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Videos | Seminars


Recovering Voices Videos

Watch these videos to learn about our program, research and partners, or browse past Recovering Voices seminars. These videos below describe some of the core activities and guiding principles of the Recovering Voices program.

Recovering Voices

Recovering Voices is an initiative led by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in partnership with the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian and the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. Recovering Voices is dedicated to nurturing efforts to document and revitalize endangered languages and knowledge systems through research, collaboration, and resources. 

Breath of Life

Breath of Life is a two-week hands-on workshop that promotes the revitalization of endangered languages by pairing Native American language learners with professional linguists who mentor them in fundamental linguistics and the use of archival documentation in the National Anthropological Archives and the Library of Congress.

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The Importance of Language Revitalization 

When a language ceases to be spoken, an entire knowledge system becomes dormant as well. Language diversity is an integral part of our humanity; each language holds a wealth of agricultural, linguistic, and cultural knowledge which can help us take care of the world, and learn to live in it better. Documenting endangered languages is a way to curate this body of knowledge; revitalizing languages can help engage this knowledge in areas where it can be best put to use. 

Collections & Knowledge Revitalization

Recovering Voices searches for ways to effectively connect communities with their collections. Studying artifacts (baskets, canoes, pots, etc.) can help to revitalize knowledge systems and languages. Understanding the processes that went into creating objects can help us better understand aspects of a society at a particular moment in time; this can help to revitalize not only a language, but also cultural practices and knowledge systems involved in the making and using of these objects. 

Snowshoe Workshop

An Athabascan Snowshoe Master Artists Workshop was held at the Anchorage Museum in May 2011 with funding from the Smithsonian Recovering Voices program, the Alaska State Council on the Arts, and National Endowment for the Arts. Snowshoe builders. The workshop was professionally video recorded for an Arctic Studies Center documentary film and multilingual print publication, and the event received wide media coverage. The master-apprentice teams will continue to work together in their home villages to complete the training process. The snowshoe workshop was a pilot project to test the concept of master artist residencies as a format for documenting endangered indigenous knowledge and languages.

Past Seminars

(CULTURAL PLANET SERIES) "Challenges to Livelihood Resilience in the Anthropocene: Ecological Knowledge and Resource Management in a New Guinea Mining Area"

Jerry Jacka
March 7, 2014

Some in the environmental sciences argue that we have entered a new geological epoch--the anthropocene--in which humans are impacting the planet at a global scale. Dr. Jerry Jacka explores this idea among the Porgera people of Papua New Guinea, indigineous forager-farmers who host one of the world's largest glod mines on their lands. Mining development has transformed Porgera society and environment; Jacka assesses these impacts by looking at changes in Porgeran ecological knowledge and resource management practices.

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(ANCHORAGE, AK EVENT) Smithsonian Spotlight: Drew Michael

Drew Michael
March 6, 2014

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Meeting of the National Capital Area Linguistic Anthropologists and Recovering Voices

Gabriela Perez Baez, Gywniera Isaac, Ruth Rouvier

February 28, 2014

Recovering Voices will host the next meeting of the National Capital Area Linguistic Anthropologists (NCALA). This is an opportunity to learn more about Recovering Voices and the work of colleagues at the Smithsonian Institution.In collaboration with communities and international partners, the Recovering Voices program
seeks to improve access to the Smithsonian’s expertise and diverse collections – archival, biological and cultural – as well as support interdisciplinary research in support of endangered languages. Through a series of short presentations, members of the Recovering Voices team will provide a general overview of the program and discuss some of our key activities, including current research in addition to outreach and education initiatives.

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(ANCHORAGE, AK EVENT) Smithsonian Spotlight: Iñupiaq Artist Brian Adams

Brian Adams
February 6, 2014

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"Imaging Voices: Optical Scanning Applied to Recorded Sound Preservation and Access"

Carl Haber
January 15, 2014

Sound was first recorded and reproduced by Thomas Edison in 1877. Until about 1950 most recordings were made on mechanical media such as wax, shellac, lacquer, and aluminum. Some contain material of interest to linguists and ethnographers, whose predecessors were among the first to adopt sound recording as a research tool. The records may be in obsolete formats, are sometimes damaged, decaying, or are considered too delicate to play.

The playback of mechanical sound carriers has been an inherently invasive process. Recently, a series of techniques, based upon non-contact optical metrology and image processing, have been applied to create, analyze, and play back high resolution digital surface profiles of these materials.

This approach has been tested on many historical recordings including a variety of ethnographic collections. The method, and current results, including pilot studies, and measurements of some of the earliest known sound recordings, are the focus of this talk.

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(CULTURAL PLANET SERIES) "Endangered language, endangered knowledge: The documentation of Ixcatec"

Michael Swanton
January 7, 2014

Located at the heart of one of the most floristically diverse regions of Mexico, the town of Santa María Ixcatlán is home to the last ten speakers of the Ixcatec language. This indigenous language belongs to the
Popolocan branch of the vast Otomanguean stock. Over the past few years, an interdisciplinary, international team comprised of linguists and botanists have come together to document the language before it ceases to be spoken. An important focus of the team is the documentation of the ecological knowledge embedded in
the language, hence the interdisciplinary approach. Two aspects of the Ixcatec documentation project will be discussed during this presentation. First that the broadened, interdisciplinary horizons of language documentation present significant methodological challenges. Second, that the relationship between language and ecological knowledge in the context of critical language endangerment is complex and its analysis reveals important aspects of the process through which a community may or may not be able to retain ecological knowledge.

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"Language and gender in an Amazonian society: male and female speech in Karajá (Macro-Jê, Brazil"

Eduardo Rivail Ribeiro
December 6, 2013

Karajá, an indigenous language from Central Brazil, shows differences between female and male speech to a degree that is not found in other Brazilian languages.  These differences, first mentioned by Ehrenreich (1891, 1894) and studied more recently by Fortune & Fortune (1975) and Borges (1994, 1997), can generally be accounted for by regular phonological rules.  As in Koasati (Haas 1964), female speech can be considered as more conservative, male speech being characterized, in general, by the deletion of a velar stop occurring in the corresponding female speech form. This talk presents an up-to-date description of the differences between female and male speech in Karajá, taking into consideration for the first time data from all four dialects of the language and approaching facts that were not mentioned in previous studies.  Social correlates and possible scenarios for the diachronic origin of such distinctions will also be discussed.

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"Fragments of a Language Practice: Documenting the Chinantec Whistled Speech Register"

Mark Sicoli
May 29, 2013

Speakers of Sochiapam Chinantec of Oaxaca, Mexico have historically used a whistled linguistic register for long-distance communication. Whistled speech was once such an important element of the language-culture of the community that boys who could not effectively communicate through whistles upon reaching adulthood would be fined bi-annually until developing competence. Whistled speech organized the police force, and served the general community for distance communication across the mountainous landscape—needs fulfilled today by walkie-talkies and public address systems.  In 2011, an interdisciplinary research team funded by a RAPID response NSF grant worked with five remaining community members who knew how to use whistled speech.

Whistles in the Mist: Whistled Speech in Oaxaca from The Southwest Center-Dan Duncan, on Vimeo. 

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"Heritage Dialogues: Locating 'Culture' in a Ghanaian Community"

Raymond Silverman

May 8, 2013

Techiman is the capital of Bono, Ghana's first centralized state. It is also the site of Ghana's largest agricultural market. Today, Techiman is a cosmopolitan community comprised of peoples from all over West Africa. Here, “culture” is perceived as Bono heritage and Bono chiefs serve as its custodians. Roughly twelve years ago the Traditional Council of Chiefs of Techiman launched an initiative to create a cultural center as a site for celebrating Bono heritage. The project has had its “ups and downs” and though there are tangible plans for the center it still has not been built. This talk presents a critical review of the project. It explores the dynamics of what may be called “collaborative culture work.” I argue that engaging community in thinking about cultures and heritages—in Techiman and beyond—offers a means for encouraging democratic practice and strengthening civil society.

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"Recovering and preserving the richness of Central Asian Nomads: The Challenges for Public Memory"

Saule Satayeva

March 13, 2013

A major characteristic of Kazakh nomadic civilization is that in difficult climactic conditions, people kept in harmony with nature, and created economic symbiosis between urban and rural environments. However, extinction of this culture occurred due to conquest by the Russian Empire, the proletarian revolution, the Soviet agricultural policy and orders that brought about the Great Famine of the 1930s, World War II and development of virgin lands. It is important to preserve and understand all components of past nomadic life, as its spiritual values are an integral part of worldwide history. Most of the archival documents held at the Central State Archive of Cinema and Photography relate to pre-Independence and the Soviet period. Though American travelers made a significant contribution in preserving Kazakh history, the Archive have none of these materials. Through the study of archival documents in the U.S., Kazakh nomadic heritage can be preserved.

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"Jesuit Grammarians in the Chaco: Their Analytical Strengths and Weaknesses"

Willem de Reuse

February 13, 2013

The Society of Jesus, more than any other order missionizing in the New World, put a special value upon learning the indigenous languages, and if Jesuits wrote grammars of them, they were often quite perceptive and rigorous. Furthermore, Jesuits with non-Spanish language backgrounds brought a variety of analytical skills with them. Although Zwartjes (2010) claims that the education of Jesuits was so international that their native language background would have mattered little, in this talk de Reuse argues that native language background and nationality mattered to some extent.

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"Encounter with the Harrington Collection: Building a New Generation of Access"

Candace Greene and Stephanie Christensen

January 16, 2013

The John P. Harrington Papers, one of the largest collections in the National Anthropological Archives, has been extensively used by researchers as diverse as linguists, ethnobotanists, environmental scientists, cultural anthropologists, and Native scholars from Oklahoma to Oregon. The NAA has launched a new effort to make this material more accessible, moving from microfilm and audio tape to online access. Members of the team will speak about some of the challenges, achievements, and rewards of work with this complex and challenging collection.

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"Cloud Traces: Texts from the Codices of our Memories"

Víctor Cata and Emiliano Cruz Santiago

November 8, 2012

This presentation focuses on texts recovered from Zapotec knowledge bearers considered to be living codices who safeguard the memory of the Peoples of the Clouds. The texts are from Juchitán in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and from San Bartolomé Loxicha in the Souther Sierra, in Oaxaca, both Zapotec towns but with distinct Zapotec languages and cultural practices. The voices recovered through these two language and knowledge documentation efforts bear witness to distinct philosophies, cosmogonies and literary traditions. Further, they provide evidence of the changes taking place among the Peoples of the Clouds and in their cultures and languages which are under pressure given the dominance of Spanish in Mexico.

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Víctor Cata Presentation
Emiliano Cruz Santiago Presentation

"Love Letters and Goodbyes in Nepal: The Case for Linguistic Anthropology"

Laura M. Ahearn

October 11, 2012

This talk analyzes some of the many social transformations that the village of Junigau, Nepal, has experienced over the past several decades and demonstrates the benefits of close attention to language for analyzing social change. Focusing on shifts in courtship and marriage practices, Ahearn shows how the advent of female literacy led to an unanticipated switch from arranged and capture marriage to “love” marriage in the 1990s. She then turns her current work on the process of leave-taking in Nepal, examining farewell routines at the micro level and leave-taking at more macro levels in order to illustrate the benefits of linguistic anthropology for understanding cultural meanings and social relations.

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"Not Your Mama's Bilum: the Aesthetics of Innovation in Papua New Guinea Highlands String Bag Production"

Barbara Anderson

September 20, 2012

Bilum, looped string bags indigenous to the island of New Guinea, are more popular than ever among citizens of the rapidly urbanizing and globalizing nation of Papua New Guinea. As sites for the expression of personal style, regional origin, gender, and class status, bilum are worn by everyone but produced exclusively by women. Indeed, in many parts of the Highlands region, the ability to make bilum is considered the sine qua non of a positive, productive female identity. This paper will examine the ways in which young women, in particular, are at the forefront of technical and aesthetic innovations and the promotion of style trends in bilum production and consumption. Indeed, stylistic differences in bilum are one of the ways in which generational distinctions―and “youth” as an increasingly important category of identity―are created and expressed. This presentation will include images and objects collected in the eastern and central Highlands of Papua New Guinea in 2010-12 for the National Museum of Natural History.

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