World Oral Literature Project Occasional Lectures


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  • ItemOpen Access
    Lecture by Professor Rukmini Bhaya Nair for the World Oral Literature Project Occasional Lecture Series
    (World Oral Literature Project, 2012-07) Nair, Rukmini Bhaya
    How are the oral repertoires of cultures reconstituted by their acts of writing? Writing, this paper argued, is a sort of ‘box’ that serves to contain the creative productions of script cultures. Like a box, it stores and preserves the legends and stories, the quotidian speech acts of greeting, declaring, promising or ordering as well as the fundamental scientific conjectures and dreams that animate all speech communities. Unlike a run-of-the-mill box, however, writing acts upon and redesigns the cognitive materials that it holds, formatting inchoate information into ‘knowledge packets’ that can be efficiently transmitted across time and space. In this unique characteristic lies its almost unlimited power over the human imagination. Yet it is worth noting that writing is a relatively recent linguistic invention which experts calculate is no more than eight or nine thousand years old at most. To put things in perspective, written scripts came along at least 40,000 years after humans began to talk and exchange meanings. This paper examined some of the cognitive and cultural issues that arise from a near exclusive concentration on the powerful and often hegemonic, yet still evolving, medium of writing in a region like the Indian subcontinent that comprises nearly half the formally illiterate population of the world. It did so by looking at a device commonly known as a kavad or ‘story-box’. The kavad, sometimes also called a ‘portable shrine’, is used to illustrate and amplify oral performances of story-telling. In contrast to the metaphorical ‘writing-box’ that I have invented for the specific purposes of this paper, it is a longstanding and integral part of material culture in northern India and in particular the state of Rajasthan. It has a tangible presence and can be handled, opened, closed, broken, mended, reassembled and even carried on one’s shoulders. Most importantly, it is a shared narrative resource and a reservoir of emotional empathy.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Lecture by Professor Ursula Baumgardt and Dr Marie Lorin for the World Oral Literature Project Occasional Lecture Series
    (World Oral Literature Project, 2012-05-28) Baumgardt, Ursula; Lorin, Marie
    The Encyclopaedia of Literature in African Languages (ELLAF) project focuses on oral and written literature in African languages. The ELLAF project proposes the creation of a website presenting and analysing literary texts in African languages, in order to make a wide range of these written or oral texts, in Sub-Saharan African and Malagasy languages, available to enthusiasts, students and specialists from around the world. The project aims to build up a research database based on literary works produced in their original languages, translated into French and/or English and presented in their linguistic, social and cultural contexts.The website signifies the creation of new tools for presenting and analysing textual data, centred on written/oral African literature in African languages regardless of their sociolinguistic status. This presentation favoured research through various fields (language, author, literary genre, predefined keyword and/or full text keyword) using a cross-disciplinary and comparative method. The method provides access to, for example: every text from a particular literature, the same genre found in several literatures, one theme in several literatures, a figurative element in several genres, notional degrees not necessarily made explicit by lexical occurrences. The material available here is ready for teaching straight away in regards to the transmission of factual knowledge: presentation of a language, overview of literature, contextualisation of literary production, bibliographic data. Furthermore, the bringing together of oral and written literary texts is not only of interest in a practical and documentary sense, but equally from a theoretical point of view.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Lecture by Dr Stephen Pax Leonard for the World Oral Literature Project Occasional Lecture Series
    (2012-02) Leonard, Stephen Pax
    Dr Stephen Pax Leonard is a research fellow at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, and research associate at the Scott Polar Research Institute. He has carried out both linguistic and ethnographic fieldwork in Iceland and the Faroe Islands and has become particularly interested in aspects of dialect formation, the role of identity in small language communities as well as language revitalisation and more generally endangered languages and cultures in the Arctic and elsewhere. He has recently started a new project, documenting and researching the endangered oral traditions, verbal behaviour and communicative practices of the Inughuit people in north-west Greenland.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Lecture by Professor Anvita Abbi for the World Oral Literature Project Occasional Lecture Series
    (2011-09) Abbi, Anvita
    The latest research by geneticists indicates that the indigenous inhabitants of the Andaman Islands are the descendants of early Paleolithic colonizers of South East Asia. The languages of these colonizers are important repositories of our shared human history and civilization. This talk will discuss recent attempts at documenting some highly endangered languages of the Andaman Islands, namely Jarawa, Onge and Great Andamanese. This Leverhulme lecture will share the exceptional experiences of compiling a multilingual and multiscriptal interactive dictionary of the present Great Andamanese language. The ethno-semantic and ornithological account of the local birds and their names in the language that feature in the dictionary and in the recent publication of the book ‘Birds of Great Andamanese’ in great part reveals the various ecological and archaeological signatures of the original communities that maintained close ties with their environments. Languages are witnesses to the diverse and varying ways in which human cognitive faculties deal with the world, so the study of the language of the present Great Andamanese and the recent compilation of a dictionary open windows to a world long past. As a result of the richness of the information thus gleaned, we have been allowed a unique insight into the world views of the speakers of this unique language which is in danger of disappearing from the face of this earth. The talk will include examples of rare original sound and video recordings of the native speakers of this dying language.Anvita Abbi is Professor of Linguistics at the Centre for Linguistics, School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. During her work on minority languages of the Indian sub-continent she has carried out first-hand field research on the six language families of India. She has published in the areas of areal typology, language documentation, structures of tribal languages, language policy and education, and analysis of ethno-linguistic aspects of language use. Her most significant recent work has been on the highly threatened languages spoken in the Andaman Islands, especially the languages of the Great Andamanese which she has documented.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Lecture by Patrick Sutherland for the World Oral Literature Project Occasional Lecture Series
    (2011-02-14) Sutherland, Patrick
    The Buchen of Spiti in the Indian Himalayas are performers of rituals, actors and disciples of the fourteenth / fifteenth-century "crazy saint" Thang Tong Gyalpo. They are renowned for performing an elaborate exorcism called the Ceremony of Breaking the Stone. They also enact a local form of the Tibetan Opera for village audiences. These Buddhist morality plays illustrate the principles of karma and ideas of impermanence but also offer a space for uninhibited speech and earthy humour. Photographer Patrick Sutherland has been photographing the Buchen for many years. When he recently gave them some prints he was told that they were so awful that the performers had torn them up and thrown them in the fire. Disciples of a Crazy Saint describes Sutherland's further return to Spiti to investigate Buchen ideas about photography and to negotiate a form of documentation more appropriate to the Buchen self-image as specialist religious practitioners. Patrick Sutherland is a documentary photographer and Reader in Photojournalism at the University of the Arts London. He has been photographing in Spiti since 1993 and his work has been exhibited and published internationally. A book entitled Spiti: The Forbidden Valley with an essay by Tibetan filmmaker Tenzing Sonam and a dedication by Henri Cartier-Bresson was published in 2000. Disciples of a Crazy Saint was funded by a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, with project partnership from the Pitt Rivers Museum, where it is being exhibited until 3 July, 2011.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Lecture by Professor Molly Andrews for the World Oral Literature Project Occasional Lecture Series
    (World Oral Literature Project, 2010-10-18) Andrews, Molly
    What are the implications of doing narrative research in communities of which one is not a member? Does this necessarily limit the quality of the data to be collected, or might there be some advantages in being considered an outsider, that is, one to whom entire stories must be explained as nothing can be taken as obvious? The paper will consider how our cultural positioning, as it is perceived by ourselves and by those who we include in our research, feeds into the very heart of the projects we undertake. Molly Andrews is Professor of Sociology, and Co-director of the Centre for Narrative Research at the University of East London, in London, England. Her research interests include the psychological basis of political commitment, psychological challenges posed by societies in transition to democracy, patriotism, conversations between generations, gender and aging, and counter-narratives. She is the author of Lifetimes of Commitment: Aging, Politics, Psychology (Cambridge 1991/2008), and the co-editor of Lines of Narrative (Routledge 2001), Considering Counter-narratives (John Benjamins 2004) and Doing Narrative Research (Sage 2008). Her most recent monograph is Shaping History: Narratives of Political Change (2007) which won the 2008 Outstanding book of the year award of the American Education Research Association, Narrative and Research Special Interest Group.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Lecture by Professor Yukinori Takubo and Tamaki Motoki for the World Oral Literature Project Occasional Lecture Series
    (World Oral Literature Project, 2010-10-04) Takubo, Yukinori; Motoki, Tamaki
    Ikema is an endangered dialect of Southern Ryukyuan spoken on Miyakojima Island, Japan. The community is deeply concerned that the younger generation is not acquiring Ikema and has imaginatively tackled this problem by, among things, creating a vernacular musical titled Nishihara Muradate ‘The making of the Nishihara village’. The musical, depicting the migration to Nishihara from their ancestral island, was filmed and made into a DVD. Using such recordings of Ikema as a springboard, Professor Takubo will discuss the development of the Digital Museum Project, a web-based three-layered digital storage space for endangered languages. The first layer provides open-access exhibit space; the second provides password-protected access for specialist researchers while a third layer contains raw data only accessible to the research group. This talk will conclude with a demonstration of the resource. Dr Yukinori Takubo is Professor of Linguistics at Kyoto University, Japan. He has written extensively on Japanese as well as on endangered languages spoken in Japan, and currently serves as an editorial board member for Nihongogaku - Studies in Japanese Language.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Lecture by Dr Nicholas Thieberger for the World Oral Literature Project Occasional Lecture Series
    (World Oral Literature Project, 2010-05-07) Thieberger, Nicholas
    Digital tools are providing exciting new possibilities for linguists and ethnographers to collate and compile fieldwork data, and to share the results with communities of origin. In this lecture, Dr Thieberger will outline the methods he used in his work on South Efate (Vanuatu) which involved building a corpus at the same time as developing his linguistic analysis. He will then profile a more recent initiative to design an open-source method for hosting texts linked to streaming media online (EOPAS). Thieberger suggests that integrating such processes into fieldwork naturally results in better outcomes, both for speakers and for the research community, and reflects on the associated challenges and opportunities provided by these technologies. Nicholas Thieberger is an Australian Research Council QEII Fellow at the University of Melbourne and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa. He works on the Pacific and Regional Archive for Digital Sources in Endangered Cultures ( and is the technology editor for the journal Language Documentation and Conservation.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Lecture by Professor Hugh Brody for the World Oral Literature Project Occasional Lecture Series
    (World Oral Literature Project, 2010-03-16) Brody, Hugh
    In 1996, a small group of Bushmen, known as the ≠Khomani San, launched a claim to South Africa's second most important National Park. This was one of the first such land claims in Africa, and led to research, negotiation and, in 1999, a settlement. A set of research projects - recording oral histories, mapping relationships to land and resources, filming with the community - put together the land claim, and then monitored its consequences. In this lecture, Hugh Brody, who co-ordinated the research projects with the ≠Khomani San from 1997-2008, will describe the process and invite discussion of how the results of such work can have maximum value, both for the people who told the stories and made the claim, and for those who wish to draw on and analyse the materials. Professor Brody is the Canada Research Chair in Aboriginal Studies at the University of the Fraser Valley and an Associate of the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge. He has worked with governments and indigenous communities on land claims issues in Canada and South Africa since the 1970s. He was an adviser to the Mackenzie Pipeline Inquiry, a member of the World Bank's Morse Commission and chairman of the Snake River Independent Review, all of which involved encounters between large-scale development and indigenous communities.