Disappearing Languages: Enduring Voices -  Documenting the planet's endangered languages

Expeditions

PAPUA NEW GUINEA, JULY-AUGUST 2009

Photo: Nick Waikai and wife Merilyn of Konmei Village, Karawari region, Papua New Guinea

Nick Waikai and wife Merilyn of Konmei Village, Karawari region, Papua New Guinea.

Photograph by Chris Rainier

The island nation of Papua New Guinea represents the greatest single concentration of linguistic diversity on Earth, with 830 listed languages identified thus far. In 2009, the Enduring Voices team recorded interviews with speakers of 11 of these indigenous languages. These languages represent nearly the full spectrum of endangerment processes found in Papua New Guinea and embody the various forces that drive language threat, endangerment, and language shift.

See full Papua New Guinea Expedition Synopsis
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NORTHERN CALIFORNIA, JUNE 2009

Photo: Mark Franco of the Winnemem Wintu consults with linguist Dr. Greg Anderson

Mark Franco of the Winnemem Wintu consults with linguist Dr. Greg Anderson.

Photograph by Chris Rainier

In June 2009, the Enduring Voices team traveled to northern California to meet with the Winnemem Wintu people. Their language is moribund, but a grassroots revitalization effort has been active off and on for the last two decades. Many of the issues that the Winnemem Wintu must address are common obstacles that indigenous Native North American communities face in their revitalization efforts and in social struggles.

See full Northern California Expedition Synopsis
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PARAGUAY

Photo: Crispulo Martinez

Kafote (Crispulo Martinez) of the Ybytoso Ishir. Puerto Diana, Paraguay.

Photograph by Chris Rainier

In May 2009, the Enduring Voices team traveled to Paraguay, which lies within the Central South America Language Hotspot and has a reported 18 languages (not counting Spanish) belonging to six distinct language families. The team focused on three small languages—Ishir, Toba-Qom, and Maka—which belong to three distinct families and are at different stages of language vitality or endangerment. The team's recordings of these languages provide important insights into the current state of these cultures.

See Full Paraguay Expedition Synopsis
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INDIA, NOVEMBER 2008

Photo: Mrs. Lalom Ramadasow in a wheat field in Palizi Village (Aka language area), Arunachal Pradesh, India

Mrs. Lalom Ramadasow in a wheat field in Palizi Village (Aka language area), Arunachal Pradesh, India

Photograph by Chris Rainier

During a return visit to India's Arunachal Pradesh state, a remote mountain enclave restricted to outsiders, the Enduring Voices team focused its attention on members of the Aka group—a perfect case study of a small language currently existing in a fragile equilibrium yet already showing signs of possible endangerment that could lead to eventual extinction.

See Full India, November 2008 Expedition Synopsis
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CENTRAL SIBERIA

Photo: V. M. Gabov, youngest fluent speaker of Chulym, boating on the Chulym River

V. M. Gabov, youngest fluent speaker of Chulym, boating on the Chulym River

Photograph by Gregory D. S. Anderson

The central Siberian language of Chulym is nearly extinct, with fewer than ten fluent speakers remaining. A recent expedition by an Enduring Voices team sought to build on previous work to salvage, record, and analyze what remains of this ancient tongue. During this trip, the group conducted interviews with four fluent Chulym speakers and uncovered a mythical tale documented by Russian researchers in 1971 but never published. Linguists Greg Anderson and David Harrison are currently translating the Chulym stories they recorded and writing a grammar.

See Full Central Siberia Expedition Synopsis
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INDIA, MARCH 2008

Photo: Greg Anderson and Ganesh Murmu interview a woman (name withheld) from the Aka tribal group

Greg Anderson and Ganesh Murmu interview a woman (name withheld) from the Aka tribal group

Photograph by Chris Rainier

A visit by an Enduring Voices team to India's Arunachal Pradesh state has yielded the first-known recordings of several rare and poorly understood languages. The group, which included a foremost Indian tribal scholar and member of the Santal tribe, focused its efforts on the languages and cultural traditions of the Aka and Apatani people. Stay tuned for a report from our November 2008 expedition to India.

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AUSTRALIA

Photo: David Harrison and Greg Anderson with Charlie Mangulda, the last known Amurdag speaker

David Harrison and Greg Anderson with Charlie Mangulda, the last known Amurdag speaker

Photograph by Chris Rainier

Aboriginal Australian cultures are among the world's most ancient, dating back at least 50,000 years. Now, about a hundred of the continent's indigenous languages are in danger of extinction. An Enduring Voices team recently went to Australia to hear from dozens of local experts about the current state of Aboriginal culture and language. The data they gathered will be used to raise global awareness of and interest in language endangerment.

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BOLIVIA

Photo: Kallawaya Healers Antonio Condori and Illarion Ramos Condori, Chary, Bolivia

Kallawaya healers Antonio Condori and Illarion Ramos Condori, Chary, Bolivia

Photograph by K. David Harrison

Bolivia's Kallawaya tribe cleverly anticipated the information age by half a millennium. This ancient culture of herbalist healers encoded their specialized knowledge of medicinal plants in a secret, mixed language to be transmitted only within practitioner families. K. David Harrison and Gregory Anderson, accompanied by two Bolivian scholars, presented Kallawaya materials we had recorded to the Bolivian Ministry of Culture, which had not previously had such recordings. We hope to help raise awareness of this language within Bolivia and more broadly, in order to motivate people to help safeguard this valuable knowledge base.

See Full Bolivia Expedition Synopsis (PDF) Icon: PDF

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The Enduring Voices Project represents a partnership between National Geographic Mission Programs and the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages.

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The Enduring Voices Project strives to preserve endangered languages by identifying language hotspots and documenting the languages and cultures within them.

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David Harrison with Kallawaya Healers Antonio Condori and Illarion Ramos Condori, Chary, Bolivia.

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The Last Speakers

Part travelogue and part scientist’s notebook, The Last Speakers is the poignant chronicle of K. David Harrison’s expeditions around the world to meet with last speakers of vanishing languages.

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Ironbound Films' Sundance hit follows David and Gregory racing to document languages on the verge of extinction.

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