Endangered Language Alliance

News & Events

the latest on endangered language work at ELA

Help alleviate poverty in rural Botswana

Remote rural communities in Botswana are among the poorest areas in the country. We request funding to help pay for daily necessities such as food and clothing, and to help provide financial support to young people who wish to pursue educational opportunities. 

ELA is supporting this effort as a fiscal sponsor.

Donate herehttps://www.gofundme.com/poverty-relief-in-rural-botswana

Funding Request:
Our immediate goal is to raise 10,000 US dollars for a pilot program to address these needs in a small number of settlement communities (primarily Mokgenene and Poloka in eastern Botswana). The pilot program will take place from June 1, 2019 to May 31, 2020.

If we are successful in raising funds, we will use the results of the pilot program to create a larger program covering more settlement communities. At the end of the pilot program, a report on expenditures will be available upon request.

Botswana is a country with a growing middle class. It consistently ranks very high on the Ibrahim Index of African Governance. And the World Bank has reported a consistent drop in poverty levels.

But remote rural populations lag behind, especially people living in settlement communities such as Mokgenene, Poloka, Khekhenye, Serinane and Diphuduhudu, amongst many others. In these areas the effects of poverty are immediately obvious, including hungry children, people without proper clothing during the cold winter months, high unemployment rates and high rates of alcoholism.

During the school year, children are able to eat at school through the Botswana School Feeding Programme. However, on the weekend and during school vacations, children often remain without food. We propose to offer a pilot program  to make food available to children during those periods. Since food preparation in the village is not feasible, students will be given rations.

Clothing and Toiletries:
Many of the people in the settlement villages do not have sufficient clothing for the cold winter months (with temperatures lower than 40°F at night), leading to illnesses of various kinds. We propose to buy coats, long pants, dresses, shirts, sweaters, shoes, blankets, hats, mittens and other clothing items that people need to remain healthy during the winter months. The lack of sanitary pads for young women is an impediment to school attendance, so we will also provide toiletries. The clothing will be purchased in bulk in Gaborone, the capital city.

Unemployment amongst young people in the rural communities is very high. The only jobs available are tending cattle, harvesting crops on a seasonal basis and Ipelegeng (a government sponsored drought relief program). We propose to make funds available for people who wish to pursue educational opportunities in the nearby cities. The funding will be as flexible as possible to cover any expenses that come up, including (but not limited to) living expenses, tuition, lessons, fees and apprenticeships. We will also make sure that children in local schools have the materials (notebooks, books, pencils, pens, uniforms, etc.) needed to succeed in school.

Please consider donating today. All contributions are tax-deductible. We are fiscally sponsored by the Endangered Language Alliance (ELA), a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

Endangered Language Alliance
3 West 18th St., 6th floor
New York, NY 10011
United States

Team Members:
Andy Chebanne is Dean of the Humanities at the University of Botswana.

Chris Collins is professor of Linguistics at New York University. He has over 25 years of experience working in Africa doing linguistic documentation.

Zachary Wellstood is a research assistant in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Maryland.

Ibrahim Index of African Governance
( http://mo.ibrahim.foundation/iiag/)

World Bank Botswana Poverty Assessment
( http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/botswana/publication/botswana-poverty-assessment-december-2015)

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Upcoming Events

Starting October 15, ELA will be hosting weekly introductory Quechua classes from our old friends New York Quechua Collective, 7 to 9 pm every Monday at ELA’s office in Manhattan. Sign up here!

On October 19 the American Museum of Natural History will host Ciao Babylon, a film about ELA’s work, as part of the Margaret Mead Film Festival.

On October 25, ELA Co-Director Daniel Kaufman will speak on ELA’s work at the conference Indigenous Languages: From Endangerment to Revitalization and Resilience, at the University of Michigan.

From November 14-16, ELA will participate in the Big Cities, Small Languages conference in Berlin, with Daniel giving the keynote.

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Exploring the Other Roof of the World


This summer, with support from a National Geographic Explorer grant, a team from ELA is traveling across the Pamir region of Tajikistan and an adjacent area of western China, interviewing over 70 speakers and singers in a dozen different languages — primarily under-documented, endangered Iranic languages of the Pamiri subgroup such as Wakhi and Shughni, which have been a focus of ELA’s research since 2010. Here ELA’s team interviews Rushani speaker Guldasta Karimova on her topchan, an outdoor platform for receiving guests that is an integral part of many traditional Pamiri homes.

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Connecting Indigenous Food, Health, and Language

Working with NYC’s Department of Health and the Little Sisters of the Assumption Family Health Service, ELA launched a 7-week series of activities in East Harlem centered on indigenous food, language, and community. Led by Nahuatl teacher Irwin Sánchez, the project brought together Mixtec and Mam mothers to share recipes, transmit languages, and talk about health. These gatherings were part of a larger, ongoing collaboration with the Health Department which has also involved in-depth interviews with speakers of Mixtec, Mam, Nahuatl, Garifuna, K’iche’, and Kichwa now living in New York.

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Kexaptùn: Poetry in NYC’s Oldest and Newest Languages

With speakers of as many as 800 languages, contemporary New York City is the most linguistically diverse place in the history of the world. Kexaptun — “a few words” in Lenape, the endangered indigenous language of New York City — is ELA’ ongoing project to collect and create poems about or set in the City, in as many of its languages as possible. 

Kexaptun contributors from four continents who live in New York will perform and discuss their work, reflecting on their adopted home and the distance they have traveled to reach this “Babel in reverse,” a last-minute outpost for languages and cultures in an age of extinction. 

Yusra Zaini, from north Sumatra in Indonesia, will sing pantun, or rhyming quatrains, in Acehnese. Kewulay Kamara, a finah (lineage-based oral bard) originally from Sierra Leone and now based in Queens, will perform his work in Kuranko. Nino Provenzano will read and discuss his Sicilian poetry. Zenaida Cantú, a Tlapanec (Me’phaa) speaker from Guerrero, will reflect on the realities of life as an indigenous woman in both Mexico and New York. Moderated by Ross Perlin.

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2017 — a year of languages

Over the past year, ELA continued its mission to document linguistic diversity both in our hometown of New York City, a global language capital, and around the world. We partnered with government agencies, high schools, museums, community groups, language activists and Google to support dozens of languages from five continents.

In January, we launched a new hyper-multilingual poetry anthology with a series of workshops. In February, we started Lunaape classes with language keeper Karen Hunter, marking the first time that the indigenous language of New York City and the surrounding area has been taught in the city. In March, responding to attacks on our immigrant partners, we launched a series of ¡Conozca sus derechos! (Know your rights) videos in indigenous Latin American languages. April saw the release of our Google Cultural Institute exhibit. In May and June we began our ongoing intensive collaboration with the New York City Department of Health to better understand the linguistic, cultural and health background of indigenous Latin American communities in New York.

Through July and August, and all this year, the languages of two of Asia’s mighty mountain ranges, the Himalayas and the Pamirs, were a major focus — driven by the deep interest and digital savvy of our partners from these communities, our videos in languages like Mustangi, Dzhongka, Wakhi, and Shughni have been viewed tens of thousands of times.

In September, the family of the late Joshua Fishman, leading scholar of language revitalizations and the sociology of language, generously donated his vast library to ELA. In October, public events were a major focus — from the streets of Jackson Heights to a community bookstore in Washington Heights to St. John’s University in Queens. With support from the Brooklyn Arts Council, we began our project to record lullabies in a range of languages across NYC in November. In December, work has been progressing on our language map of the city, which we hope to share with you in 2018!

This is just a little of what we’ve been up to — to learn more, visit our website or our Youtube channel, featuring hundreds of languages and stories you will hear nowhere else.

We hope to see you in 2018 — please help us make it all happen!

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ELA and the NYC Department of Health


Working with communities on their languages is about more than just figuring out how the verbs work. Speakers of minority and endangered languages are marginalized both around the world and in New York City, with little access to the services that majority groups take for granted.

That’s why, earlier this year, ELA started working with the New York City Department of Health on a project to better understand and reach out to indigenous and minority Latin American communities in the city, who speak dozens of languages — including several that ELA has worked on, such as Mixtec, Garifuna, and Nahuatl.

Still at an early stage, the project aims to understand what language varieties are most spoken in the city. As the DOH wrote on their Tumblr site, the project is “part of our larger mission to address health inequities across ethnic and socioeconomic groups in NYC”, in order “to address the injustices suffered by the first Americans residing in what are now the five boroughs.”

Above: The first-ever Guelaguetza on Staten Island, a celebration of Oaxacan cultures whose name is derived from a Zapotec word that has been translated “reciprocal exchanges of gifts and services”.

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Lunaape, the indigenous language of NYC

Lunaape Class - May

New York City may be the most linguistically diverse place in the world, but that diversity began with Lunaape (also called Lenape or Delaware), a Native American language of the Algonquian family. Today, Lunaape is being revitalized in communities in Canada, Oklahoma, and elsewhere.

ELA is honored to host classes taught by Karen Hunter, who has been teaching and revitalizing her language for over a decade. It may mark the first time in 300 years that the language has been taught in the traditional part of Lunaape-speaking territory that includes NYC.

Classes are always the third Friday of the month, from 6:30 to 8:30 pm, at ELA’s office near Union Square (3 W 18th St, 6th floor). Classes are free and require no previous experience. All are welcome — if possible, please drop us a quick email to let us know you’re coming!

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ELA on the Google Cultural Institute

We’re excited to announce that we’re partnering with Google Cultural Institute to launch online exhibits of some of our projects. Through this new platform, we can bring even more photos, videos, audio, and information to you in a format that’s made to feel as if you’re exploring an exhibit at a museum.

Below is a preview of our first exhibit, Mother Tongues, a photography series created by Yuri Marder in collaboration with ELA and with support from the National Endowment of the Arts. The exhibit features photographs of endangered language speakers in New York, along with recordings and information about their languages.

Visit the full exhibit here.


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¡Conozca sus derechos! (Know your rights)

ELA is proud to announce a new series of videos —“¡Conozca sus derechos!” (Know your rights!) — that respond to the new threats that immigrants and refugee communities are facing. Now more than ever, it’s vital that speakers of endangered languages know their rights and aren’t left out of the conversation. Our first four videos are in NahuatlKi’che’Totonac, and Tlapanec — all indigenous languages of the Americas that are now spoken in New York and other parts of the U.S., as well as in Mexico and Central America.

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