Endangered Languages: Process Blog

Originally I was only interested in how endangered languages came to the US, but I’ve lost interest in that topic because focusing on that topic erases any sense of agency from the speakers of those endangered languages.  And when I asked Jose why he came to the US, his answer was basically, “I don’t know, my friends were coming here (to the US).”  There must be other reasons why Jose came to US, but that was the answer he gave.

Since I’ve worked on this map I’ve realized that I am more interested in how speakers of endangered languages interact with existing infrastructure (like the US Census) and create their own infrastructure by building organizations like Mano A Mano to preserve their language. I’m also interested in understanding what role media plays in this infrastructure, it seems like the people who were initially afraid that the internet would squash endangered languages seemed to assume that native speakers lacked the agency or the tools to preserve their language.  The Garifuna community is an excellent example of how a community has organized to preserve their language using the infrastructure provided,  and using new media to distribute knowledge about their language and culture.  In 2010 the Garifuna Coalition launched a campaign to make people in the community aware of the importance of identifying themselves as Garifuna (not black or Hispanic) in the 2010 US Census.  Honestly, I’ve had a lot of trouble getting the official stats from this census, but I think it’s interesting to note that the community saw the importance of being officially counted, but not using the prescribed categories that the US government assigned them.

In terms of the internet being detrimental to endangered languages, all you have to do is go to youtube and type in Garifuna to see how comfortable native speakers are using the internet to discuss and distribute their language and culture.

On the Garifuna American Heritage Foundation United (GAHFU) website, the organization wrote: “Based in Los Angeles, the Garifuna American Heritage Foundation United (GAHFU) is an organization whose use of internet technology is galvanizing the renaissance of its cultural riches.  You can now watch some of GAHFU’s language and cultural offerings on their newly launched YouTube channel.”

2 comments

  • I know it’s been a challenge, but your project has evolved in a really beautiful way, Miranda. You’ve removed the languages themselves from the center of your analysis, and chosen to focus instead on — to give agency to — the speakers of those languages. Those people are in turn linked to other infrastructures, like various media, that play some role in maintaining their linguistic communities. As you’ve shifted your focus, you’ve redrawn your map of networks — and it’s allowed you to tell a different, and much more compelling, story.