Endangered Language Alliance
Multilingualism has been the norm since time immemorial, but it is now under threat around the world.
The term “revitalization” refers to strengthening a language by bringing it to a new generation of language learners. Worldwide, speakers of endangered languages are increasingly spearheading remarkable efforts with technology, education, community organization, and other strategies. Communities are fighting back against misguided language policies, linguistic chauvinism, and forced assimilation.
Education in endangered languages is a core part of our mission. We help interested communities run language classes, prepare educational materials (from video sing-a-longs to children’s books), and design programs for language maintenance and transmission to future generations.
ELA has supported revitalization efforts such as:
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.
Are you interested in teaching your language, or learning a less common or endangered language? Teaching languages without a history of formal pedagogy can be particularly challenging and impactful. ELA helps out with space, spreading the word, and identifying teachers, as well as linguistic issues like writing systems and teaching materials. Get in touch!
Classes organized by ELA have included:
Lunaape (Lenape) 2017-2018
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 actively being revitalized in Canada, Oklahoma, and elsewhere.
ELA is honored to host monthly classes, every third Friday of the month, 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.
Tibetan Fall 2016
Yeshi Jigme Gangne, a native speaker who has experience teaching Tibetan in India and the U.S. and is now a Tibetan-language project manager at Google, taught the basics of reading, writing, and speaking Tibetan in a small-group setting. A language with a long literary tradition and several million speakers, Tibetan is now spoken in more parts of the world than ever before, including a growing community in New York City.
Hawaiian Summer-Fall 2016
Kainoa Embernate taught introductory and intermediate Hawaiian classes in the summer of 2016 in collaboration with Ka Leo Nūioka. Hawaiian has become a model of language revitalization in the past few decades; there are now Hawaiian-medium schools from preschool through graduate school. Kainoa went through the Hawaiian system and is now devoted to teaching the language and its culture. The classes are part of an initiative to teach Hawaiian in New York and will continue to be taught at ELA as well as at other locations. zvlasses are centered around the Nā Kai ʻEwalu textbook.
See http://halauolelo.com/ for Kainoa’s ongoing virtual Hawaiian classes.
Quechua is a language family native to the Andean region in South America. It is spoken primarily in Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, and parts of Chile and Argentina. Widespread as the language of the Inca Empire, there are many languages and dialects in the Quechuan language family.
> Quechua (Southern Quechua) 2016-2018
Southern Quechua, which has more than six million speakers, is the most widely spoken Indigenous language in the Americas. Elva Ambía, native Southern Quechua speaker and founder of the New York Quechua Initiative, is a Peruvian Quechua activist and teacher. The classes at ELA in the summer of 2016 are the first NYQI has hosted. They used material from two textbooks; Qheswa Simi (Spanish medium) and Kawsay Vida (English medium). Further NYQI Quechua classes may be held at ELA in near future – stay tuned!
> Kichwa (Ecuadorian Quechua) Winter 2016
Kichwa classes ran for 8 weeks in the winter of 2016. They were held in collaboration with Kichwa Hatari NY and Tinkunakuy: Centro de Pensamiento y Culturas Andinas and taught by Atik Paguay.
K’iche is one of the largest Mayan languages of Guatemala and the New York K’iche speaking population is vibrant. The community is particularly centered in Bath Beach, Brooklyn. Classes were led by Alcal radio host and K’iche activist Leobardo Ajtzalam.
Breton is a Celtic language from the Brittany region in France. Brittany is one of the six Celtic Nations, or regions in Western Europe in which Celtic languages and cultures have survived. Breton classes were taught in 2013 through BZH-NY, a New York-based organization devoted to preserving the Breton cultural heritage.
Nahuatl is a Uto-Aztecan language native to Mexico. There are approximately one and a half million speakers of the language. Nahuatl classes at ELA were taught by Irwin Sánchez, a native speaker and Nahuatl activist who learned the language from his grandfather in Mexico as a child, in collaboration with Mano a Mano in Brooklyn. The classes were featured on a broadcast on National Public Radio (NPR).
This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in Partnership with the City Council.
Yurumein Garifuna Cultural Retrieval (Yugacure), spearheaded by artist/activist James Lovell and native Vincentian author Trish St. Hill, seeks to bring the Garifuna language and culture back to its ancestral homeland on the island of St. Vincent (Yurumein) in the Caribbean. The Garifuna are of African, Arawak and Carib ancestry and are the only population of the Caribbean islands to have maintained their indigenous (Arawak) language until the present day in the face of colonialism and genocide. The language was effectively silenced on St. Vincent when the Garifuna were exiled en masse by the British in 1797. The remaining Garifuna were threatened with violence if they spoke their language, but they continued speaking it miraculously for over 215 years in exile, on the coastal area of Honduras, Belize, Guatemala and Nicaragua.
ELA has provided support and hosted fundraising events for Yugacure and other Garifuna revitalization efforts.
In recognition of this, UNESCO proclaimed Garifuna language, music and dance as a Masterpiece of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2001. Unfortunately, traditional Garifuna culture remains under attack from all sides as an increasing number of children are only being exposed to the official national languages and cultures of their country through television, radio and the school system. Through Yugacure we are working not only to stem the tide of attrition in Central America but to repatriate these cultural masterpieces to their place of origin.
This program has been a resounding success over the last two summers but has been funded largely out of pocket with very little outside support. Last summer, James Lovell and Trish St. Hill toiled tirelessly to make it happen. It is our utmost hope that supporters will chip in to help bring this program back to the children of St. Vincent as this program provides the only direct authentic link to their indigenous history and ancestry.
Yugacure is unique in using music, dance and performance as a vehicle to teach the language. As a direct result of its effectiveness, Garifuna is again being spoken by young people on Yurumein, where it has been dormant for over two hundred years.
ELA’s collaboration with James Lovell has been featured prominently in the media over the last several years. Please check out the following:
The Garifuna Nursery Rhymes Project, produced by ELA and launched by Garifuna artist James Lovell (originally of Dangriga, Belize, now living in New York), is a new way of teaching song and language to children across the Garifuna diaspora.
Below are 12 nursery rhymes sung by James, with the lyrics highlighted, karaoke-style, to make learning easy. For each song, there are three versions: on the left is the Full Version, and on the right is the Instrumental Version, where it’s up to you to sing along!
Aba Biama (I Love You)
Anansi (The Itsy-Bitsy Spider)
Baa Baa Mudun (Baa Baa Black Sheep)
Barugumuña San Youn (Frère Jacques)
Bigi-bigi (Twinkle, Twinkle)
Galügütu (Mary Had a Little Lamb)
Hesientibu Nun (I Love You)
Heun (Row, Row, Row Your Boat)
Itara liyan (The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round)
Neibuga luma nuguchi (Three Blind Mice)