2021 — a year of languages

December 29, 2021

Let’s be realistic. When a year begins with an attempted insurrection intent on replacing the few remnants of democracy with a fascist ethnostate, it leaves a lot of room for improvement over the next 11 months. Under such circumstances, just keeping the lights on can feel like landing on Mars!

For the second year in a row, survival was the annual theme, and yet ELA kept up and deepened its work all year long across a wide range of projects, including advocacy, mapping, policy, language documentation, public events, and more. Here’s a recap of the highlights:

Starting in January, we recorded Zoom interviews with speakers of some of the least-known and most endangered Jewish languages of Iran, originally from smaller communities including Borujerd, Kerman, Kashan, and Nahavand, but now living in the U.S. In February, we archived hundreds of recordings in dozens of languages as part of our ongoing effort to build a free and open ELA digital repository, based at the Internet Archive. March saw the launch of “Community Conversations About the Vaccine in Indigenous Languages”, in partnership with the NYC Department of Health, our friends at La Red de Pueblos Transnacionales, and other community groups: a path-breaking event series that continued through June and included 20 events in 17 languages for which few other resources are available.

In April, we launched LANGUAGEMAP.NYC, our interactive digital New York language map, with full info on over 700 languages and over 1200 sites — years in the making and visited by thousands as soon as it was launched. With May (see photo above) came our residency on Governors Island, featuring the work of amazing photographers making vital work about language, community, and migration: The Migration Codex by Cinthya Santos-Briones, and Mother Tongues: Endangered Languages in NYC and Beyond by Yuri Marder, with videography by Donnetta Bishop-Johnson. In June we got a makeover, at least digitally, thanks to a brand new design for our website elalliance.org.

July was a relative joy, because it was finally safe and warm enough for outdoor events: a Garifuna sing-a-long and Indonesian dance by Saung Budaya drew the biggest crowd on a beautiful summer afternoon. In the same month, co-director Dan Kaufman completed a series of remote workshops on grammatical structure for teachers in the Philippines working to implement Mother Tongue Based Language Multilingual Education. In August, we were publishing newly transcribed and translated videos several times a week, the culmination of several years’ work by Uttam Singha and Shweta Akolkar on Bishunpriya Manipuri and Rasmina Gurung and co-director Ross Perlin on Seke. (You wouldn’t believe how much work goes into a minute of multilingual subtitling!) By September, we were putting the finishing touches on Pamiri Stories, our new and beautifully illustrated series of storybooks in five different Pamiri languages of Tajikistan.

In October, the leading journal Language Documentation and Conservation published our reflections on urban language mapping, co-authored with colleagues at the University of British Columbia and Dartmouth who helped make our mapping work possible. The NYC Commission of Human Rights also released two ELA-produced videos in K’iche’ and Mixtec informing viewers about their legal rights. By November, we were making progress on renovations to our small but mighty Manhattan office, preparing to expand and make room for the Joshua Fishman Library, featuring the sociolinguistics collection of the late great linguist (stay tuned for updates). December saw the NYC Dept. of Health’s publication of an official research report entitled The Health of Indigenous Peoples of the Americas Living in New York City, which draws from the department’s work with ELA. We close out the year by publishing videos for the first time in Yazgulami, a little-documented minority language of Tajikistan.

To learn more about everything ELA is up to, from in-depth work on particular languages to bigger questions about linguistic diversity, visit our website or our Youtube channel, featuring hundreds of stories in languages from all over the world. Or get in touch!

As always, we’re grateful for your support. Map and t-shirt gifts are still discounted through the end of the year.