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More-than-human voices in Dene poetics documentation

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Title: More-than-human voices in Dene poetics documentation
Authors: Spencer, Jasmine
Issue Date: 04 Mar 2017
Description: In this paper, I will share some of my findings from comparing a textualized traditional oral Dene (Athabaskan) story with the audio recording. The story, which is a South Slavey/Dene Dha story from northern Alberta, was recorded in 1981 and published in Wolverine Myths and Visions (Moore and Wheelock 1990). My analysis is a case-study in the poetics of expressive variation in Dene Dha. In re-integrating print and sound, I adapt, to the problem of the archive, Larry Kimura’s insight that people need to hear “traditional use of the language such as in folk story telling, stories that are filled with all sorts of expressions and vocabulary in a myriad of situations,” which has inspired him to teach by asking his students to re-tell stories orally to other students (Kimura 2015, 2016). Traditional story self-perpetuates: you can tell that a story is good when you feel the urge to re-tell it. Animals teach through story: thus we need to listen for the animal in all the ways we can. Animals are ever-powerful in Dene stories: thus my project is to seek out the animal voice within human stories about these other-than-human people. To “hear” this voice of the more-than-human, I have formed an interpretive methodology for identifying the expressions and vocabulary permitting the animal to be heard. These I term the “soundscape” of the story, integrating context with content to push at the limits of human “listening.” The soundscape which I listen for, in Dene Dha, thus includes: background noise and audience responses; breath; stammering, repetition, and onomatopoeia; intonation (vs. lexical tone); phonological variation in evidentials; represented speech and thought; animacy markers; and sequencing of verb modes. In undertaking this project, I seek to adapt ethnopoetic practice (e.g. Hymes 1981) to the practice of “poetics documentation” (Tuttle 2016) of Dene narrative meaning. Poetics here refers to the study of the multimodal aural and visual narrative inputs through which form and structure transform the referential content of linguistic acts into reflexive and regenerative systems that produce unique responses in listeners and readers. The phenomena which constitute oral poetics are language- but also body-based, contingent upon social realties, and consistent with ecological and esoteric, animal-based truths which guide the speech and actions of contemporary Dene speakers pursuing language-documentation and revitalization. Documentation of expressive tradition is crucial, and I would be very grateful for feedback on my method from experts in the field. Works Cited Hymes, Dell. “In Vain I Tried to Tell You”: Essays in Native American Ethnopoetics. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1981. Kimura, Larry. “Language in the Present Workshop” keynote address. University of Victoria, 26-27 Sept. 2015. ---. Personal communication, 2016. Moore, Patrick, and Angela Wheelock, eds. Wolverine Myths and Visions: Dene Traditions from Northern Alberta. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1990. Print. Tuttle, Siri. Personal communication, 2016.
Appears in Collections:5th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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