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Collaborating with language communities in diasporic contexts: Three cases studies from NYC

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Title: Collaborating with language communities in diasporic contexts: Three cases studies from NYC
Authors: Kaufman, Daniel
Borjian, Habib
Issue Date: 12 Mar 2015
Description: Migration due to economic, environmental and political factors is increasingly displacing populations to urban centers internationally. While most of the world's languages were previously spoken only in the traditional territories of their speakers, we now find large sub-populations of small linguistic communities in diaspora. This has clear consequences for language endangerment and documentation as collaboration with such populations presents unique challenges. In this talk, we discuss ongoing work on endangered Iranic languages in New York spoken by Jewish populations from Iran, the Caucaus, and Central Asia. Most of these languages have not been documented sufficiently and are now almost all spoken entirely outside of their home areas without being transmitted. As such, the last hope of documenting them adequately depends on working with speakers in diaspora. We focus here in particular on the following three languages, which represent three points on the spectrum of endangerment and present different challenges for collaboration.

Bukhori is an endangered dialect of Tajik rather than a unique language by itself. Due to the size and relative health of its speaker base, our primary goal with local speakers has been to create further audio-visual documentation of the language as used in conversation, poetry and song by elder speakers.

Judeo-Kashani, a Median language on the other side of the spectrum, is not viewed as an independent language by the handful of remaining speakers, who appear resigned to losing it within this generation. As Judeo-Kashani is virtually undescribed, linguistically quite unique, and extremely endangered, its description has been prioritized.

The status of Juhuri, a series of dialects within the Tat language group of the Caucuses, is intermediate between these two extremes. The descriptive record is far from complete despite recent advances. At the same time, a small core of activists seek to maintain the language in this critical period and an ample number of older, fluent speakers are interested in language work with the goal of revitalization.

The significantly different desires and circumstances of each diasporic community reveals how much adaptability is required of linguists working in urban centers. Succesful collaborative projects in these contexts depend on linguists being flexible and able to contribute in a wide variety of ways beyond description and documentation. We hope to shed light on several different approaches that can be adapted to collaborative work in other global cities.
Rights: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections:4th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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