The Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project  The Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project

Endangered Languages Outreach Day 2014: 

Wednesday 14th May, Room B102 Brunei Gallery (see map)

Tur Abdin, Turkey (pic by Mehmet Toprak) Tur Abdin, Turkey (pic by Mehmet Sait Toprak)

Every year the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme (ELDP) and the Endangered Languages Archive (ELAR) reaches out to the public and the academic community to raise awareness about the dramatic loss of linguistic diversity around the globe. Speakers give up their languages because of the consequences of globalisation and urbanisation. The alarming speed of this modern development will lead to the loss of about half of the 7000 languages spoken today by the end of this century. Many of these dying languages have never been recorded or described which means that they are vanishing without a trace. ELAR and ELDP are trying to stem the tide bysupporting the documentation, preservation and dissemination of endangered languages across the globe. This year we are highlighting the situation of endangered language communties in the Middle East and North Africa.

Endangered Languages
in the Middle East and North Africa

Taleshi speaker Rustaa Capazaad (pic by Gerardo de Caro) Taleshi speaker Rustaa Capazaad (pic by Gerardo de Caro)

A day of talks by ELDP grantees, alumni, colleagues and friends and a display and demonstration of ELAR as part of Endangered Languages outreach event for 2014.

ELDP grantees, alumni and collaborators inform about their work on endangered languages in the Middle East and North Africa. Come and learn about endangered languages in Iran, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, Algeria and Yemen and Oman

World leading specialist and junior researcher will talk about language endangerment, approaches to language maintenance, the connection between language and culture in different areas in the Middle East and North Africa.

Come to our talks and stay for coffee and at the end of the day for wine and nibbles and talk to our specialists.

Keynote by Janet C. E. Watson

Leadership Chair for Language (Leeds, UK)

Janet C. E. Watson Janet C. E. Watson
Janet C. E. Watson is an eminent researcher. After studying Arabic & Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter, she moved to SOAS, London to study Linguistics and then complete a PhD on the phonology and morphology of Yemeni Arabic dialects. She held academic posts at the Universities of Edinburgh, Durham and Salford. Now she is the Leadership Chair for Language@Leeds at the University of Leeds.

Her main research interests lie in the documentation of Modern South Arabian languages and modern Arabic dialects. Since 2006, she has been documenting dialects of Mehri, one of six endangered Modern South Arabian languages spoken in the far south of the Arabian Peninsula with her co-investigators are Dr Miranda Morris, University of St Andrews and Dr Domenyk Eades, University of Salford (more information).

ELAR: Come, see and hear: New recordings, presentation and publication of digital collections

Tur Abdin, Turkey (pic by Mehmet Toprak
ELAR presents their work of preservation and dissemination of digital collections of endangered languages recordings materials from audio and video recordings, transcriptions and translations to language primers and storybooks. Come and browse the collections, look at video recordings of Berber languages and listen to Turoyo songs and hear Armenians from Beirut discuss language learning.


Tur Abdin, Turkey (pic by Mehmet Toprak


Learn about the history of audio recording devices and their media from Edison's phonograph recording on wax cylinder to today's digital handheld audio recorders. Explore devices and record your own language. Imagine how fieldworkers used these devices in remote areas like in Nigeria or New Guinea and how, in the beginning of the 19th century, they recorded talk, songs and other cultural practices, today often the only remaining record of a cultural practice which is not performed anymore.

Programme: Endangered Language in the Middle East and North Africa


Time Session  
09.30-10.00 Welcome and introduction

10.00-10.30 Talesh Taleshi: An (un) easy connection
Gerardo De Caro (SOAS, London, UK)

Language, culture and land are easily connected in a basic definition of Taleshi: a North-Western Iranian language, Taleshi is the ancestral tongue of the Talesh, the main cultural group of Talesh, a narrow strip of land stretching along the south-western coastline of the Caspian Sea. Various factors, however, complicate this connection. Drawing on fieldwork research conducted in 2008, I will explore the language situation in Talesh in the light of three major divides: (a) the ecological contrast between upland and lowland environments, and its significance for traditional economy, population movement and social change; (b) the political division of the region between Iran and Azerbaijan, and its repercussions in terms of language policy and local cultural discourse; (c) the dialectal fragmentation of the language, and the considerable lack of mutual intelligibility (and communication) between non-neighbouring dialect areas. To conclude, I will look at how these divides may affect the fieldworker’s agenda in both the daily activity and the long-term planning.


10.30-11.00 Documenting a religious minority: the Dari dialect of Kerman
Saloumeh Gholami (Goethe University, Frankfurt, Germany)

Dari (also known as Behdini, Gavri, Gavruni) is a spoken language rather than a written one. It is spoken by the religious minority of the Zoroastrians in the cities of Yazd and the surrounding areas, and in Kerman and Tehran. Dari serves as a direct bridge between the ancient religion and culture of Iranians and their today life, although some influences from the current ruling culture and religion of the country can be found at various levels.
Zoroastrianism is a religion based on the teaching of the prophet Zarathustra. It was founded probably sometime before the sixth century BC in ancient Iran. After the coming of Islam, the Zoroastrian community was under considerable strain, and for this reason, between the eighth and tenth centuries, some of the followers of Zoroastrianism left Iran for India, where today the biggest and most important Zoroastrian community in the world is found. The rest of the Iranian Zoroastrians have been living in Yazd, Kerman, and Tehran, while many others have migrated to other countries. The mass migration of young Zoroastrians, especially to the USA and Canada, and their social integration in the new country, is one of the reasons for the emergency situation of this language.
There are two main dialects of Dari: Kermani and Yazdi. The dialect of Yazdi has many subdialects, while there appears to be only one dialect of Kermani. In terms of language endangerment, the situation of the Kermani dialect, the topic of my project, is especially grave, while the situation of the Zoroastrian-Yazdi dialect of Dari is comparatively better. The exact number of Dari speakers is not yet clear. During my fieldwork in Iran, I estimated that there were only thirty-five speakers of the Kermani dialect. In terms of preservation of cultural heritage, it is interesting to note that Yazdi Zoroastrians believe that those from Kerman are not very good Zoroastrians because they have forgotten or left many of the old traditions behind, for example, wearing the traditional clothing or the use of Dari in the family domain and speaking it with their children. Today many Yazdi Zoroastrians, among them academic people ignore the existence of the Kermani dialect of Dari and identify it as a dialect of Persian.
As a researcher in Iranian dialectology, I aim to investigate various phonological, morphological and syntactical features in order to find out the dialectal differences between the Kermani and Yazdi dialect of Dari. This language has been very often introduced either as a dialect of Persian or a Central dialect and its relation to the North-Western Iranian group has been rarely studied. I use my language documentation materials to compare selected grammatical features of Dari with those in individual North-Western Iranian languages. The results of this comparison clarify the position of Dari among other Iranian languages. This information is of particular importance for Iranian dialectology.


11.30-12.00 Coffee break

12.00-12.30 CANCELLED -Turoyo: A Living Dialect in Tur Abdin - CANCELLED
Mehment Sait Toprak (Mardin Artuklu University, Institute of Living Languages, Mardin, Turkey)

Turoyo (ISO-639-3 tru) is a Central Neo-Aramaic language from the Tur Abdin region of southeast Turkey with a sizable diaspora in Europe, Syria and Lebanon. The speaker population within Tur Abdin was estimated at 3,000 in 1994.
This project is to conduct a comprehensive study of the Turoyo language around the city of Mardin. The primary product of this study will be an audio corpus covering a wide range of topics, annotated with an IPA transcription and English gloss, providing an vital source of cultural and linguistic data for both scholars and speaker communities.


12.30-13.30 Lunch


Is there really gender language disparity in a conservative society? The case of Siwi
Valentina Schiattarella (EPHE, and CNRS-LLACAN, Paris, France)

Siwi is the easternmost variety of Berber and is spoken in the Siwa oasis in Egypt. This talk will present some data and results of a documentation project, started in 2011, with a specific focus on the oral production of women.
The women of Siwa live in a highly conservative society and have minimal contact with men not belonging to their family. But they are also part of a society which, because of close contact with outside communities (primarily Arabic-speaking ones), is modernising at a very fast pace and losing much of its unique traditional culture. The primary question this talk will address is: given the rapid loss of the unique attributes of their traditional society, does it still make sense to talk about the disparity between men and women in terms of linguistics and cultural knowledge?


14.00-14.30 Korandjé: An Algerian case of language endangerment in historical perspective
Lameen Souag (LACITO, Paris, France)

Korandjé: An Algerian case of language endangerment in historical perspective

Many smaller language varieties of Algeria are no longer being spoken to children, and as such are likely to become extinct in the near future. Most of these (eg Beni-Snous, Igli, Touat, Tidikelt, Blida Atlas) belong to Northern Berber, and – while distinctive in some respects – are mutually intelligible with related varieties in better shape.  One, however, is distinct by any measure, belonging neither to Berber nor to Arabic and mutually comprehensible with no other variety anywhere: Korandjé, a Songhay language spoken by a few thousand people in the oasis of Tabelbala, in southwestern Algeria. Its vocabulary, numerically dominated by multiple strata of loanwords, attests to its speakers' long history of bilingualism, and indeed preserves relics of languages now themselves locally extinct. A synthesis of lexical, historical, and epigraphic data makes it possible to sketch a linguistic history of Tabelbala over the past millennium, and to explain how Songhay speakers first reached this location over a thousand kilometres away from their homes. Speakers explain their conscious decision to shift to Arabic during the late 20th century primarily in terms of school success, but in a wider historical perspective this appears as only the latest stage of a cultural realignment stretching over centuries.


14.30-15.00 Coffee Break

15.00-15.30 And what if, 100 years on, school is not enough? Western Armenian in Lebanon as a model of language maintenance and the challenges for schools
Anke Al Bataineh (INALCO, Paris, France)

Where hundreds or thousands of endangered languages are facing the challenge of creating a writing system and tradition, and hoping that school programs will reverse the trend of language shift, Western Armenian benefits from many centuries of literary tradition and a well-developed, immersive schooling system. What's more, Lebanon constitutes the linguistic and cultural center of a global diaspora of speakers of this language, and is a particularly friendly environment for a minority language. In fact, current speakers of Western Armenian have been deeply shaped by the establishment of Armenian schools in Lebanon after the population fled a genocide in 1915, since language shift had already been significant and many of the population spoke only Turkish. Thus, the school was instrumental in revitalizing or "Armenizing" the population, generalizing the standardized language, and supporting the linguistic aspects of a "purification" movement that stigmatized all cultural and linguistic contributions from Turkish. The school is furthermore an important location for language attitudes and ideology about Armenian identity, which has been a powerful support to language vitality for many decades.However, Western Armenian has recently been declared endangered in Lebanon, and speakers are worried about language shift and falling school enrollment. Ongoing doctoral research has found that Lebanese education policy plays an implicit, indirect role in falling school enrollment, which is amplified by social discourses about the value of educational success. Workers within Armenian schools, however, tend to focus on different narratives than do parents who choose non-Armenian schools, and particularly schools tend to acknowledge only those factors that attribute all agency to parents, whereas parents tend to attribute agency to schools, who need to modernize. The effect of these conflicting discourses contributes to falling enrollment, and indirectly to language shift.

Additionally, schools are faced with the challenge of the reality of multilingual language use, which does notconform to narratives of language purity and "thinking in Armenian" that schools promote. These challenges are becoming increasingly consequential as the children of linguistically-mixed marriages tend to enroll in non- Armenian schools, and the maintenance model developed in Lebanon becomes increasingly inadequate in the low- vitality communities of France and other Western countries, to which the model has been exported.

To some extent, language communities who are currently developing literacy and language revitalization programscan learn from the case of Western Armenian by looking ahead hypothetically to the challenges of long-termmaintenance, and considering both the strengths and weaknesses of these schools in the development of their own models. This talk will explore the limitations of schools for maintenance and revitalization, and the strategies that suggest themselves from the study of this case.


15.30-16.00 Indic in the Near-East: Domari in Beirut
Bruno Herin (INALCO, Paris, France)

Domari is an endangered Indic language spoken by the “Middle Eastern Gypsies” across the Middle East. The language belongs to the so-called central group of Indo-Aryan, along with Hindustani. It exhibits interesting archaisms, usually lost other Indic languages, such as the retention of complex consonant clusters or a suffixed present tense conjugation directly inherited from the Old Indo-Aryan period. The language remains largely undocumented and the only variety for which a complete description is available is Jerusalem Domari. The endangerment level of the language lies between moribund, as in Palestine, and severely/critically endangered. The Beirut dialect falls within this category. Much of this critical endangerment can be explained by rapid social-economic changes that affected most Dom communities in the past decades. Initially commercial nomads, the Dom used to specialise in various trades and occupations and used to provide goods and services to both rural and other nomadic communities such as the Bedouins. While some communities kept this socio-economic profile and semi-nomadic way of life, many Dom communities were sedentarised and gave up their original trades. The social networks were largely restructured, leading to a break in language transmission. There are no reliable figures about the number of Dom or speakers of Domari, as their ethnicity is not even recognised in the countries where they live. The goal of this paper is to present the language and the community of Beirut, amongst which I conducted fieldwork in 2011, and expose the reasons why it needs to be documented.


16.00-17.00 Coffee break

17.00-18.30 Language and Culture: The documentation of Modern South Arabian Languages
Janet C. Watson (Univeristy of Leeds, Leeds, UK)

I examine links between language and culture within the context of a three-year community-based project which is currently documenting the Modern South Arabian languages (MSAL) spoken in Oman and mainland Yemen.

MSAL are members of the Semitic language family. The six languages of the group are in varying stages of endangerment: Mehri, spoken in Oman, Yemen and parts of Saudi Arabia, is said to have some 100,000 speakers, although the actual number is difficult to estimate since the language is spoken across three state boundaries and many Mehris no longer speak Mehri; Soqotri, spoken on the island of Soqotra (and by a few hundred who have emigrated to the Gulf), has some 50,000 speakers; Shahri, also known as Jibbali, spoken within the Dhofar region of Oman, has some 20-30,000 speakers; Harsusi, spoken in Jiddat al-Harasis of central Oman, and Hobyot, spoken in the far east of Yemen and the far west of Oman, each have under 1,000 speakers; Bathari, spoken in Dhofar, has fewer than 10 fluent speakers. Nowadays almost all speakers of MSAL also speak Arabic.

Language and culture are inextricably linked – language reflects and describes the culture of the community, cultural gestures rarely lack communicative function, and when a culture comes under threat, the linguistic elements associated with that culture begin to be lost. The traditional culture of MSAL communities is becoming increasingly fragile, a significant contributive factor to language endangerment; urbanisation, rapid commercialisation, compulsory education in Arabic, and a rise in living standards has resulted in the collapse of many aspects of the culture which used to characterise the region. This rapid economic and socio-political change has also resulted in the MSAL languages increasingly falling into disuse. And where younger generation speakers may still understand the language, many can no longer practise or describe traditional cultural practices.

In this paper, I stress the significance of the languages within the larger Semitic language family, and the importance of documenting the languages and culture of the MSAL language communities at a time of intense sociological and environmental change.


18.30-19.30 Wine Reception