9 January 2016

Why do #IndigenousVoicesMatter?

Like every language, indigenous languages are storehouses for knowledge, histories, and poetries. Like every language, they transmit voices, narratives, and values from thousands of years back, echoing hundreds of thousands of living generations. Indigenous languages differ, however, in how they protect and utilize their storehouses. Two important aspects of worldview distinguish indigenous peoples from migrant populations. First, there is no disconnect of knowledge from natural wonders and resources; and second, there is no disconnect of verbal exchange from the act of breathing. These two phenomena are the basis of a distinctly indigenous form of cultural sustainability. They explain why indigenous peoples strive to sustain their knowledge, history, and poetry as rigorously as they strive to sustain connection to their natural environment.

Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. "Art Exhibits - International Business Machines (IBM) - Belgian Congo, Under the Banana Trees, Inkisi Market (Fernand Lantoine)" The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1935 - 1945.

Indigenous languages are indeed the oldest languages to have been maintained in tight connection to an original habitat and social organization. They are languages that are tied to the ecosystems occupied by their speakers, with no internal break from the values of ancestral traditions. They transmit knowledge of living organisms, of the interdependence of cohabited life systems, and of atmospheric tendencies and caprices: of such matters that modern mainstream languages refer to as scientific. These matters make up the everyday issues and activities of indigenous communities that inhabit biodiversity hotspots of our shared planet. Indigenous communities have lived in harmony with the environment and have enjoyed prosperity in nature’s gifts. It is commonly acknowledged today that their voices carry urgent messages, seeking to protect the life-giving properties of Earth.

Indigenous lifestyles that have not been grossly disrupted by global market demands and constraints reflect histories that reach back to sustainable developments of community social practices. Practicing community-centered relationships and occupations, indigenous peoples connect with each other in meaningful ways that have been lost to the highly individuated, census-documented household dweller. Communities that practice the oral traditions of their ancestors transmit histories of their social organization, of technological developments, and of ethical codes, in addition to narratives of all types, to their children and grandchildren. Such transmission is carried out through formal and informal types of verbal discourse genres. Such practice of historical documentation includes honoring the voices of ancestry and reinforcing the tight bond of social connection that strengthens community life.

Lastly, but far from least, the practice of vocal and verbal art traditions is nothing less than a celebration of communication itself. Poetic expression in everyday social life as well as in ritual practice strengthens the human bond both spiritually and materially. It connects minds through the sounds and symbols of traditional meanings, while its fluid nature gives rise to collectively innovated meanings. As in all cultures, poetry is a practice of language that pays tribute to the very existence of language itself. It is a celebration of the mysterious properties of sound and metaphoric power that is at the root of linguistic experience within a community. In oral traditions, language is not disconnected from the breath of life, and it is not removed in time from the immediate social experience of communicating. It is anchored in social life itself.

The complexities of indigenous languages, cultures, and lifestyles cannot be reduced to the ritualized storing and transmission of knowledge, history, and poetry. Nor can mainstream languages, coinciding with techno-economic based cultures and lifestyles, be reduced to the institutionalized practices of science, documenting, and publishing. These phenomena, however, are very much a part of how we organize our societies on a micro- and micro-level. They are core matrices that serve to make us human. And it is in these matrices that we invest some of our most valuable resources.

Differing strategies for storing knowledge, history, and poetry are not in themselves oppositional. Moreover, they can be mutually beneficial. Science has much to learn from indigenous knowledge of living organisms and life processes as we all seek solutions to the climate crisis of our day. The technocrat also has much to learn from the spoken word of indigenous poetic practices. Indigenous peoples, likewise, have much to gain from mainstream languages and digitized data, both for documenting languages and cultures and for strengthening their voices for political representation.

Indigenous voices matter because they have survived the pressures and the violence of so much of what has led us to the environmental and economic crises that we face today. Indigenous voices call forth ancestral solutions based on longstanding values and practices as well as on sound historical narrative. Indigenous voices not only matter, they are essential to planetary sustainability. Not only for their ecological knowledge, their records of human history, and their anthologies of poetry, but also because they are an integral part of our one humanity. Our very connectedness is the starting point for implementing winning solutions for the future of our planet. If for no other reason, indigenous voices matter as an integral part of Earth’s chorus that documents and celebrates our longstanding humanity.

Catharine Mason
President of VOVA, Inc. and Association VOVA
Associate Professor, Université de Caen Normandie


4 January 2016


Startup aims to bring spoken word to forefront of linguistics research

US non-profit corporation, VOVA, Inc., Richmond, Virginia, in alliance with sister non-profit, Association VOVA in Normandy, France has outlined key principles of scholarship in vocal and verbal arts with the aim of building a state-of-the-art exchange platform to house a worldwide multilingual anthology of poetic oral discourse. VOVA is seeking backers for programming costs in a crowdfunding campaign, "Making Voices Count!" on Indiegogo

The VOVA platform will provide tools for advancing scientific study of speech styles and genres. Based on fundamental research inquiries in linguistics, anthropology, literature, and musicology, the VOVA platform will offer innovative applications in language learning and indigenous language revitalization. This startup aims to break out of grammar-dominated linguistics and place the human voice and cultural life at the center of academic study.

VOVA president, Catharine Mason, Associate Professor of English and Linguistics at the Université de Caen Nomandie, is confident the VOVA platform will be instrumental in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals set by the UN for 2030. Dr. Mason founded VOVA in both the US and in France in 2008. She has brought together scholars from 7 countries for collaborative design of the VOVA platform and for compiling data from field studies in community verbal art.


3 January 2016


Nicole REVEL & Danielle ELISSEEFF





Ces rencontres proposent, en abordant quelques exemples sur un territoire très vaste - se déployant de la Chine à l'Asie du Sud-Est continentale et insulaire - une réflexion anthropologique et comparative entre divers systèmes de pensée et d'esthétique liés à la construction de la mémoire.

Au cours de trois journées d'étude (1 journée/trimestre avec 5 intervenants par séance), seront abordées la description et l'analyse formelle de diverses activités mémorielles.

L'ethnologie, l'histoire, l'ethnographie de la parole, la pragmatique, la poétique, la muséographie, l'ethno-scénologie, le cinéma seront convoqués et permettront de faire apparaître les traits distinctifs, les codes, les structures et le sens de ces représentations dans les différentes cultures considérées.

Journée 1, le mardi 12 Janvier 2015 Salle de cours 1 : Narrer, Ecrire l'Histoire

Matin de 10h à 12h30: Danielle Elisseeff (Centre Chine, EHESS): Pour qui écrit-on l'Histoire?

Bruno de la Salle (Conservatoire des Littératures Orales (CLIO) : L'engagement d'un conteur occidental du XXIème siècle».

Nicole Revel (CNRS-MNHN): Mémoire orale. Raconter des « histoires véridiques » Kissa, comme acte de résistance dans les Archipels de Sulu &Tawi-Tawi, Philippines.

Après-midi de 14h à 17h30 :

Olivier de Bernon (EFEO): Un texte khmer, la “Prédiction du Buddha”: histoire de mythes, histoire de faits.

Trâm Journet (Ecole du Louvre): Histoire(s) de statues bouddhiques du nord du Viêtnam, un message à décrypter.

Danielle Elisseeff: Regards engagés d'historiographes chinois.

N.B. : la 2ième journée Témoigner de l'Histoire par des œuvres plastiques aura lieu mardi 1ier Mars 2016 , Salle de cours 1, Musée du quai Branly.

Happy New Year from VOVA!

3 January 2016

We would like to share with you our Goals for 2016:

Complete Programming for the VOVA Members Forums, the Bibliographies Entry Tool, and the Speech Genres Gallery;
Launch the VOVA Exchange Platform for Research with Data Accessible to the Public;
Program the VOVA Text Editor and Begin Editing Verbal Art Performances;
Program the Genres Database and Begin Documenting Verbal Art Genres;
Develop Online and Face-to-Face Forums for VOVA followers to Share Verbal Art Performances and Interpretation.

The major task of the VOVA exchange platform is to build an anthology of text-shaped representations of verbal art performances. VOVA scholars, performers, and verbal art experts strive to capture the linguistic elements and formal properties of a speech event onto a 2-dimensional surface (paper, screen) in a way that reveals a minimum of the dynamic, human experience of its performance.

Editing oral discourse requires annotating tiny chunks (phonemes, morphemes, words, phrases) and larger chunks (verses, sentences, groups of verses, groups of sentences) of discourse segments. Through annotations, editors insert elements of the performance that are not purely linguistic but that bear meaning on the discourse. Annotations may clarify word meanings and tacit cultural references, for example. They may also point to elements of the speech context or to historical references that go into the meaning-making process but are not apparent in the surface structure of language.

Editing oral discourse into textual form is a long and tedious process of interpreting and valorizing speech stylistics practiced in community settings. It requires careful attention to a wide variety of linguistic, cultural, and historical details. Remaining faithful to the voices - both personal and cultural - of verbal art performers is the guiding principle at every step of the editing enterprise. The end result will be a multilingual collection of verbal art performance texts that are as close as possible to the authentic cultural event, available to researchers, students, and a wide audience of spoken word enthusiasts.