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Every Language Matters: Documenting and sustaining endangered languages

This Open Day Language Forum will promote a public understanding of the place that languages hold in the lives of individuals and communities around the world, as well as the role of linguistic research in furthering our understanding of language and communication. Having evolved over thousands of years, languages are vital resources for documenting and understanding our biological and cultural diversity. Of the 7000 languages spoken in the world today, more than half are under threat of extinction within 50 to 100 years.

 

Vanuatu Sand Drawing: languages can have different manifestations

Mike Franjieh, senior teaching fellow in the Department of Linguistics at SOAS, will discuss his research in Vanuatu. He will show how sand drawing is a unique means of communication among the members of the various language groups living in the north of the archipelago. Participants will have the opportunity to explore the technique for themselves.
 
 

A Linguist in the Bush

Why does linguistic fieldwork matter and what happens to languages people speak when their way of life is rapidly changing? Dr. Candide Simard, a senior teaching fellow at SOAS, will share her experience of linguistic fieldwork in Timber Creek, documenting indigenous languages in Northern Australia.

 

 

 

Language Landscape: mapping language diversity

Samantha Goodchild and Karolina Grzech will present Language Landscape, a website featuring an interactive, user-generated map of the world's languages. The website was launched 5 months ago, and already contains songs, poems, nursery rhymes, conversations and recipes from around the world. The talk will explain the innovative method of language mapping used by Language Landscape, and show how anyone, anywhere can now put their language on the map. There will also be chance to get your voice recorded during the event. www.languagelandscape.org
 

Preserving Languages and Linguistic Diversity

Professor Peter K. Austin is Marit Rausing Chair in Field Linguistics and Director of the Endangered Languages Academic Programme at SOAS. In his talk, he will tell us why all languages matter. He will discuss current issues in the documentation and description of the languages of the world, and how their study matters for our understanding of cultural and linguistic diversity.
 
The following events continued the series on Every Language Matters at the Royal Anthropological Institute, 50 Fitzroy Street W1T 5BT

 

 

 

Sand Drawings of Vanuatu
Presentation and film screening with Mike Franjie

Sand drawing is a unique art form only found in the Vanuatu archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean. Sand drawings are elegant geometric patterns produced directly on the ground, which serve to transmit a wealth of traditional knowledge about local history, indigenous rituals and cosmologies, kinship systems or natural phenomena. It is a unique means of communication among the members of the various language groups living in the
north of the Vanuatu archipelago. It is also a multifunctional sign system that occurs in a wide range of ritual, contemplative and communicative contexts. They are listed by UNESCO as part of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity, in need of safeguarding for future generations.

 

Tracks Across Sand: N/uu language and the =Khomani San of the southern Kalahari (2012)
Film screening & discussion with director Hugh Brody

In 1996, as part of land claims research with the =Khomani San - South Africa's last group of people who think of themselves as "Bushmen" - a very old woman revealed that she spoke N/uu, a language that had been declared extinct by experts on languages of the region some twenty years before. This led to a search for other speakers - 22 were found. And led to many discussions and stories about how this language had been caused almost to die, and what this loss had meant. The film follows all the threads of twelve years of work with the=Khomani San, the language stories are edited together to take us into this example of loss, and to share the accounts elders give of what it has felt to change from the world of N/uu to that of Afrikaans.

 

Writing Panare: Portrait of a linguist at fieldwork (1996, 30 minutes)
Film screening & discussion with director Paul Henley

Marie-Claude Muller is a linguist who has worked for many years with the Panare, an Amerindian people of Venezuelan Amazonia. She has now been commissioned by the government literacy programme to prepare reading primers in Panare. Writing Panare shows her gathering a range of materials for the primers, from zoological taxonomies to myths. She is also shown working with Panare schoolteachers on an alphabet to accommodate local dialectical variations. These scenes are intercut with an interview in which she describes the principles underlying the literacy programme and considers its role in helping the Panare confront the consequences of contact with the national society.