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Language revitalization and literacy on the West African littoral

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Title: Language revitalization and literacy on the West African littoral
Issue Date: 02 Mar 2013
Description: This paper reports on work with a highly endangered language spoken in a coastal area straddling the border between Sierra Leone and Guinea. The Mani language (ISO 639-3: buy) is spoken by several hundred elderly speakers scattered about in a number of small towns.

A series of projects began what were thought to be salvage operations in 1999, but since then an effort at revitalization has been launched. What galvanized the initiative was the discovery of an isolated town where children speak the language. Furthermore, energetic and dedicated local leaders augured well for the future of the project. The town is on an island separated from the mainland by tidal rivers, far from the main road.

Because of this discovery, language documentation changed to revitalization. With the blessing, participation, and encouragement of community members, the project has sought to create authentic and relevant materials. This effort has involved the testing of multiple versions of primers for use in the schools and developing a reader for the elders, as well as audiovisual products.

The project has been challenged by the low level of education at the local school. Thus, we have also had to work at developing overall literacy. Compounding this problem was the fact that no one spoke English, the national language of instruction, and students had learned only its bizarre spelling system, much at odds with the ones developed for the local languages.

In addition to our work on traditional literacy, we developed some computer literacy, building on the model of the Hole-in-the-Wall project to encourage independent and continuous learning. An exciting aspect to the electronic side is the use of the internet via a solar-powered, stand-alone wifi station. It is designed to allow, among other things, communication with the author and his students to foster mutual cooperation and joint development of further materials. Because of shipping delays the station could not be set up during my last visit (Jan-Mar 2012), but I hope to get it working and test out new materials in Aug-Sept 2012 on a return visit.

What this paper presents, then, is a case study of a special situation that could well inform best practices elsewhere. The particular concatenation of challenging physical and socio-cultural circumstances is unusual but nonetheless instructive. What I stress in the presentation is the importance of identifying and supporting local leadership, particularly of the traditional kind. In some ways this support runs counter to government initiatives, and the ramifications of this situation are discussed.
URI/DOI: http://hdl.handle.net/10125/26104
Rights: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections:3rd International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)



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