ELDP Project Highlight: Documentation of Northern Alta, a Philippine Negrito Language

By ELAR Archive|November 17, 2016|ELDP Project Highlight|0 comments

This week on the ELAR blog, Alexandro Garcia-Laguia shares a look into his ELDP project. Alexandro is researching Northern Alta, an endangered language spoken along the rivers of Aurora province in the Philippines.

Reconstructing an old Alta song:

The speakers of Alta have reported that their parents did not teach them any songs in Alta (n_alta054.42). However, one day, at a gathering with six women in Barangay Dianed, the ladies recalled fragments of an Alta song. They decided to sit down and collaborate to write and complete the lyrics. We recorded them singing the song twice (and the recordings of the song, the transcription and other relevant files have been uploaded to the Endangered Languages Archive as session 45: https://elar.soas.ac.uk/Collection/MPI1032028).

Subsequently Joaquin Ramón, a composer from Spain, created a backing track for the song with the piano, so the Alta can sing the song whenever they want and teach it to the children. Karaoke is appreciated in the communities and in the Philippines in general, and is often used as way of having fun on weekends, so we expect the recording to be used in the future.

The recording of this backing track is included in the session 45 file (nalta45_piano) and has also been uploaded to the cloud and: https://soundcloud.com/alexfbmv/nalta045-piano.

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Writing the lyrics of the Alta song (Dianed, January 2014)

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Recording the song

The non-Alta speakers of Alta

Given the small number of speakers of Alta – estimations go from 200 to 300 persons – those who are not Alta but speak the language are rare, but do exist. The corpus includes a number of recordings of four different speakers of the language who are not ethnically Alta. Some of them have a surprising command of the language. This is the case of Inelda Andon, who states “I am not an Alta, he is the Alta here, but I learned the language when I was a kid. When I was four we started living with the Alta, thus, even if we do not have curly hair, even if we are not Alta, we can speak the Alta language” (session 60).

During a series of transcription sessions, native speaker Violeta Fernandez, who was slowly repeating the recordings we had made of the language, would confidently point and substitute Tagalog borrowings with the native Alta word. Surprisingly, whenever she could not remember the Alta word, she would ask Inelda, who was in the garden but could listen to what we were transcribing. Several times, Inelda Andon provided the corresponding Alta word.

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Inelda and her husband Antonio Andon at Diteki (February 2015)

Other non-native speakers have learned the language, either because they grew up with Alta neighbors, or because they are married to an Alta. In recording session 40 (How I learned Alta) Rogelio Ganarrial, who is the second husband of the barangay chieftain and native Alta speaker Erlinda Ganarrial, describes his experiences with the language. In two other recordings (41 and 42), Mila Lasam explains how she learned the language and how her daily life is at the coastal barangay Dianed. Finally, Conchita Genes, originally from Dibut (an isolated coastal area where Umiray Dumaget Agta, another Negrito language, is spoken), says she left her village when she was a child and does not remember anything of it. Conchita grew up in Diteki with the Alta and is now married to Renato Genes, a native Alta with whom she speaks the language on a daily basis. She has participated actively in the project (see recordings 81, 88, 90 and 93).

Given the circumstances in which the Alta are sometimes mocked because of their curly hair or the way their language sounds, the non­-Alta speakers of the language are an example of tolerance for the community.

Thank you, Alexandro! To learn more about Alta, see Alexandro’s deposit, here.

Blog post by Alexandro Garcia-Laguia

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