Community Member Bio: Simeon Angel Martínez Torres, Pech Community (Honduras)

Claudine Chamoreau is an ELDP grantee studying the Pech language of Honduras (ISO639-3:pay).  This highly endangered Chibchan language has around 300 speakers and is no longer spoken by young people.  In addition to producing a descriptive grammar, Claudine’s research aims to produce a large digital corpus including transcribed recordings of ceremonial speech and descriptions of cooking and medicinal practices.

Claudine has generously shared some rich snapshots of her work with this language community.  First up, a biography of one of her main language consultants, the teacher and language activist Simeon Angel Martínez Torres.

Working on the project with A. Martínez, C. Chamoreau and J. Hernández (2014)

Simeon Angel Martínez Torres was born on October 25, 1980, in the municipality of Culmí, Department of Olancho, in a small hamlet called El Naranjo. His father Don Hernan Martínez Escobar and his beloved mother Juana Hernandez Carolina had eight children, five girls and three boys. Angel learned to work while very young, as an agricultural labourer with his father. He entered primary school in 1990, where he was an outstanding student in all areas. His teachers were always his guides, and aroused his enthusiasm for teaching from his earliest youth; his teacher Roldan Lopez particularly encouraged him to enter that fine profession.

Claudine Chamoreau, Ángel Martínez, Juana Hernández, Danilo Lugo Mendoza, Nimer López García. Members of the project team working on Pesh dialectological comparison (2016)

Angel, determined to become a teacher, undertook various work activities in his teens to enter secondary education in 2000 at the “Encuentro” institute in the city of Catacamas Olancho. In 2003, he entered the “Matilde Córdova de Suazo” Mixed Normal School in the municipality of Trujillo, Department of Colón. In 2005, Angel achieved his greatest dream, becoming a primary education teacher. He encountered many difficulties, but his persistence was rewarded. He now has a degree in Basic Education, having graduated from the “Francisco Morazán” National Pedagogical University.

Ángel Martínez showing pictures in La Laguna (2015)

Angel belongs to an indigenous group, the Pesh. He knows a lot about the Pesh culture, and speaks the language of this group. In 2011 he met Dr. Claudine Chamoreau who was interested in working with the Pesh to learn more about their language and culture. In 2013 he began working on the Pesh language documentation project in order to create a body of documentation and information on this language and its culture. This is very important for him, as the Pesh language is in danger of extinction. He saw that the project was a good opportunity to affirm his culture and support the continued existence of his language. We now have positive results: we have recorded questionnaires, stories, and conversations, among other things, to add to the body of information that has been collected by the project over a three-year period.

Ángel Martínez (April 2012):

“Yes, understand that this is a crisis, a cultural crisis we are experiencing, we Pesh, as an ethnic group. There are many factors that influence the loss of culture, the loss of identity and speech – discrimination, religion, school. Our language is not accepted in public places, there is no government support for it, so parents do not want to speak their language to their children; all this is troubling.”

“This is our identification, 100 percent, because if I say I am Pesh, and I do not speak the language, practically there is no proof to make you believe that I am Pesh, because when I am in Trujillo, like anyone else, people can simply say ‘He is not Pesh.’ So, how am I going to identify myself? Through my tongue, the authentic language.”

To learn more about the Pesh language and community, visit Claudine’s deposit in the elar catalogue at: https://elar.soas.ac.uk/Collection/MPI971076

 

A Day in the Field- Andrew Harvey

Andrew Harvey is an ELDP grantee documenting Gorwaa, (South-Cushitic, Afro-Asiatic), a previously undocumented language, spoken by approximately 15,000 individuals in Babati District, Manyara Region, Tanzania.

Elicitation with Ayi Raheli

 Please tell us a bit about where you are doing your fieldwork.

 The area where my fieldwork is being carried out has traditionally been inhabited by the people of the Gorwaa ethnic group.  Following an old regional convention, I often refer to this place as Gorwaaland.  Gorwaaland is a relatively small geographic area, but is incredibly diverse.  Located in the eastern branch of the Eastern Tanzanian Rift, Gorwaaland is a mix of dry scrubland, hilly miombo woodlands, wet riverine forest, and equatorial rainforest.  The entire area has rather violent geological history, and is marked by features like volcanic blast craters and lakes with no known outlets.  The area has probably been a crossroads for very different peoples since very deep time indeed.  All major language phyla of the African continent are represented in and around the Eastern Tanzanian Rift.

John Ma’u, at a Gorwaa-language Community focus-group

When did you arrive and when will you be leaving?

This period of fieldwork began in early September of this year, and is going to be quite short: only about three months.  The main goals this time are to check previously-collected material, to fill gaps relating to my thesis, and to delve deeper into the more complex grammatical patterns.  Hopefully I’ll also have enough time for the fun stuff: collecting traditional stories and songs, spending time in the hills and forests talking about trees, and eating winged termites with my host family.

Aakó Lagweén Goti, Dó Gwandú

Can you describe what a typical day in the field is like for you?

The entire Gorwaa-speaking area is witness to rapid change: paved roads and electricity are slowly creeping up the hillsides and into the remote villages.  Endabeg – the village where I live – is still quite rural.  Every day begins at 5:30AM, when the animals start to wake up.  Once the milk cow is fed and given water, the chickens are let out, and the other cows, goats, and sheep are out of the stable and being looked after in pasture, it’s a quick breakfast of tea and maybe a boiled egg or a kitumbua rice doughnut, and then off to meet one of my language consultants.  Yesterday, for example, I spent the day with two sisters who brought me through hilltop forests of bracystegia trees to a special place where fine potting clay can be dug. Using a small video camera and a voice recorder, I recorded as they explained the process involved in digging the clay, as well as the associated ritual taboos.  On the day you dig clay, you mustn’t apply oil to your body; when descending into the pit, you must be barefoot; when returning home, you mustn’t greet anyone you meet along the way.  We ate together at their home in the afternoon, and I recorded as they ground the clay and began forming it into a small pot.  There exists an extensive set of words used specifically for potting, and, with luck, many will have been represented in these recordings.  Days end back in Endabeg, inputting the day’s recordings and creating metadata.  Recording equipment is plugged into the solar battery to charge, and then it is time for bed.

Darbo Hheke, Yerotoni

What are you most looking forward to doing after returning from fieldwork?  Conversely, what will you miss most after completing your fieldwork?

The people who I live and work with every day are an incredibly important part of my research, and also, part of my life.  Watching consummate singer Aakó Bu’ú Saqwaré make bird snares from animal hair, hunting honey with bands of teenagers, long chats my Gorwaa mother Ayi Raheli – these are all the things that I miss the most when I leave.  These very personal feelings are mixed with the general dread shared by many documentarians of endangered languages.  With the passage of time, fewer and fewer people are speaking the Gorwaa language, and increasingly unable to comprehend the universe around which the language has evolved.  The mystic dialogue between the diviner and his tla/ee stones, the exquisitely-crafted sinika riddles meant to brighten the home with laughter at night, the rowdiest of manda drinking songs – all of these forms of expression are impoverished with the passage of time.  What I’m looking forward to the most once back in the UK will no doubt be the odd Gorwaa-language WhatsApp message, and the Skype call that begins in xáy!  And perhaps a hot shower too.

Taking a GPS point a Gitoorí

Thank you so much, Andrew! To learn more about Andrew’s research and the Gorwaa language, visit: https://elar.soas.ac.uk/Collection/MPI1014224

 

Where in the World is ELAR: ELDP Yunnan Training

This week on the ELAR blog, Sophie Mu recaps the Endangered Language Documentation Project training in Yunnan, China. 

ELDP regularly runs in-country training courses targeting local scholars and language documenters. This year we had our first in-country training courses in Yuxi, China.

ELDP and our co-host Yuxi Normal University welcomed thirty successful applicants from all over China to participate in a two-week training in Yuxi, Yunnan from October 24th– November 4th. We were pleased to have participants working on documentation on many endangered languages in China, including those which have not been officially recognised by the Chinese government, such as Sadu and Xiandao.  The selected participants came from different backgrounds but with the same passion and devotion to language documentation. The participants were young researchers from universities in major Chinese cities, such as Guoling Chen, who had been working on documenting Miao rituals in Guizhou; teachers from borders like Legun Mu, whose work involves creating teaching materials for children living along the border line between China and Burma; and community members like Zhuoma, a Tibetan language activist who works to document her own language, Jiarong Tibetean, in Sichuan. For many of our participants, this event was their first opportunity to attend a language documentation training.

We were honoured to have six language consultants from Yuanjiang and Mengla whose languages are endangered and under-documented. We were also fortunate to have experts from different parts of the world who had had worked in China for many years, to join the training team. Throughout the training, all of our team members supported the trainees with their vast experience working on language documentation in China and practical knowledge of different linguistic tools.

Our morning seminars and lectures were run by Dr Katia Chirkova (semantics and lexicography, ELAN-FLEx-ELAN workflow); Dr Hilario de Sousa (Morphosyntax, FLEx); Ross Perlin (FLEx, Ethics); Dr Mandana Seyfeddinipur (multimodality of language use, video equipment, recording and theory, ELAN, grant writing); Felix Rau (ELAN, ELAN-FLEx-ELAN workflow, metadata with CMDI Maker); Jeremy Collins (documentation project); and Sophie Mu (language documentation, audio equipment and recording techniques).  Every afternoon, the participants were divided into five groups to work with their language consultant to practice the skills and tools they were taught in the morning, with two instructors’ help. In the evenings, the participants had a two hour slot to work with their team members, discuss their proposals with instructors and share their incredible experiences working in different communities.

During the last two days of the training, ELDP held half-day clinics to answer participants’ remaining questions and concerns. On the last day of the training, each of the five groups presented their mini documentation project.

The training received significant attention on local and national levels in China. Yuxi TV, Yunnan TV and Xinhua News aired interviews conducted with instructors, participants and the language consultants on TV, radio, websites and newspapers.

ELDP would like to express our gratitude to all language consultants, our Yuxi co-hosts, participants and instructors at the training. We are looking forward to seeing the proposed projects and our continued collaboration.

 

Project Profile: Documentation of the Beth Qustan Dialect of the Central Neo-Aramaic language, Turoyo

This week on the ELAR blog, Mikael Oez writes about his ELDP project on Turoyo, a Neo-Aramaic language spoken in south eastern Turkey.

 Can you give us some background on the language ecology in your area?

The Turoyo language of the mountainous region of Tur ‘Abdin (the mountain of worshippers), south eastern Turkey, is known to its indigenous speakers as ‘Surayt’ or ‘Turoyo’, that is, ‘the language of the Tur ‘Abdin’. It belongs to the Central Neo-Aramaic (CNA) language group. This group of languages is sometimes also referred to as North Western Neo-Aramaic (NWNA).

The Turoyo dialect of CNA was originally spoken by indigenous Christians who have lived in Tur ‘Abdin and the surrounding areas since the first centuries of the Christian era. By definition, as spoken or vernacular dialects they were not written down (until modern times), but conveyed orally from one generation to the next. Without written records, it is rather difficult to ascertain precisely how far back Turoyo has been spoken as a distinct language. With the recent recognition of the importance of oral dialects, scholars have now started to look for evidence of its chronicle use and the interaction and borrowing from other languages in its milieu, such as Syriac, Arabic, Turkish, Kurdish and Persian.

What is your research question and why did you choose it?

The project is designed to shed some light on establishing more precise boundaries between the dialects and on the dynamics of feature transition. This will introduce much needed fresh material to boost discussion about the mechanisms of interaction between languages, such as lexical borrowing and externally induced grammar. For instance, villages with better links and nearer to the city of Midyat, the main urban centre, are often more influenced by the Arabic language, and Arabic words are often Aramaicised in Turoyo, i.e. they take an Aramaic pattern when they are conjugated, whereas villages borrow from their neighbouring Kurds, and hence Aramaicise Kurdish words. The Aramaicising of loan words is particularly interesting when they are verbs as they match the endings of the native words when they are conjugated.

Can you tell us more about the content of your deposit?

This project aims to record tales about Muslim visitations to the shrines of Christian saints, old wives’ tales and supernatural legends, such as the telling of djinn stories amongst Christians, and stories of magical practices. In doing so, this project will provide records of interaction between Muslim and Christian communities, and record invaluable vernacular data for which there are no written material. The recordings will also address aspects of daily life such as procedural texts, instructions, directions, interactions, discussion, negotiations, and informal talks.

I was slightly concerned about these topics, as people often shy away from these topics since they mostly fall into mysticism. However, I was very surprised about the hospitality and the openness of my consultants. They were very happy to pass on their invaluable experience, which I believe would have been lost if it were not recorded.

One of the recordings I thoroughly enjoyed was when I requested three generous ladies to cook cultural food, to be part of my procedural texts. To my surprise I realised how sophisticated the culinary art is in daily foods in Tur ‘Abdin. I can still feel the delicious taste of that original food in my taste buds.

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What’s been a challenge in this project and why?

I originally intended to travel to the Beth Qustan village in Tur ‘Abdin to conduct my fieldwork. However, due to the unstable political situation, I decided to change my location, and instead conducted my project in Germany within a diaspora speaker community. This meant I had to conduct much searching, coordination, and a careful selection of the displaced native speakers. I initially began working with people in their 80s. This made me realise that we had already lost the knowledge accumulated by octogenarians, as they found it much harder to remember things, and to talk in details about their culture. I immediately changed the focus of the project to a later generation, (speakers aged 55-65).

What still needs to be done?

There are at least a couple of dozen Neo-Aramaic dialects originated from Tur ‘Abdin, which have not yet been documented. I realised during my fieldwork that if these are not documented before losing the generation of native speakers I worked with, this is to say, in five to ten years, we will also lose all invaluable knowledge about their culture and traditions. The Aramaic civilisation goes back more than 3000 years, which we have not preserved. We have the technology and equipment today to capture this fascinating civilisation at a very low cost. The only thing we don’t have on our side is time.

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Thank you, Mikael! You can see Mikael’s deposit at: https://elar.soas.ac.uk/Collection/MPI1035085