Participatory documentation: the Mayangna Linguists Team of Nicaragua

Benedicto, Elena
Balna, Mayangna Yulbarangyang
Vinas-de-Puig, Ricard
Eggleston, Alyson
Benedicto, Elena
Balna, Mayangna Yulbarangyang
Vinas-de-Puig, Ricard
Eggleston, Alyson
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This paper presents a model of collaboration, based on a Participatory Action Research (PAR) approach, for the documentation and preservation of small languages. Thus, it addresses the intersection of two of the conference topics: community-based initiatives and collaborative teams. This model of collaboration was developed together with the Mayangna community of Nicaragua, with the logistic support of the local university, URACCAN, and its Linguistics Institute IPILC. The collaborative research group is currently formed by five local indigenous linguists and three external linguists (two of them graduate students). This paper is the result of the experiences, the thinking and the evaluation of the process undergone by this mixed group over the last 10 years. The emphasis of the group’s work has been on the process itself: in shaping and refining it to be in accordance with the principles and goals of PAR. The Basic Principles on which this model is based lie on a re-balancing of the power structure between external and internal researchers and consist of: (i) the recognition of the existence of knowledge systems of equal value among external and internal linguists, (ii) an egalitarian relationship between external and internal researchers and (iii) the (self-)empowerment of the speaking community as a result of the process. For the purpose of this work, internal linguists are those who are also members of the speaking community and, in the best case scenario, also speakers of the language, while external linguists are those who are not members of the community. Assuming these principles, the General Goals that were established by the group are: (i) to create and train local technical indigenous linguistic teams, (ii) to create materials relevant for the community and (iii) to implement a participatory dynamic in the day-to-day work interaction of the members of the team. In order to achieve these goals, a set of Implementation Mechanisms is established, including three basic components: (i) a mechanism for joint decision making, to establish goals relevant to all participants; (ii) a mechanism for a continuous training program (to ensure mutual transfer of knowledge) and, most important, (iii) a mechanism of self-evaluation. Though this approach is a continuous work in progress, some intermediate milestones have been reached: a local linguistic team was formed and is operating, and basic documentation is currently underway (including linguistic materials --dictionaries, grammar, university textbooks, all of them written in the indigenous language-- and culturally relevant materials).
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