Teaching endangered languages in Siberia

July 26, 2008 at 12:02 pm | Posted in Education, Language, Siberia | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

During the lasts years the Mercator Centre has been running some projects concerning endangered languages, some of them in Siberia. I already told you about the Voices from tundra and taiga projects, which apart of a consistent database of linguistic information included also the creation of teaching materials and methods adapted to the specific sociolinguistic situation of those communities. Here you have a sample of their work:

Teaching Endangered Languages in Siberia

During the last years several teaching methods for endangered languages have been developed and special seminars have been organised for teachers of these languages in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk (2003), Hanty-Mansiisk (2004) and Buryatia (2005).

Teaching Samoyedic
Within the framework of the joint project “Writing and teaching Samoyedic”, the Russian-Nenets Audio Phrasebook and the Nganasan Multimedia Dictionary have been created. This work has been initiated by scholars in St.Petersburg and Groningen and financially supported by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research NWO (as part of the research program Voices from Tundra and Taiga), the Russian Foundation for Humanitarian Research and the Endangered Language Fund. The results of this project will be applied to other minority languages.

Russian-Nenets Audio Phrasebook Nganasan Multimedia Dictionary

Teaching Nivkh
During his research work on Nivkh the Japanese scholar Hidetoshi Shiraishi (2002-2005 in Groningen, since March 2005 at Sapporo Gakuin University) has written a series of books with Sound Materials of the Nivkh Language. These books are published together with the related sound material on CD and they can be used for the teaching of Nivkh. The World’s Largest Sound Archive of the Nivkh Language on the Web can be found at the web site of Hidetoshi Shiraishi, which refers to the following publications:

Sound Materials of the Nivkh Language 1 (2002)
-Folktales of V.F.Akiliak-Ivanova-

Sound Materials of the Nivkh Language 2 (2003)
-Songs and Folktales of the Amur Dialect-

Sound Materials of the Nivkh Language 3 (2004)

Read the preface to the third volume by Tjeerd de Graaf here.

Of course there is so much work to be done, but that is a beginning, and a very positive one. To be honest, I would not mind to work in something like this in the future!

Survival International: Siberian tribes

March 28, 2008 at 12:11 am | Posted in Naming | 4 Comments
Tags: , , , , ,

I started a series of posts linking the information offered by Survival International. This week, I am continuing with Siberia tribes. When I was a child, I heard of Siberia because it was an inhospitable place where people was deported. Even that, its name attracted me. Last year I found an illustrated journal about it, and it surprised me. I think that despite its harshness it is a place worthy of discovering.

Siberian Tribes

Siberia’s 30 different tribal peoples range in number from under 200 (the Oroks) to 34,000 (the Nenet). They live in an area that covers 58% of Russia.

How do they live? Some of these peoples are nomadic reindeer herders, living in the tundra (arctic plain); others, who live in the forest tundra or taiga (coniferous forest), rely on a mixture of reindeer herding and hunting and gathering, and often live in settlements. Today 10% of Siberia’s tribal peoples live a nomadic or semi nomadic life, compared to 70% just 30 years ago. The languages the different tribes speak are from a range of linguistic families: some bear no similarity to any other language, and none bear any relation to Russian. Some larger indigenous peoples, the Sakha (formerly called Yakuts) and Komi, have their own republics within the Russian state.

What problems do they face?
Under the Soviet administration, the tribal peoples lost their land to state-run industries. With industrialisation, their region was taken over by outsiders, and the authorities made strong efforts to suppress indigenous languages, culture and ways of life. Today their biggest problems are the environmental degradation caused by the oil, gas and logging industries in the area, and the lack of clarity about land rights.

How does Survival help?
Survival supports Russian indigenous organisations such as the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON), backing their demands that indigenous peoples are consulted about industrial projects and given the right of veto, and given compensation where their land has already been destroyed. We also support the call for Russia to ratify International Labour Organisation Convention 169 on the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples, and specifically for tribal land ownership rights to be recognised.

It is been quite surprising for me to find out how minority tribal rights and environment is binded. How in Siberia, Scandinavia or Labrador they are thrown out of its own lands because they are considered mere power sources.

Who they are: start dealing with naming

March 7, 2008 at 12:54 am | Posted in Naming | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote the word ‘eskimo’ in an English composition. My teacher pointed to me that this was considered a politically incorrect and pejorative word. I had wrote it because, as a non-native English speaker, I liked how it sounded, and it was also pretty similar to the word I use in my own language, ‘esquimal’. Besides, in Linguistics there’s a group of languages called Eskimo-Aleut spoken in Canada, Alaska and Greenland, so I didn’t make me suspicious about being insensitive. But that worried me; it was a bad beginning for my trip starting naming contemptuously the people who I wanted to visit.

Basically -that’s pretty funny I guess – it’s a problem of terminology and naming, and now that I’ve started investigating it, it’s too much for me. I’m copying here everything I’ve founded in Dictionary.com, classified by geographical areas. Of course, opinions, corrections and comments are more than appreciated.

Alaska, Canada and Greenland
1.a member of an indigenous people of Greenland, northern Canada, Alaska, and northeastern Siberia, characterized by short, stocky build and light-brown complexion.
2.either of two related languages spoken by the Eskimos, one in Greenland, Canada, and northern Alaska, the other in southern Alaska and Siberia.Compare Inuit, Yupik.Usage note The name Inuit, by which the native people of the Arctic from northern Alaska to western Greenland call themselves, has largely supplanted Eskimo in Canada and is used officially by the Canadian government. Many Inuit consider Eskimo derogatory, in part because the word was, erroneously, long thought to mean literally “eater of raw meat.” Inuit has also come to be used in a wider sense, to name all people traditionally called Eskimo, regardless of local self-designations. Nonetheless, Eskimo continues in use in all parts of the world, especially in historical and archaeological contexts and in reference to the people as a cultural and linguistic unity. The term Native American is sometimes used to include Eskimo and Aleut peoples. See also Indian.
1.a member of the Eskimo peoples inhabiting northernmost North America from northern Alaska to eastern Canada and Greenland.
2.the language of the Inuit, a member of the Eskimo-Aleut family comprising a variety of dialects.
Also, Innuit.
Also called Inupik.
Usage Note: The preferred term for the native peoples of the Canadian Arctic and Greenland is now Inuit, and the use of Eskimo in referring to these peoples is often considered offensive, especially in Canada. Inuit, the plural of the Inuit word inuk, “human being,” is less exact in referring to the peoples of northern Alaska, who speak dialects of the closely related Inupiaq language, and it is inappropriate when used in reference to speakers of Yupik, the Eskimoan language branch of western Alaska and the Siberian Arctic. See Usage Note at Eskimo.

1.also, Aleutian. a member of a people native to the Aleutian Islands and the western Alaska Peninsula who are related physically and culturally to the Eskimos.
2.ahe language of the Aleuts, distantly related to Eskimo: a member of the Eskimo-Aleut family.

1.Eskimo dog.
2.Siberian Husky.
3.Canadian Slang.
a. an Inuit.

b. the language of the Inuit.
Usage note: Origin: 1870–75; by ellipsis from husky dog, husky breed; cf. Newfoundland and Labrador dial. Husky a Labrador Inuit, earlier Huskemaw, Uskemaw, ult. < the same Algonquian source as Eskimo.

Norway, Sweden, Finland and Kola peninsula

1.A member of a people of nomadic herding tradition inhabiting Lapland.
2.Any of the Finnic languages of the Sami.

1.Also called Laplander . A member of a Finnic people of northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and adjacent regions.
2.Also called Lappish. any of the languages of the Lapps, closely related to Finnish.
Also called Sami.


1.a member of the nomadic Ugrian people living in northwestern Siberia (east of the Urals)
2.a Ugric language (related to Hungarian) spoken by the Ostyak [syn: Khanty]

1.a member of a Paleo-Asiatic people of northeastern Siberia.
2.the Chukotian language of the Chukchi people, noted for having different pronunciations for men and women.

1.a member of a Siberian people living mainly in the Yakut Autonomous Republic, Khabarovsk territory, and Evenki National District in the Russian Federation.
2.the Tungusic language spoken by the Evenki.

1.a member of a Uralic people dwelling in W Siberia and the far NE parts of European Russia.
2.Also, Samoyedic. a subfamily of Uralic languages spoken by the Samoyed people.

Usage Note Siberian Mongolian people, 1589, from Rus. samoyed, lit. “self-eaters, cannibals” (the first element cognate with Eng. same, the second with O.E. etan “to eat”). The native name is Nenets. As the name of a type of dog (once used as a working dog in the Arctic) it is attested from 1889.

1.A member of a reindeer-herding people of of extreme northwest Russia along the coast of the White, Barents, and Kara seas.
2.The Uralic language of this people.

In both senses also called Samoyed.


1.A member of an indigenous people of Japan, now inhabiting parts of Hokkaido, Sakhalin, and the Kuril Islands.
2.The language of the Ainu.
3.caucasoid people in Japan and eastern Russia, 1819, from Ainu, lit. “man.”

As it uses to happen, not only is the problem solved, but is it’s bigger. As far as I know, and though it’s not on the dictionary, ‘lapp’ and ‘lappish’ aren’t the right words, though I don’t know if it’s because its pejorative or just inadequate. I’ve put my head around Wikipedia, but the maps where so colorful and the words so complicated that I’ve decided that mt head was not prepared enough to hold out for such a terminological invasion. I’ll carry on another day.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.
Entries and comments feeds.