Documenting unheard voices: the power of stories in endangered indigenous languages
Alexander King (Franklin & Marshall College)
Paper short abstract:
This paper uses a project to document Koryak (Russia) to theorise storytelling with an attention to the interconnectedness of form & content. Writing oral narratives in indigenous languages moves across three frames: from one code to another, from one culture another, and from orality to literacy.
Paper long abstract:
This paper builds upon Dell Hymes theory of voice and ethnopoetics to argue for the value of documenting storytelling in the original language of minority indigenous peoples. Ethnopoetics acknowledges that form and content are so intertwined that it is impossible to disentangle one from the other. Ethnopoetic analysis requires learning the grammatical structures of a story's original language in order approach a full analysis of a story. Franz Boas certainly understood this axiom, as is clear from his insistence on the publication of texts in the original language with interlinear glosses as well as free translations. I use translations in the plural because the movements are across several frames simultaneously: from one lexico-grammatical frame to another, from one cultural frame to another, and from an oral frame to a written one. The three translations of code, context, and mode are intertwined, of course, as form and content are inseparable. Commentary and criticism of Hymesian ethnopoetics has tended to dwell on the last frame shift—from speech to written verse organized by threes and fives or twos and fours. Translation is more than just choosing the right words or rendering an exotic tongue into English with the right effect. Hymes's work demonstrates that good translation is both possible and desirable. Linguistic anthropologists developed theories and methods for quality translations over 30 years ago, but these developments have not entered the mainstream of social anthropology. My argument draws upon examples of stories recorded as part of a project to document varieties of Koryak, spoken in NE Asia.
Anthropology of storytelling