Podcast Ep. #9: Documenting An Endangered Language

Endangered Languages podcastJohn Van Way, a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii, sat down with Chengdu Living to talk about Nyarong Minyag, the endangered language he has spent the last year researching and documenting.

John shares his experience living in Chengdu, his thoughts on the cultural and political significance of a language’s survival, and much more in this 49-minute long podcast.

Topics discussed:

00:00 Introduction
1:00 Basic details of John’s language documentation project on Nyarong Minyag
1:20 How John ended up studying this language in this part of the world
2:10 What qualifies as an endangered language?
3:10 Language-related identity politics
3:40 How to determine if a language is endangered
4:10 The Endangered Languages Catalogue and endangeredlanguages.com database
5:20 The difficulties of language revitalization and the success stories of Hawaiian and Gaelic
7:00 Latin’s status as a “zombie language”
8:15 Documenting the language for future use
8:40 The broader cultural implications of language extinction and language revitalization
10:00 John’s Louisiana heritage and personal experience with language extinction
10:45 The political implications of language communities shrinking
11:45 Ganzi autonomous prefecture and linguistic diversity in the Tibetan plateau
13:00 The rampant multilingualism of communities in the Tibetan plateau
14:50 Cantonese and Tibetan vs. the Mandarinization of China
18:30 Written Tibetan as a unifying force
19:00 The course of John’s research
22:15 John’s collaborator’s cultural documentation project
23:30 Music in this community
26:15 Wrapping your head around the process of mapping a language
28:30 How much more work is there to be done?
29:10 The sound patterns and phonology of the language
38:50 Summary of John’s time in Chengdu
41:00 A message to linguists
42:45 Endangered languages website and goodbye

Songs and media features in this podcast:

Download & Stream Links

Download Podcast #9

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You can also search for the podcast in your favorite podcasting app (mine is Overcast, which we highly recommend for iPhone users).

If you enjoy the podcast, please share it! We look forward to recording more of these and continuing to chronicle and share the story of life in Chengdu.

Interested in or currently pursuing linguistic research in Western China? Study languages? Speak a language? Leave us your questions or thoughts in the comments below.

4 thoughts on “Podcast Ep. #9: Documenting An Endangered Language”

  1. Really enjoyed hearing the snippets of the Nyarong Minyag that you added Dan. I could listen to mellow beats with the sound of someone talking in Nyarong Minyag over them all day.

    • Yeah, that is certainly a highlight. Maybe Dan is onto something. It would be cool to hear an endangered languages mixtape with all of the languages spoken over a musical background.

  2. Wow, I knew about some of the more prominent dialects (Wu, Yue, Min, etc.), but I had no idea there were any endangered languages here in China. It was fascinating to learn about the systematic approach that linguists use to map a language from the ground up. I can’t imagine trying to study a language without any resources to help me – that’s really impressive.


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