Living Tongues Institute wrapped up their Enduring Voices Media Skills Workshop last Friday in a vibrant celebration of Chile’s native cultures. The event featured a Rapa Nui dance troop and Mapuche food and music, and presentations by indigenous language speakers from other Latin American nations who had participated in the workshop.
The Enduring Voices Workshop sought to teach 12 Latin American linguistic activists already fighting to preserve their native tongues critical media skills that would better help them record, document, and teach their languages.
“We share a common goal to promote the use of indigenous languages…through the means of modern technologies to benefit native communities,” Dr. Gregory Anderson, a linguist with National Geographic, explained at the event. “We want to level the playing field.”
In Threat of Extinction
According to the Living Tongues Institute, half of the world’s 7,000 languages are in danger of becoming extinct. In fact, one language dies every two weeks.
“Languages are abandoned when speakers come to think of them as socially inferior, tied to the past, traditional, backward, or economically stagnant,” Living Tongues explained on their website.
With the loss of these languages, humanity loses something even more profound.
“A vast repository of human knowledge about the natural world, plants, animals, ecosystems, and cultural traditions is in the language,” Living Tongues described. “Every language contains the collective history of an entire people.”
Enduring Voices in Santiago
The Enduring Voices Media Skills Workshop spent a whirlwind week in Chile’s capital seeking to teach media skills to a select group of indigenous language speakers from all over Latin America.
The workshop’s 12 participants hailed from seven different countries and were speakers of ten different native languages all at risk of extinction. The workshop gifted each participant a cutting-edge media kit equipped with digital voice recorders, cameras, and laptops to participants without one.
Espíritu Bautista, a playful participant dressed in long robes and a colorful, reed hat described his fight to reinvigorate his native tongue of Yanesha spoken in parts of the Amazon jungle in Perú. In 2005, Bautista received word that linguists had declared Yanesha an endangered language.
“Here’s more bad news, we are in danger of going extinct!” Bautista recalled announcing at a community gathering. “But the pueblo answered ‘No” we’re not going to go extinct, it’s better if we just keep on going. We just have to decide what to do!”
Starting that year, Bautista fought to get Yanesha declared an official language in Perú and initiated programs that helped to teach children the language. From a meager 1,000 speakers, the community has grown to encompass 3,000 thanks to sheer force of will and an analogue tape recorder.
Now Bautista beams, clutching his brand new media kid given to him by Living Tongues. “With this kit we’ll be able to save 10,000 more,” he exclaimed gleefully.
The project is a branch of the U.S. based Living Tongues Institute and is funded by National Geographic Society and Rising Voices. The Enduring Voices Workshop in Santiago was sponsored by Fundación Imagen de Chile.
“We have to give people a reason to learn and to revitalize our own roots so that we might be more than just mirrors that only reflect other cultures,” Carlos Enrique Cortez, a young linguistic activist from El Salvador explained.
By Gwynne Hogan