Documenting and preserving lesser-known languages

Othaniel’s studies have been a huge boost to language development efforts among the Jenjo people. Apart from the linguistic descriptions he has written, he has also set up a Jenjo Facebook page:

One of his most well-received Dza documentary projects is a short video about the endangered traditional art of mat-weaving. People in the community are encouraged because it promotes the use and status of the language. Creating the video has helped Othaniel become more familiar with his language. “I’ve learned that there is sometimes a whole philosophy or worldview behind certain words, like ‘yinjwifo’, meaning ‘it will turn to dust’, suggesting that nothing that we do lasts forever, and so you should not take pride in your accomplishments or status, but remain humble and respectful at all times”. Similarly, the weaver in the video, Abas Madi Windang, said that being asked to help document the skill helped him recall words for certain items involved in the weaving. “If not for this exercise, I would have forgotten some words, but the process of explaining all this has made me remember them.”

The  elder sister of Abas (the weaver) wishes their father were still alive to see the video being made. It would have pleased him to see this traditional weaving skill documented for future generations. Other community members who viewed the video said there are additional cultural practices, like canoe-making, house-building, and traditional marriage ceremonies, that also need documenting. 

Othaniel has also been collaborating with two top linguists at the Centre National de la Reserche Scientifique (CNRS) in Paris, who have seen his work and recruited him to use his spare time helping them with their research. One day he hopes to return to be on staff at TCNN to help train other Nigerians in language documentation.


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