Language documentation when the community is not “in the mood”: Issues in community-centered documentation efforts in Ikema Ryukyuan

Nakayama, Toshihide
Ono, Tsuyoshi
Nakayama, Toshihide
Ono, Tsuyoshi
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Community-centered collaboration is an important backbone in current language documentation and conservation activities (Yamada 2007; Penfield et al. 2008; Dwyer 2010). Reasons for taking this approach include: (1) documentation efforts can be made sensitive to actual needs/wishes of the community and thus more responsible and ethical; (2) bringing in different views, ideas, and expertise makes documentation richer, thus more rewarding. However, since socio-political situations in language communities vary widely in different parts of the world, there are cases where the collaborative documentation model cannot easily be applied. Ikema, a dialect of Miyako, an endangered Ryukyuan language in Japan, is a good example. Specifically, we have experienced difficulty in getting a sense of what the community wants for their own language. Two issues involved here are: a) Although speakers are generally aware of the decline of their traditional language, they do not have a clear sense of or are not particularly interested in examining its current state, nor do they know what they want to do for their language. b) People in the community vary in their attitude toward the traditional language so much that it is rather difficult to identify the needs of the “community” as a whole. There are many factors at work in creating this situation, but two are most notable and obviously related: a) lack of a strong desire to establish their identity separate from mainstream Japanese society; b) a lack of desire to establish that the traditional language constitutes a separate (structurally and culturally independent) system This situation is hardly unique among Ryukyuan languages, nor does it seem unusual elsewhere in the world (Ladefoged 1992). If we were to accept that we may not always be able to identify the needs and desires of the community, how can we be sensitive to them? Should we “educate” the community about language endangerment issues and foster “their” desire to care about their own language? Does the community want that? Do we know what represents “community needs”? Who is the “community”? How do we “listen to the community” when the community doesn’t appear to have a consensus about what they would like? There are not simple answers to these questions, but we feel that they are important questions that require explicit attention and discussion. We hope this presentation will create an opportunity for exchanging ideas and exploring possibilities concerning how we want to proceed from here on.
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