Weeks 1 & 2 in Review

Summer Research Weeks 1 & 2

Week 1: July 5th-11th

Week 2: July 12th-18th

 

Hello everyone,

Given that my last post was written in April, I’ve got quite some catching up to do! I’ll start by detailing my experiences over weeks 1 and 2 of my summer research project (even though I’m currently in week 4). Hopefully this will keep the post from resembling a small novel and make it a little more manageable for you all to read.

For those of you who are just tuning in now, this summer I have undertaken a research project involving the documentation of (Muscogee) Creek, an endangered Native American language spoken within the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma. Creek is currently spoken by fewer than 1,000 people. Despite this small number, however, efforts are being taken to ensure the continuity and revitalization of the language. My research aims to help document the oral and musical traditions/practices of community elders. For more specific info, refer to my first blog post.

I don’t think I mentioned it before, but in addition to working on my research this summer I have also been interning at the Smithsonian Institution’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage (henceforth referred to as CFCH) in Washington, D.C. I began my internship in mid June, and since I began my summer research at the beginning of July, there has been some overlap between the two.

For my internship I was working under Mary Linn, curator of cultural and linguistic revitalization at CFCH. Primarily, my work included helping Mary with an ongoing project creating a dictionary of the Euchee language. Euchee is a severely endangered Native American language, also spoken in Oklahoma. Earlier in my internship I had also helped out at the Folklife Festival, a two week celebration of diverse peoples and cultures from around the globe. You can check out this year’s festival at http://www.festival.si.edu/2015/peru/smithsonian.

 

Here are some of the tasks that I completed over the course of my internship:

For Mary:

-Listen to audio recordings of Mary’s prior elicitation sessions with Euchee elders (hour and a half-long sessions where Mary and the elders discuss dictionary entries, grammar, tell stories, etc)

-Take notes on these sessions to mark if/where discussion of cultural topics, specific people, sensitive material, personal stories, etc occurred

-Match each of these audio recordings to a corresponding “tablet” from the session (a pdf of Mary’s notes from the session that match the audio)

-Compile all of these components into an organized document that catalogues each entry by date, topic, speakers, etc. for easy later reference

 

For the Festival:

-wrote a blog entry for the Smithsonian Festival website about the languages of Peru that were represented at the Festival (http://www.festival.si.edu/blog/2015/the-languages-of-peru/ if you want to give it a read!)

-assisted at the Wawawasi Kids Corner tent- this was the family activities area. Along with a team of other interns, I helped program and run family-friendly activities meant to expose young people to the arts, culture, language, and music of Peru. This meant assisting with everything from Peruvian arts and crafts projects to Spanish language lessons to Cajón drumming workshops, and more.

 

And some other classic intern tasks such as:

-organizing file cabinets

-scanning over 300 pages of field notes

-scoping out the kitchen daily for free food

– making professional contacts within the office

-getting to know a new city (DC)

-making friends and reconnecting with old ones

 

At this point you might be wondering how exactly this internship relates to my summer research project. So here’s my answer: as far as working with Mary on her dictionary project goes, I was able to get a behind-the-scenes look at the actual process of linguistic documentation. I heard what it is really like to run an elicitation session, and how the linguist and community member(s) interact. I learned what kinds of questions are good to ask and not ask, and I found that everything and anything can be an opportunity to learn (i.e. if a community member says something interesting, ask more about it! When you do, you learn more about the individual and the culture they belong to). I also came away from the internship with an appreciation for the amount of organization that is needed when doing this kind of work. Always date all of your files, make sure that your equipment is working before you start your sessions, etc. Otherwise, your data can be left with big holes that you may need to go back and fill- what a hassle!

From my work at the Festival I feel that I learned an enormous amount about the multi-faceted nature of each and every culture. Even within just a single country (Peru), we had 150 diverse participants from many different communities, speaking multiple languages, representing all forms of their culture (cooking, music, dance, artistry, agriculture, storytelling, language, preservation, revitalization, etc). Every person and every community is unique and has their own story to tell. We owe it to them and to ourselves to listen and to share that story. In regards to language at the Festival, I have come to appreciate that preserving language is just one small step in the process of preserving culture. While language is intrinsically linked to other aspects of culture, there is so much more that makes up a community/people/country/culture, and efforts to preserve and protect these could be never-ending. That’s both an exciting and a daunting prospect.

 

Well it looks like I ended up writing a bit of a tome anyway, but I promise that the next entry will be shorter! Thanks for reading, and I’ll keep you updated/fill you in on the end of my internship and the start of my on-the-ground research in Oklahoma!

 

Sarah

Comments

  1. With respect to the Creek language, are there any records of a corresponding script to the language, be it from native sources or from another language entirely. With such a few number of speakers, how can one draw a consensus as to what the language should be?