Speaker: Jorge Rosés Labrada
Honorary Killam and Banting Postdoctoral Fellow
Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow, First Nations and Endangered Languages Program
Co-sponsored by the Department of Anthropology and the First Nations and Endangered Languages Program
Title: An Assessment of Language Vitality among the Mako people of Venezuela and the Importance of Participant Observation Data.
Mako [ISO 639-3: wpc], a Sáliban language spoken along the Ventuari River in the Venezuelan Amazon, has been variably reported as (critically) endangered and threatened (see for example Mattéi-Müller (2006) and Mosonyi (2003)). These reports, however, are based on second-hand information and/or self-reported census data. In this talk, I present a vitality assessment of the language that relies on first-hand fieldwork data from 20 Mako villages in the Middle Ventuari River area. The analysis of the data—collected through personal and group informal interviews, two community censuses, and participant observation between 2012 and 2014—shows that the situation is not as dire as previously reported and that the language is in fact very vital in its local context. I also show that the place of Mako in the regional and national contexts puts the language in a vulnerable position and that steps should be taken to ensure its presence in new domains of use such as the schools, the government and the media. Methodologically, I show the importance—and argue in favour—of including data from long-term participant observation in analyses and reports of linguistic vitality because of the access this methodology provides to tacit knowledge (see DeWalt & DeWalt (2011)) about language use and attitudes. This work thus not only contributes to our understanding of language vitality among the Mako communities but to discussions of best practices in language vitality assessment.