Also, we developed language teaching and learning materials coupled with other revitalization efforts for the intergenerational transfer of Olukumi.
What challenges do you often encounter when working with speakers of endangered languages?
I think I have not really faced any significant challenge working on Owé and Olukumi because I had built good relationships with the community. They keyed into my goal for their language and this has given my work a free flow.
How do you navigate cultural differences during a documentation project?
When you are not a member of a community, there will definitely be cultural differences. The major factor to take note of is cultural awareness. Once you are aware, you will respect their culture. Majorly, for anyone embarking on such a project, do research and ask questions to know the do's and don'ts of the community.
Can you share any success stories or examples where your documentation effort has made a significant impact on a particular endangered language community?
I was in Olukumi for the launching of the Olukumi language dictionary and I was accommodated in the apartment of one of the native speakers. The daughter of my host took the dictionary in amazement and began to learn words in Olukumi. She was happy and that was the first time she would see material on Olukumi. This gave me a lot of joy knowing my work is invaluable. Also, my work has given Olukumi a lot of visibility and has attracted tons of researchers to the language. In the past, people tended to mix Olukumi with Lukumi, but my work on it shows the difference between them.
Do you feel fulfilled or derive joy in this area of Linguistics you have chosen?
Yes, I do. I feel fulfilled to have been able to contribute my quota to these languages especially when I look at what I have done even in terms of collaboration with top organizations like the Living Tongue Institute for Endangered Languages in the USA who partnered with me. I have 2 dictionaries on their platform and we are still working to further improve them. So that's big and I am happy with what I have done so far. I hope to do more.
Any words for linguists who are interested in language documentation, description, and revitalization of endangered languages?
It is a really good area of linguistics, but you have to be really interested and passionate about it. It is not for the fainthearted because it is not something anyone can do today and leave. It is a long-term commitment. It takes a lot of time, but your legacy will speak for life. We do encourage our undergraduate students to pursue a career in this aspect so basically it is a fantastic area that needs more people.
Tuesday, July 25, 2023
From top left: Yazmín Novelo, Anna Belew, Alexandra Philbin, Joe Simpson, Antônio Jorge Medeiros Batista Silva, Yulha Lhawa, Cllare Chevry, Pius Akumbu, Beulah Waritimi, Nicaela Leon, and Akano Johnson Adewale, at a group meeting of the ELP staff (not pictured: Amanda Holmes).
Last week, in a conversation with the ELP Language Revitalisation mentors and some of my fellow interns here at ELP, I had the privilege of learning from their first-hand experiences in language documentation and reclamation. I walked into this meeting — our first introduction to the ELP mentors — knowing that there was a lot to learn, but I did not expect to relate so deeply to each of their individual stories. More specifically, considering my own work with the Krenak language, my heritage tongue I've been a lifelong learner of, it amazed me that language champions from such diverse backgrounds could speak so concisely and precisely to my own struggles.
And, honestly, this is the beauty of ELP's proposal: the project's aim is to exactly build community in the trenches of language work.
For context, I am an undergraduate student in Linguistics and Native American & Indigenous Studies. Every summer, when I have the time to go home, I give it yet another shot in learning as much Krenak as I possibly can absorb in my 3-months-long break. This time, it was different. I got home with a grant from my university to work with my community and find gaps we could fill in the teaching of our language. We were brainstorming textbooks, illustrated children's comics, language nests… everything a linguist-in-training could think of. However, was that what the community most needed? Were any of my offerings in fact useful for their day-to-day reality?
There is one state school in the Krenak territory, where the Brazilian curriculum is taught along with the Borum Itchok — the Krenak tongue. One of the first objections my teammates and I were met with when talking to other community members was the idea that, although a beautiful dream, to draw an academic plan to raise L1 Krenak speakers was too utopian. Kids were already being schooled in Portuguese for decades now — and, even if involuntarily, we could not dismiss the colonial tongue for the doors it opens, both into formal education and into the job market.
Listening to this, not only did I quake in my proposals as a linguist, but also as a dreamer of Indigenous futurisms. After all, it was a dream of mine to create the conditions for generations of native speakers to rise. But, in reality, taking in the critique is immeasurably more valuable. From the position of an outsider — although a Krenak man, still a linguist trained abroad — it is key to take any and every feedback from the community seriously. It took me a bit of time to learn how to see these comments not as objections, but rather as constructive criticisms.
When the idea of a Krenak textbook was dismissed (for the printing costs and inaccessibility to materials), we were quick in finding ways around it. What surprised me, if I'm being honest, was the preference given to virtual resources. According to the elders we work with, dictionaries and textbooks aren't new. Many scholars, mostly European and North American, or settler-descendent Brazilians, have drawn from the Krenak language and people to come up with language resources. All of these are published, either as loose vocabularies or Masters/PhD dissertations. Not all of these are available to the public and, more importantly, to the community these scholars based their work on. Thus, our first solution was not to create new materials, but to reclaim the existing ones, turn them into video tutorials on Krenak sound systems, sentence formation, grammar, and more. Once we understood what the community really wanted, and stood down from the (often invisible to their own eye) pedestal scholars put themselves on, our work finally got a flow to it.
My project with Krenak is ongoing, and we're definitely far from reaching a conclusion to "how can we revitalise our language?" — and, perhaps, it'd be counterproductive if we had already. But what brings me inner peace is exactly the collective construction of our shared future as a language community. This isn't my bachelor thesis I'm working on — it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to be there for my relatives, ancestors, and the future generations of Krenak speakers.
In our conversation yesterday, it was brought up by Yazmín Novelo — one of our mentors, with whom you can schedule a free appointment! — that "there is no language work without social work" and, in my opinion, the same is true the other way around. To care for the Itchok (our language) is to care for the Borum (our people), and vice-versa. There cannot be any efforts to document our language without active participation of our people.
As someone who navigates both worlds, it is not always clear what my role is — I can't be the object of study, nor the one doing the study, so I better be the bridge.
Friday, June 30, 2023
My name is Cllare Chevry, I am working at the ELP as a summer intern, and before Pride Month ends, I would like to share a story, my story, about conflicting yet complementary identities.
I am a queer person and a speaker of a marginalised language. I am a Romand Lothringian and a woman, and these are two elements that are at the core of who I am and go hand in hand together, yet these two truths weren’t always as obvious as they are now. When I was a child, schools and family tried to raise me as a boy and as a French person, and that was what I believed I was, for years, even though I was never quite happy about it. I was taught you were either a boy or a girl, and that’s it. I was taught “you’re in France, you’re French, you speak French, that’s it”. At school, I was taught nationalist myths, about the greatness and unity of France. Both queerness (especially transness) and marginalised languages were erased in all public spaces, no one taught me about it all. Everyone constantly expected me to be a boy (even though I was already socially perceived as a “failed boy” and treated like a freak by everyone), and everyone expected me to be French and nothing else. I remember these nights where I would cry myself to sleep as a kid because I could never just be myself around anyone, although I didn’t really know that was the reason at the time, because I didn’t have the opportunity to even know who I really was.
However, that changed when I was a teenager, when I slowly discovered what had been kept hidden from me. I first learned about the Lothringian languages, and all the other marginalised languages spoken in neighbouring areas. I learned about how France conquered my country and annexed it, about the burnt cities, about how the attempts at regaining independence were repressed. And I learned about how our language was repressed, about how it was banned in public spaces, about the humiliations our elders went through. I learned how the repression policies meticulously targeted children, by taking advantage of their vulnerable age to traumatise them and make them ashamed of their own language to the point that they would never dare speak it again nor teach it to future generations. I learned about how its number of speakers went from the majority of the Lothringian population to only a few thousand people at most.
I decided to learn Romance Lothringian, and the more I learnt, the more I felt connected to the language. I was rediscovering a part of me that was never allowed to exist, yet had somehow always been there somewhere, asleep in a corner of my heart. After all, the shadow of the language had always been there, in my family name (a badly phonetically translated version of a Lothringian traditional name), in my accent, in all the Lothringian words I already used while speaking French. It was just waiting for me to catch up, which I eventually did. I gave the language a larger home within my heart, where it could keep on living, and that is one of the things that brings me the most happiness in my life.
Not long after that, I slowly came into contact with the queer community and became friends with a few trans people, and discovered what it meant to be transgender. That made me slowly realise that I could be a girl too, and that transness was actually the right word to accurately describe my experience, this thing I could never quite put into words until that moment. The realisation took quite a long time, at least a few months, maybe a year, but I got there. And I was in another journey of discovering a part of me that I had been repressing for years, that had always been there, hidden in that same corner of my heart. I found myself a new name, a name in one of the languages of my ancestors, an obvious choice. It was scary at first, such discoveries are always scary, but it finally enabled me to be myself. It was never easy, it took quite a bit of time for my family to finally accept me, it took me a long time to be able to start transitioning, first because my family didn’t allow me to, and then because of the French medical institution keeping me running in circles, but I kept my determination. I also learned about the history of trans struggles and queer struggles in general, and slowly became a queer activist, the same way I slowly became a marginalised language activist.
In French-controlled territories, being both queer and a marginalised language speaker is often seen as impossible, because these two identities are seen as contradictory. Marginalised language speakers are seen as a bunch of close-minded backwards peasants, who cling to a rudimentary language and refuse the enlightenment of French republican universalism, while queerness is seen as a recent corruption of the youth, that exists only in decadent cities, etc. It’s funny, when you speak a marginalised language, you cling too much to antiquated tradition, but when you’re queer, you’re too modern, too disconnected from tradition. So what am I then ? An impossible thing, it would appear !
Being this apparently impossible thing isn’t always easy. It can entail some pretty specific problems : changing your legal name as a trans person is hard, but changing your legal name to a traditional name of an unrecognised language as a trans person is even harder. I’m at the intersection of two struggles that appear unrelated, yet share quite a lot of similarities. I am scared of speaking my language in public the same way I am scared of being visibly trans in public. Both can be dangerous sometimes. And it’s quite isolating: rejection can come from everywhere. I can face rejection both from fellow queer people and from fellow speakers of marginalised languages. The isolation has always been the hardest thing about it for me.
Yet, I still cherish these two identities. It took years for me to find where I could belong, I spent years not understanding what I should do with these two conflicting identities, but not anymore. Nowadays, the idea of these two identities being contradictory seems absurd to me, as they are closely linked. My two journeys of self-discovery share so many similarities, there are so many parallels you can draw between them, to the point that they form only one journey. There is a special link that can’t be quite put into words between my gender identity and my Lothringian identity, they’re complementary, and one can’t fully exist without the other. I have been openly advocating for both causes for a while now, and while I have faced a lot of rejection and backlash, I have also found community. I have found friends who are like me, who speak marginalised languages and are queer, and are proud of both, and the friendships I have built with them are some of the most meaningful I have ever built, they are among the people I trust the most in my life.
It’s not easy to be a speaker of a language that is dying all around you, it’s not easy to be a trans person in a world where the pushback against trans rights is getting stronger and stronger, but I am still happy to be both, and I will never renounce these two identities. I’m proud to be a patoisante trans woman, and always will be !
Bien-aize darìer jorn dil Mois deis Gllóres !
Tuesday, April 11, 2023