Saturday 28 July 2007

On bloglessness

Having noticed that my blog was silent during most of July, a regular reader has asked me whether I am still alive. I am. So why the bloglessness? Two reasons.

One is that my blog - as I mentioned in my very first post - is reactive not proactive. I am always happy to respond to messages sent in, but for some reason July was very quiet in that respect. Possibly the end of term left bloggers exhausted, or maybe holidays offered new non-blogging opportunities. The other is that I've been away myself, and it's never easy to maintain a blog when you're belting about abroad.

Especially when you're at a festival type of occasion. I was in Uherske Hradiste, in the Czech Republic, where they hold an annual international film festival. What's that got to do with linguistics, I hear you ask? Well, one of the organizers is a film-maker, Michael Havas, who is making a film on endangered languages - to be specific, on one such language, Krenak, spoken by less than a dozen people in Brazil. I've been acting as a consultant on this film, and the festival was an opportunity for Michael to show the pilot footage he has already shot, and to bring together the main people involved. And one of them was one of the last speakers, Ailton Krenak, an activist who had been flown over for the occasion. So that was special. I learned a few Krenak words. Erehe - good.

As part of the occasion there was a reading from my play 'Living On', which I've talked about in earlier posts. The plot involves an encounter with a last speaker, and explores his feelings about having his language documented by western linguists. It was an unusual experience reading from the play knowing that there was a genuine almost-last speaker in the audience, and I was eager to hear his reaction. We had a surprisingly meaningful chat about it, in a mixture of Brazilian Portuguese (which I know a bit) and English (which he knows a bit). He told me that he was used to westerners talking to his head, whereas my play had reached his heart. The thoughts of my character, Shalema, it seems, had been his too. I was delighted, and not a little relieved, to hear this. I had based my Shalema dialogue on many reports of real-life interactions with speakers of endangered languages, but this was the first time I had received feedback of this kind. I was also pleased that our bit of live theatre went down well with a film audience. It confirmed my belief (which I argued at length in a UNESCO paper in 2004 - you can read it on my website) that the arts are the best way of getting a message across to the general public.

Actually, I'm not sure what the usage is, in my first sentence above. Is one 'silent' when one does not blog for a while? Or 'quiet'? Or what? I don't know what the best collocation is.

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