Linguistic Expedition to Kamchatka Documenting the Koryak Language, December 2012-August 2013

in Sibirica
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This project is titled “Koryak Ethnopoetics: Stories from Herders and Maritime Villagers” and emerges from my long interest in oral narratives in Koryak. It is funded by a grant from the Endangered Language Documentation Project (ELDP).1 The general goal of the project is to document spoken Koryak, especially oral narratives, primarily by speakers of less studied dialects. Koryak varies quite a bit from one dialect to another, and this project will provide a better set of linguistic data for Koryak. In my previous fieldwork, I found that many people wanted me to share the realities of their traditions, their stories, their lives with the wider world. More Koryaks are concerned about having their name spelled correctly in my publications than being anonymous. This documentation project is ultimately about addressing the inequalities of voice as discussed by Dell Hymes (1996). I have found it rare that my academic research makes a real difference in people’s lives. However, that is exactly the feeling I got when talking to Koryaks about our documentation project in northern Kamchatka; it is work that makes a difference for many people in Kamchatka. Indigenous Kamchatkans face great struggles to have their voices heard but soon there will be an open and easily accessible archive of nearly 200 hours of what they want to say. The majority of participants we recorded had the goal of putting their native born language on record. They wanted their language, the language that their grandchildren don’t understand, recorded so that someone, anyone could hear it even after their death. Most people we approached had a clear sense of legacy. A few treasured the opportunity to speak with with my research partner, who was an excellent conversational partner in Koryak and is honestly interested in what the elder had to say.


Interdisciplinary Journal of Siberian Studies


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