Tuesday 2 November 2010

On plays, parrots, and plurilinguals

A correspondent has just sent me details of a new play on endangered languages. In fact, two. It's like London buses. None come for ages, and then two come along at once.

Kamarra Bell Wykes has written Mother's Tongue, being staged this month by the Yirra Yakin Aboriginal Corporation in Perth, Australia. And Julia Cho has written The Language Archive, currently being staged in New York. You can see the post, from Peter Austin, here.

It's great to hear of these initiatives. I last posted on this subject on 8 January 2007, when I continued to bemoan the lack of arts projects presenting the theme of endangered languages and language death. My own play, Living On, was on its own then. Happily, no longer.

And another correspondent has added a fresh dimension to the famous story about the parrots speaking an extinct language, the inspiration behind Rachel Berwick's living sculpture that I mentioned in the 2007 post. You'll find that here.

And while on the subject of language diversity, another two-bus situation. Bilingualism, this time. Despite bilingualism being the normal human condition, a huge mythology has grown up around it, with monolingual communities being a bit scared of it and certainly not understanding it. Earlier this year, Madalena Cruz-Ferreira wrote a lovely little book, aimed at the general public, about the myths and realities of being bilingual, called Multilinguals are...? (Battlebridge Publications). And now she has started a blog on bilingualism. So has Fran├žois Grosjean, whose fine book Bilingual: Life and Reality (Harvard University Press) also came out earlier this year. His blog is here. It seems to me that we are seeing a new climate slowly being formed.


Annie said...

Professor Selinker (and You certainly know him, because that's how I know him) went to see "The Language Archive" in NYC. According to his FB post, it's an ingenious idea with its great moments - but the performances and scene changes are not always smooth, and the dialogues could have been more scintillating in places if a more experienced playwright had had a hand in it.

Here is another review of "The Language Archive" http://theater.nytimes.com/2010/10/18/theater/reviews/18language.html?ref=theater

Thinking of Your brilliant "Living On" - when is it due to be given the deserved full production (in New York, as I remember)? And will there be an opportunity to catch but a virtual sight of it?

DC said...

The New York plan never went ahead. Someone is interested in doing a production in Kansas next year, but nothing is decided yet.

Daniel Barley said...

Harold Pinter's Mountain Language is perhaps in a similar tradition - although perhaps not about an endangered language, rather a supressed language.

DC said...

Yes indeed. A powerful piece. Suppression is relevant, as it\s one of the recognized causes of language endangerment.

Brian Barker said...

Dear Professor Chrystal

With regard to the campaign to save endangered languages, can I point to the contribution, made by the World Esperanto Association, to UNESCO's campaign.

The commitment was made, by the Esperanto Association at the United Nations' Geneva HQ in September. See

You probably know that both the World Esperanto Association now enjoys consultative relations with the Council of Europe, as well as the United Nations

DC said...

Yes, I am aware, and it was good to see this happen at last.

Please take the trouble to spell my name right, as indexing trails are confused otherwise.

Brian Barker said...

Thankyou Professor Crystal

I hope that I am not the first to spell your name incorrectly :)


DC said...

Definitely the first on this blog - but by no means the first elsewhere. In fact I have a collection at home of name variations which have come via snailmail = over a hundred!

kaibosch said...

I am part of a group called IDST! who have been using language to build performances and games in the UK. For our last project CATNAP we posted messages in IPA around the M32 motorway in Bristol to help us de-marcate this area of the city as our performance space. This raised interesting debates about how people use language - even though when I approached members of the linguistics community we were told essentially to keep our hands off IPA as it is apparently only suitable for teaching purposes! Using IPA in a performance was fun and it spawned further interest from people in marking exactly how they speak. We think this went some way to creating a lay study of idiolectical and dialectical speech & speech communities (both fictitious and real) so perhaps discussing what elements of english are endangered or are evolving .For a future re-run of CATNAP we want to create a cohort of Esperanto / Lobjan speaking business men!

Our next project about language is at the Macclesfield Barnaby Festival in June 2011. We are in the process of constructing a town-wide game to discuss the differences between how generations speak. Utilising language for social games / performances can be a difficult task (but it sure beats using expensive and gimmicky technologies like PDAs). People enjoy language games but quite often taking this and turning it into a piece of work can be almost impossible if those people don't have practical experiences of it. We are uncertain whether to use IPA as are communication because participants are unaccustomed to it. We’ve been playing with trying to artificially encourage back-slangs or work with the current ways in which people talk to each other in the town. I wondered whether you could suggest how we might set about initiating a discussion about language use in this context and what language games you might use, if any or resources you could point us to

DC said...

You must have talked to the wrong linguists. I know several - me included - who wouldn't say such a thing re IPA. But you have to be careful because of the unfamiliarity. I use a mixture of IPA and traditional orthography when I work with actors on Shakespearean original pronunciation.

Re community awareness - check out the BBC Voices site and the British Library Evolving English site.

By the way, the adjectives in a linguistic context are 'dialectal' and 'idiolectal'.