Chile hosts international event to save disappearing languages

Workshop by Living Tongues and National Geographic aims to empower indigenous youth to preserve Latin America’s native languages. 

Every two weeks the last fluent speaker of a language dies. In fact, it’s expected that nearly half the 7,000 world’s languages are likely to disappear in the next 100 years.
But with the rise of digital technology, humanity has a unique opportunity to record and share these ancestral tongues, preserving hundreds of generations of knowledge encoded within them.
This is the guiding principle of Voces Duraderas, a workshop that will be held in Santiago from January 7 through 11, 2013. Hosted by Enduring Voices – a joint initiative of the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages and the National Geographic Society – the event will include speakers of indigenous languages from Chile and around Latin America.
“In a lot of indigenous languages, native speakers are growing old, and we want to empower young indigenous activists from those communities to take digital technology and create material in their own language, which can serve as an archive,” Living Tongues Latin American Projects Coordinator Anna Luisa Daigneault told This is Chile.
“Our goal is to teach the participants to make recordings, how to use software editing media, and create audio archives and digital films that they can host on the internet,” Daigneault said.
The workshop is the third of its kind and the first held in Latin America, after conferences in India and the United States.
“Chile was a pretty easy choice, firstly because we’ve done several field trips to Chile, so we have a network of people in Santiago, but also because the Mapudungun revitalisation movement is really strong,” Daigneault said.
“Chile is a place where indigenous people are stepping up, there are language classes and the scene is very dynamic. Also logistically it’s a good place to get computers and technical equipment and set up a workshop – it’s safe and easy to get around the city,” she said.
Twelve activists have been invited to take part in the seminars, all of whom have worked with the Enduring Voices team before, or have been recommended due to their outstanding work in the field.
Three will come from Chile; Anselmo Nuyado Ancapichun and her son Jonattan Laoiza Ancapichun, speakers of Tsesungun from Southern Chile, and María Inés Huenuñir Antihuala, Mapudungun poet from Santiago.
From El Salvador comes Carlos Enrique Cortez, the first person to create a video archive of Nahuat-pipil, and from Paraguay, Andres Ozuna Ortiz, a Yshyr-chamacoco speaker who published a book with the support of Living Tongues.
Other participants include; Espíritu Bautista and his son Elmo, Yanesha (Amuesha) speakers from the Peruvian Amazon; Judith Condori Gavilán, a Quechua Ayacuchano speaker from Perú; Emiliano Cruz Santiago, Zapoteco Miahuateco speaker and Verónica Fidencio Núñez, Mazahua speaker from México; José Reginaldo Pérez Vail speaker of Mam from Guatemala; and Ignacio Tomicha Chuve, a Chiquitano speaker from Bolivia.
“What we are trying to do is put them all together in one room, and create a think tank of some of the best projects that young people are doing in the region, and motivate them to learn from each other, and help them all move forward at once,” Daigneault said.
Running the workshops will be Living Tongues founder and director Dr. Gregory D. S. Anderson and Daigneault herself, Eddie Avila from Rising Voices, and Luis Godoy Saavedra from Chile’s Universidad Tecnológica Metropolitana.
How to get involved
The workshops are invitation only events, however Voces Duraderas will open up to the public on January 11, 2013, between 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the Biblioteca de Santiago. Featuring performances from Mapuche artists, the closing ceremony will give everyone a chance to meet the participants and see what they have done over the five-day event.
Within a few weeks of the workshop, Enduring Voices will begin publishing the material gathered in the Santiago workshop – to follow that progress, check out the Living Tongues blog.
Eventually, organizers will add six new languages to its Talking Dictionaries project, a webpage which archives endangered and extinct languages and allows users to search for words and hear them spoken by native speakers.
For more on the state of Chile’s indigenous languages, check out Enduring Voices field report from Chile in 2011.
Voces Duraderas is also supported by the Fundación Imagen de Chile.
Written by Joe Hinchliffe