How to save a language in decline?

Posted by Rozenn Milin on February 8, 2010

A difficult issue, which depending on places, populations or activists, bears various possible answers. Some decide to fight on political grounds and have laws and budgets taken to vote, others engage in community scale projects such as the creation of schools or evening classes, and others, researchers and scholars, make an outstanding job on putting into writing languages which, traditionally, are exclusively oral.

Others come along with original and somewhat unexpected solutions. Which is the case of Beatrice Ouma, a young woman from Kenya who spent a few years studying in Rennes, France, where she discovered and decided to learn the Breton language… and then teach it to the children of the Luo ethnic group in Alego, near Lake Victoria, all the way back in Kenya!

On the understanding that one way of insuring survival of a threatened specie or plant is to resettle them elsewhere so they can later be reintroduced in their original environment when they have become fertile again, she decided to apply this basic principle to the Breton language. Thousands of miles away from Brittany, she taught the children of her village to count, chat and sing in Breton, hoping this would help the language live on…

And the outcome is amazing, often funny and always moving, as you’ll see from the following Sorosoro-like movie clips.

On the other side of the planet, these children discuss weekdays and count up to 80 : video 1

tell us about colours : video 2

sing the Breton anthem : video 3

sing and comment traditional songs : video 4 and video 5

A great example of sharing cultural diversity!

Now for Breton kids to learn songs in the Luo language


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The symbol continued: in Burkina Faso

Posted by Rozenn Milin on February 3, 2010

Last October we published an article on the practice of the “symbol” as a “means of education” in western countries, a practice that we found in Gabon during one of our shoots.

An internet user has since brought to our attention an article published on the website of Unesco which echoes our blog. This article by Amade Badini, professor of education sciences at the University of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, reported similar practices still in use in his country.

Here we provide the first few lines of the article which we recommend you read in its entirety at the following address (in French): http://www.unesco.org/courier/2001_04/fr/education2.htm

“Lord, I don’t want to go their school,
Please, I beg of you, that I don’t (have to) go there again”

This “ Prayer of a small black child”, written in the 1950s by Guadeloupe native Guy Tirolien, unfortunately remains relevant today in sub-saharan Africa where the education system often deals brutally with children as soon as they arrive in class. In Burkina Faso, for example, children are required to shift without any emotional support from their native language to a foreign language, French, which is henceforth considered to be the sole criterion of success.

On the 1st of October of their seventh year children are forbidden – at least within the confines of school – to make any use of any native language they may have already mastered such as Moore, Fulani, or Dioula… The children are forced to the learn the writing system of a language that is not their own through texts that evoke French villages with their bell towers, and according to programs which explore Paris before Ouagadougou.

As a humiliating punishment – children sometimes have the skull of a donkey hung around their neck with the label “Donkey, speak French!” – an example of the hostile atmosphere the education system can sometimes offer the children. ()


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