FEL grant report: Ti Liv Kréyòl

This is a report by Nathan A. Wendte of the Department of Anthropology, Tulane University, concerning his project funded by FEL in 2018 on Ti Liv Kréyòl: A Learner’s Guide to Louisiana Creole.

FEL provided a grant in 2018 that enabled professional illustrations and design for a second edition of a learner’s guide book on Louisiana Creole called Ti Liv Kréyòl. Louisiana Creole is an endangered French-based creole spoken by fewer than 10,000 people, mostly in the US state of Louisiana. It developed in the 18th century from contact between the French of colonial settlers and various West African languages spoken by slaves imported between 1719 and 1743. This is the story of the Learner’s Guide project.

In the spring of 2016, I began compiling a short list of Louisiana Creole vocabulary items for my own personal use. At the time, there was a burgeoning online revitalization effort underway for the language, and prior to my involvement, the community had decided on a distinctive orthography that would give Louisiana Creole a unique visual identity. There were many things still in flux, however, and the orthography was being occasionally tweaked here and there to meet the needs of learners. That short vocabulary list eventually grew to almost 1,600 items, which I shared with my colleague Oliver Mayeux, lecturer in Linguistics at Cambridge University, UK. He then suggested we do something with it.

At the time, there were rumblings in Louisiana about expanding the local French immersion school curriculum to include a ‘Creole component’. While everyone agreed that this was a noble goal, there was no consensus on what such a component should actually look like. One of the only Creole voices in these discussions was Herbert Wiltz, a longtime educator and the first person to produce contemporary teaching materials in Louisiana Creole. Education authorities were confused by the many French-influenced languages called ‘Creole’, including the vernaculars of Haiti, Guadeloupe, and others. Many thought that any of these could be ‘good enough’ for French immersion students in Louisiana.

(l-r) Oliver Mayeux, Herbert Wiltz, Nathan Wendte.

Driven by the conviction that Creole ethnolinguistic identities are not interchangeable (even though they may share the Creole label), I began working on a short language primer for conversational learners of Louisiana Creole. I drew up preliminary drafts of 18 lessons and sent them to Oliver and Herb for corrections and suggestions. We added the glossary and a brief introduction that laid out our goals for the project. Thanks to Oliver’s keen eye and Herb’s native speaker intuitions, the first edition of Ti Liv Kréyòl was released in summer 2017. Herb, Oliver and I made it available to the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL) for use by immersion classroom teachers wishing to include a ‘Creole component’ with Louisiana-specific materials.

Soon after, it became apparent it needed revisions to make it more user-friendly. Thanks in large part to edits and suggestions from Adrien Guillory-Chatman, who is a learner, teacher, and advocate for the Louisiana Creole language spoken by her ancestors, we modified the guide to make it clearer for learners using it outside the classroom. We also added a separate section to address issues of Louisiana Creole grammar and regional variation. Finally, with support from FEL, we enlisted local Louisiana illustrator Jonathan “radbwa faroush” Mayers and talented designer Irina V. Wang to produce a vastly improved second edition of Ti Liv Kréyòl, as a downloadable pdf and book (available on Amazon.com from 1st October 2020).

FEL grant report: Ambel trilingual dictionary

This is a report by Laura Arnold from University of Edinburgh concerning her project funded by FEL in 2017 (photos (c) 2020 John Flores).

From 2013 to 2018, I carried out a major documentation project of Ambel [ISO-639 code: wgo], an Austronesian language spoken by about 1,600 people in the Raja Ampat archipelago (West Papua province, Indonesia). Ambel is endangered, in that children are no longer learning the language, and the whole speaker community is under increasing pressure from the local variety of Malay.

Right from the beginning of the project, the Ambel community made it clear that they would appreciate a trilingual Ambel-Malay-English dictionary. There were several reasons for this, including:

  • to encourage the younger generations to learn the language;
  • to raise awareness of Ambel with the dominant neighbouring language communities;
  • to facilitate communication with the increasing numbers of western tourists in the region, many of whom do not speak Malay

Using the materials collected in the documentation project, my main Ambel collaborator Martinus Wakaf and I compiled a dictionary of 1,834 Ambel words, with Malay and English translations, and reversal entries. The dictionary also includes a guide on how to use it, written in Indonesian, and a pronunciation guide for the English words. Interested readers can download a PDF of the dictionary here. My other work on Ambel is listed on the publications page of my website.

I applied for funding from FEL to print the dictionaries in hardback, and distribute copies of the dictionaries in the Ambel villages. The plan was then to organise workshops to teach Ambel community members on how to use the dictionary, with one aimed at adults, and a second aimed at children of secondary school-age.

Using these funds, I self-published the dictionaries, and printed 30 hardbound copies. In each of the 11 villages where Ambel is spoken, I gifted one copy of the dictionary to the political head of the village (Indonesian: kepala kampung), and one to the chief elder of the village (Indonesian: bapak adat). In Kapadiri, which was my main fieldsite for the documentation project, I also gave copies to some of the people with whom I had worked most closely; and in Kabare, I gave some copies to a man who intended to hold informal lessons in Ambel language and culture. Finally, I deposited a copy in the library at the Center for Endangered Languages Documentation Universitas Negeri Papua, in Manokwari, the provincial capital, who were my partners during the documentation project.

Unfortunately, I was unable to hold the workshops I’d planned – problems with the UK-based printers and import regulations in Jakarta meant that the dictionaries only arrived in Raja Ampat one week before my visa expired. I haven’t been back to the villages where I distributed the dictionary since then, so I don’t have any first-hand information on whether or how the dictionary is being used.

However, I recently visited Raja Ampat for further fieldwork, to collect data on several other related languages spoken there for another major research project. While there, I met several of my younger Ambel friends in town, who told me that the dictionary is being used. It also seems to be a symbol of prestige, in that they are proud that their language now has a dictionary. For example, my travelling companion on this recent field trip was an Ambel man: whenever the conversation inevitably turned to language vitality in the villages I was working in, he would tell people about the Ambel dictionary, and how it has sparked an interest in the language in the younger generations.