Endangered Language Alliance

News & Events

the latest on endangered language work at ELA

Endangered Languages at the Queens Museum

ELA is collaborating with the Queens Museum, at the center of one of the most linguistically diverse places on earth, on two exhibits and a series of public events. This Saturday June 11, from 2 to 4 pm, “Languages Lost and Found: A Roundtable” will feature writers, translators, linguists and practitioners discussing language endangerment, revitalization and multilingualism in both a local (New York) and global context.

While you’re there, check out The Garden of Forked Tongues, a giant mural created by artist Mariam Ghani based on ELA data, in which each of the 59 polygons on the wall represents an endangered language spoken in Queens. Just a gallery over is Mother Tongues, a series of portraits of endangered language speakers by Yuri Marder.

On May 29, ELA hosted its day-long open recording session at the museum, recoriding interviews in Hokkien, Cantonese, Kichwa, Tibetan, Nepali, Mustangi, Tamang, Tashelhiyt, and Southern Zaza, not to mention Spanish and English (about language issues). We talked to devout Buddhists, political refugees, visitors from Malaysia, and a career translator for the NY state supreme court, among others.

Queens Language Mural


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Hawaiian and Quechua Classes at ELA!

A new introductory Hawaiian class, starting this Thursday night, June 9 and continuing every Thursday night in June from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm!

ʻO ke alelo ka hoeuli. The tongue is the steering paddle of the words uttered by the mouth. In celebration of Hōkūleʻa’s World Wide Voyage named “Mālama Honua,” Ka Leo Nūioka and launching its new introductory Hawaiian language course, taught by Kainoa Embernate — and ELA is proud to be hosting it.

Hawaiian, the indigenous language of Hawaiʻi, is linked historically to languages across the Pacific and the Indian Ocean, from Madagascar to Easter Island. The language is actively being revived by thousands of speakers.

Learn more and sign up HERE.

ELA frequently helps organize and host inexpensive classes in languages that are rarely, if ever, taught. All classes are taught by native speakers now living in New York and are aimed at beginners. Students typically include both members of the community seeking to revitalize the language and others who are simply interested in learning a fascinating language.

We are also currently hosting Peruvian Quechua classes on Thursday evenings, continuing through June — more info here. Past classes have featured Breton, a Celtic language of northwest France; K’iche’, a Mayan language of Guatemala, led by Leobardo Ajtzalam; Kichwa (Ecuadorian Quechua), led by Atik Paway; and Nahuatl, an Uto-Aztecan language of Mexico.

Quechua class

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“Unheard Of!” Returns With New Songs from Indigenous Taiwan

In this 8th installment of the Unheard Of! series, ELA continues to promote poetry, song and story-telling in endangered languages from around the world. Tsou, an indigenous language of Taiwan, has less than 2,000 living speakers but is well-known for its ceremonial choral songs. Baitz (Paicu) Niahosa is one of the few Tsou singers writing new music in the language. Applying her classical training to ancient vocal traditions, she creates a totally new kind of Tsou music in the Bel Canto style.

Advance tickets (only $10) are here — some tickets will also be available at the door for $15.

Unheard Of! is an ongoing series presented by ELA highlighting the linguistic and cultural diversity of New York City.



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Volunteer at ELA This Summer!

Join us this summer at our office in the heart of NYC. The short online application is due on February 26 at 5 pm EST. Apply and help us spread the word!

What’s it like to volunteer at ELA?

We’re small, friendly, flexible, and driven. We match people with projects based on their skills, interests, and languages.

Everything we do is tied to our mission to document and support endangered languages, and you’ll learn a lot about languages while you’re here. There’s also all the vital day-to-day work of running a non-profit: fundraising, marketing, event planning, and more.

We have a limited number of volunteer positions over the summer, but you can get involved year-round too. Email perlin@elalliance.org with any questions.

ELA Technology

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2015 at ELA

In January, we opened “Mother Tongues” at the City Lore gallery, the first-ever exhibit dedicated to the languages of New York City. In the same month, PBS premiered the documentary Language Matters with Bob Holman, produced in conjunction with ELA and screened nationwide to critical acclaim. Throughout February and March, ELA presented events featuring Garifuna arumahani, a traditional, now endangered song genre; Yiddish folk music; and the languages of the Caucasus. April marked the beginning of our three-year project, funded by the National Science Foundation, to build Kratylos, a new tool which aims to revolutionize language research. May brought an amazing Breton-Garifuna musical collaboration and our All You Can Speak Language Buffet at Ideas City, and in June we started classes in K’iche’, an indigenous language of Guatemala.

In July and August, we continued our documentary work on Ikota and Gurung; in September and October, our Mixtec literacy workshops continued in collaboration with the East Harlem Neighborhood Network; in November, our Jewish Languages of Brooklyn fieldtrip, our first language and culture tour, drew a big crowd. In December, we started making plans for a public, digital archive devoted to the endangered languages and cultures of New York. Two things we’re particularly excited about are Kichwa (Ecuadorean Quechua) classes set to begin next week in our office, and programming we’re planning with the Queens Museum for May 2016. Stay tuned!

To learn more about everything ELA is working on, dig deeper into our website, which we’re constantly updating, and visit our Youtube channel, with over 200 videos of languages you will hear nowhere else. Keep up with us on Facebook!

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Jewish Languages of Brooklyn: A Fieldtrip

The fieldtrip was a huge success! Some 30 people of many ages and backgrounds came along for Juhuri dancing, singing in Judeo-Arabic, out-of-this-world baklava, and even a look at an extraordinary collection of antiquarian books in lesser-known Jewish languages. We even got a write-up (in Yiddish) in the Yiddish Forward!

DSC00019DSC00023Jewish Languages of Brooklyn: A Fieldtrip

This is a small group tour and tickets are very limited. Reserve yours at http://jewishlanguages.bpt.me.

Brooklyn is a global center for vanishing Jewish linguistic diversity.

On Sunday afternoon November 15, from 2 to 5:30 pm, this first-ever Endangered Language Alliance fieldtrip will explore one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse Jewish places in the world, a side of Jewish New York that most people never see.

We’ll visit the heart of the tight-knit Syrian Jewish community; learn about a unique Jewish dance tradition from Azerbaijan; hear the singing of a cantor who carries on classical Judeo-Arabic musical traditions; and sample delicacies at a famous Syrian Jewish bakery. As a special additional side trip, we’ll be guided by a self-taught bibliophile through his unique treasure trove of Jewish books, with a focus on deep Jewish diversity. In the process we’ll hear examples of Jewish languages from Morocco, Tunisia, Syria, the Caucasus, and elsewhere.

Today, with few exceptions, the remaining longstanding Jewish languages are severely endangered. The goal of the Jewish Languages Project, run by the non-profit Endangered Language Alliance, is to document and celebrate those languages. This fieldtrip, a pilot project, helps supports that work.

The fieldtrip will involve some walking and standing. We’ll visit several locations in South Brooklyn within walking distance of each other, maximum 15 minutes between stops. For those interested, the special side trip will involve a 10 minute ride by public bus.

We’ll meet at the cafe at the entrance to the Sephardic Community Center at 1901 Ocean Parkway. The nearest subway stop is the F train stop at Kings Highway, about 10 minutes away on foot, or the Q train stop at Avenue U, about 15 minutes away. Allow an hour of travel time from Midtown Manhattan.

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Bering and Khonsay at the Margaret Mead Film Festival

ELA co-presents two fantastic films this year at the Margaret Mead Film Festival at the American Museum of Natural History. Catch them both this Saturday!

Khonsay: Poem of Many Tongues

 Bob Holman
2015 | 15 minutes | U.S.A.
Director in Attendance

Both a celebration of the world’s languages and a call to action to preserve global linguistic diversity, Khonsay is a unique document: a motion poem written in 50 endangered languages, from Yiddish to Nuer (South Sudan) and Adnyamathanha (Australia). Compiled by the poet and activist Bob Holman, who calls it “a cento in film,” the work is tour de force of poetic styles and cinematic techniques, and its effect is at once delightful, melancholic, and mesmerizing.


Bering. Balance and Resistance (Bering. Equilibrio y Resistencia)

 Lourdes Grobet
2013 | 84 minutes | Mexico, U.S.A.
New York Premiere

Straddling the International Date Line, the fabled Bering Strait, and the border between the United States and Russia are the Little and Big Diomede Islands. These remote outposts are home to a small Inuit community that has traversed these borders for years, for trade, hunting, and festivals.  In Bering. Balance and Resistance, Lourdes Grobet, one of Mexico’s most renowned photographers, takes a lyrical approach to the subject matter, closely following the day-to-day lives of the residents of Little Diomede (U.S.A.) as they balance a modern lifestyle with the preservation of ancient customs and language. Slow-moving, wide-angle cinematography makes for an immersive viewing experience of the punishing Arc



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ELA at the Jane Jacobs Forum this Thursday (Oct 22)

Thursday, October 22 • 7:00pm – 8:30pm

Jane Jacobs Forum: Sensing the City

Hosted by the MAS Urbanists

This session is free and open to the public, but registration is required.

Reception at 5:30PM / Program at 7:00PM

Jane Jacobs’ rallying cry that healthy cities must have “eyes on the street” has long served as a central idea of what it means to experience the city—to see and be seen, to feel safe and secure, to feel a sense of belonging in a community. But sight is not our only way to understand and experience the city. There are five senses New Yorkers can take to the street. This year’s Jane Jacobs Forum showcases new, innovative ideas of how we see, hear, touch, smell, and taste to be a part of our city.

SMELL: The SoHo Memory Project (Yukie Ohta, Founder/Director)

FEEL: The Tactile City (Teddy Koffman, Instructor, Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture, The Cooper Union)

SEE: Float (Sascha Mombartz, Founder)

TASTE: Museum of Food and Drink (Emma Boast, Program Director)

HEAR: Endangered Language Alliance (Daniel Kaufman, Co-Director)

Moderated by Mary Rowe (Executive Vice President, MAS)

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Two Streams Fed by Rhythm: The Surprising Confluence of Breton and Garifuna Sounds Debuts in May

At the edge of the same ocean, two cultural worlds have thrived despite hardship. Their languages are unique and face extinction. Their music booms with joyful rhythm and is all about sparking the dance. Sometimes salty, sometimes moving, songs are often danced. As feet pound in both communities, you’ll hear a voice call out, greeted with voice ringing out in response.

What are these two cultures? You’ll never guess: The Bretons in Northwestern France and the Garifuna of Central America. Now these unexpectedly harmonious sounds and beats come together in collaboration as part of Breizh Amerika, a multimedia cross-cultural initiative to celebrate the beauty of Brittany, its music, food, lifeways, and language. The collaboration will debut on May 14 at New York’s Meridian 23 (7:30 PM start; meridian23.com). The musicians will also spend time in the studio, perfecting and documenting their collaboration.

The connections between the Bretons and the Garifuna, a group that traces its origins back to shipwrecked Africans who intermarried with indigenous Arawak, felt implausible to organizer Charles Kergaravat–until he heard Brooklyn-based Garifuna drummer James Lovell and his Garifuna Drum Band. “Percussionists often have an easier time leaping into collaboration with singers,” explains Kergaravat. “So when I heard about James, I decided we should meet. We chatted for a few minutes, and James insisted that we were all just crazy enough to pull this off.”

Lovell and his band will join two sought-after Breton singers of Kan Ha Diskan, the call and response-based form that ignites the dancefloor at Breton parties. Rhythmic and cheeky, the singing style has a corollary in Garifuna music, as songs are often improvised to fit the occasion, shifting and growing to incorporate new tales–and to keep people dancing.

The Breton-Garifuna will explore these connections in more depth, then present their discoveries in New York and across the US this May. It’s part of a larger effort to highlight Brittany’s distinct culture, cuisine, and language, and to place Breton lifeways in a world-wide effort to enliven and maintain endangered languages and the worlds they encompass. Both Bretons and Garifuna face an uphill battle to preserve their tongues–both have barely over 200,000 speakers left–but both have strong musical traditions that have helped raise the banner for greater awareness.

“Even when singing, much of Breton music is all about the rhythm,” Kergaravat notes. “There is a much greater overlap in Garifuna and Breton experiences, and in the sounds we favor, than meets the eye.”

The Breizh Amerika Collective tours through New York City, Rochester, Cleveland, Chicago, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque for Fête de la Bretagne, an international celebration of Breton music, food, and language.  In an unprecedented level of participation, these US cities will be joining a global network, from Shanghai to Sao Paulo, of hosts to celebrations of Breton culture.

Follow The Breizh Amerika Collection on Twitter: @BreizhAmerika

Support this unique collaborative project here!

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Endangered Languages Project website redesigned to be more accessible and engaging

Brentwood Bay, B.C. – The Endangered Languages Project is launching a new website today (www.endangeredlanguages.com) to improve access to information and resources on endangered languages for a global audience of Indigenous language speakers and language experts.

“Our goal is to create a collaborative online space where the world’s languages have a voice and where people of all audiences can share language information, resources and connect with one another,” says Tracey Herbert, Executive Director of the First Peoples’ Cultural Council and Chair of the Endangered Languages Project Governance Council.

New website features let users browse resources by category, tag (or topic), format and most viewed. Categories include language education, language revitalization, language and technology, and more. In addition, a new process for submitting materials will make it easier to find a wide range of resources concerning the world’s endangered languages.

“In response to user feedback, our team of global language experts and designers has developed an improved website that will be a more interactive and accessible resource,” says Verónica Grondona, Catalogue of Endangered Languages Manager at Eastern Michigan University. “For example, the website will be available in five additional languages later this spring, making it available to more user communities.”

The Endangered Languages Project is a collaborative initiative designed to facilitate the documentation and revitalization of at-risk languages around the world. Languages included on the website and the information displayed about them are provided by the Catalogue of Endangered Languages (ELCat), a project by the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa and Eastern Michigan University, which aims to have the most up-to-date and accurate data about the endangered languages of the world. Language communities and speakers can play an active role in putting their languages online by submitting resources in the form of text, audio, links, images or video files.

The Endangered Languages Project website URL: www.endangeredlanguages.com.

The Endangered Languages Project is supported by Governance Council volunteers, The National Science Foundation, The Luce Foundation and Google.org.

The four founding partners who oversaw the website’s development and launch include:

· The First Peoples’ Cultural Council: www.fpcc.ca

· Eastern Michigan University: www.emich.edu/english/programs/linguistics/elp-elcat.php

· University of Hawai’i at Mānoa linguistics department: www.ling.hawaii.edu

· Google.org, Google’s philanthropic arm: www.google.org

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