A Storytelling Initiative Aims To Preserve Urban Linguistic Diversity


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Can there be a way to connect with someone, here and now, despite a language barrier? For Steven Bird and Robyn Perry, founders of the Treasure Language Storytelling (TLS) initiative, storytelling in original languages is a possible answer.

Global Voices recently reported about another initiative led by Steven Bird, the Untranslatable blog. Here though, the focus of TLS is not on the written but on the spoken word, and is an effort to preserve and celebrate the linguistic diversity of large cities. Indeed, in urban areas such as Melbourne and Darwin, Australia, or Oakland in the United States, where TLS has held events since 2015, small and not-so-small languages are often at risk of not being passed on to the children born there. For the project's creators:

The mass extinction of the world's languages can be avoided if we create cities that embrace diversity – safe spaces where inhabitants do not need to forget who they are in order to belong.

While “listening is often connected to understanding”, these events aim instead to “listen to appreciate, to feel, to connect”. In this format, storytellers first tell their stories in their own language and then translate or explain them in English. Although the participants are not professional storytellers, their commitment and their acting engage the audience and provoke laughter and emotion, as if the language was not a barrier anymore.

For example, the video below is a traditional story from Burkina Faso told in the Dafing language. During the question session, the storyteller, Rassidatou Konate, also has an opportunity to explain her country's storytelling customs.

Mousso Pan Tche – The Half Woman from Aikuma on Vimeo.

In another event, John Nyamusara tells the story of the hare and the baboon in the Shona language of Zimbabwe:

Gudo na Tsuro – The Baboon and the Hare from Aikuma on Vimeo.

After explaining the meaning of his tale, John Nyamusara is asked “What is it like to speak to an audience that is not understanding your language?” With a large smile, he shares his feeling of inclusiveness:

“They were listening! They were attentive… They were with me!”

You can watch stories told in Tagalog, Chochenyo, Ewe and many other languages on the Vimeo and YouTube channels of the parent Aikuma project.

While Treasure Language Storytelling events have taken place in three cities so far, the organisers hope to expand, and anyone inspired by the project can get in touch with TLS to organise their own storytelling performance.

Gwenaelle Lefeuvre is a particle physicist by day, volunteer translator and editor for GV Lingua French by night, language passionate 24/7. She is a strong advocate that the languages we speak all deserve equal respect, and that Europe could be a better place if it valued its regional languages. Gwenaelle tweets on the topic at @DiffractedWord (personal account) and @AcademieDuGallo (organisation she co-founded for the revival of Gallo, the Romance language of Brittany). She grew up in France, lived in NY State, and is now settled on the South English coast and never goes to India often enough.

This article was republished from Global Voices.

See also:
Dinnertime Storytelling Makes Kids Voracious Readers
Researchers Say Watching Movies Helps You Work Your Empathy Muscle

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