ELDP Project Highlight (Part 2): Meakambut ways of speaking: Audio-visual documentation of communication practices in a small semi-nomadic hunter-and-gatherer society in Papua

Today on the ELAR blog,

is back on the blog to share another excerpt from her field diary from her work on Meakambut in Papua New Guinea. To learn more about this project, visit the ELAR archive at here.

On my first trip I brought with me digitized video material which the anthropologist Borut Telban, who works in Ambonwari village, recorded when he met the Meakambut in 1991. These videos, which the Meakambut had not seen before, triggered interesting discussions about how differently they live now from how they used to live at that time, about the habits and personalities of the by now deceased relatives who were in the video, about their ways of speaking, eating, their quirks and their faults, as well as about their ways of sharing food with others. That video won me access to working with the Meakambut, as they clearly expressed the wish that their children and grandchildren be able to see them one day, like they could now see themselves (as children) and their ancestors. When we were later transcribing and translating the recorded materials I found that people were sometimes explicitly talking to their descendants who will at some point in the future watch these videos.

Pedi Warea, with her daughter Ropeka and grandson Aloa, watching herself as a young woman, and her late daughter Kuranda and husband Papilam in footage from 1991 (still frame from video recording by Darja Hoenigman).

ELDP Project Highlight (Part 1): Meakambut ways of speaking: Audio-visual documentation of communication practices in a small semi-nomadic hunter-and-gatherer society in Papua

Today on the ELAR blog, Darja Hoenigman shares an excerpt from her field diary from her work on Meakambut in Papua New Guinea. To learn more about this project, visit the ELAR archive here.

Through our discussions about language it became clear to me that the Meakambut take it for granted that their language will always be there. When I told them about cases when people in some parts of Papua New Guinea started replacing their language with Tok Pisin, and thus gradually losing it, the Meakambut thought it was unthinkable to be without one’s own language: “If you don’t have your own language, what will you do when there are people from other places around and you want to hide from them what you’re talking about?” said Yakalok. This remark reflects people’s intimate connection with their language, and is yet another confirmation of how in this northern part of Papua New Guinea even very small speech communities have cultural reasons for keeping their language different from the languages of their more numerous neighbours. The value placed on having a language incomprehensible to outsiders has perhaps played an important role in preserving the incredible linguistic diversity of New Guinea – up to just a few decades ago, when many town dwellers and some communities who have more contact with outside world started readily giving up their ancestral language for Tok Pisin.

Project Highlight: Ayoreo Publication

During 2016, within the frame of the documentation project IGS0205, a book was published and distributed between the Ayoreo communities in Paraguay and Bolivia. The work in question is a bilingual story book (Ayoreo-Spanish) that features 19 tales of cultural relevance, most of them set before contact with non-aboriginal groups. This publication is intended to help preserve the narratives of a now elderly group who lived half their lives before contact, and share their knowledge with younger and future generations. It is also intended as a way of sharing the project’s data with the speech community. This book was co-edited by the lead researcher Santiago Durante and the main consultant and Secretary of the community of Campo Loro Benito Etacore. It was financed by the ELDP and published by FILO:UBA (publishing house of the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, University of Buenos Aires).

On 14th November 2016, two members of the Ayoreo community of Campo Loro, Paraguay, came to Buenos Aires, Argentina, in order to introduce the book in the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy at the University of Buenos Aires. The visitors were Benito Etacore, co-editor, and Pablo Etacore, who is author of one of the stories.

Before the presentation, Benito and Pablo talked with the students of an Ethnolinguistics class at the university. It was a very interesting exchange for both the visitors and the public. The students (most Linguistics and Anthropology majors) had a chance to talk to Benito and Pablo and even did an exercise on number elicitation.

The book presentation attracted a large audience and was held by a panel composed of the Director of the Career Miguel Vedda, the sub-secretary of publications Matías Cordo, the head professor of Ethnolinguistics, Lucía Golluscio, Amadeo Benz from the Paraguayan Ministry of Education, Benito Etacore (co-editor of the book), Pablo Etacore (author of one of the stories) and Santiago Durante (co-editor and lead researcher on the documentation project).

It was the first time Ayoreo members visited Buenos Aires and it was a great opportunity to share knowledge about this Chaco group with the local academic community. It was also a good opportunity for the main consultants to visit the workplace of the linguist involved in the documentation project they have been working on for the last three years.

To learn more about this documentation project and the Ayoreo language, visit the ELAR catalogue here.


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

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.


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


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.


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!

See Alexandro’s deposit here: https://elar.soas.ac.uk/Collection/MPI1032028