Home » Endangered Languages and the Use of Sound Archives and Fieldwork Data for their Documentation and Revitalisation: Voices from Tundra and Taiga, by Tjeerd de Graaf

Endangered Languages and the Use of Sound Archives and Fieldwork Data for their Documentation and Revitalisation: Voices from Tundra and Taiga, by Tjeerd de Graaf

Vol. 7, No. 1 (2011): 27–46.


The research program Voices from Tundra and Taiga has been devoted to the  study of endangered languages and cultures of the Russian Federation, which  must be described rapidly before they become extinct. This research is in the fortunate position that earlier work on the reconstruction technology for old sound recordings found in archives in St. Petersburg has made it possible to compare languages still spoken in the proposed research area to the same  languages as they were spoken more than half a century ago. We have prepared a  catalogue of the existing recordings, and a phono and video library of recorded  stories, and of the folklore, singing and oral traditions of some minority peoples  in the Russian Federation and its bordering areas. For this purpose, the existing  sound recordings in the archives have been used together with the results  obtained from new fieldwork expeditions. At present, many old recordings still  remain hidden in private archives and places where the quality of preservation is  not guaranteed. In a research project on Endangered Archives, we make part of  these recordings available and add them to the database developed in St. Petersburg. The aim of the project is to re-record the material on sound carriers  according to up-to-date technology and store them in a safe place together with the metadata. The storage facility provided by the project will modernise the possible archiving activities in the Russian Federation and bring them up-to-date with the present world standards. The data are added to the existing archive material in St. Petersburg and part of it is presented on the internet and/or CDROM. This material thus becomes available for further analysis to researchers working in the field of phonetics, linguistics, anthropology, history, ethnomusicology and folklore. The information is also important for the development of teaching methods for representatives of the related ethnic groups and for the conservation and revitalisation of their language and culture. In this paper, we shall also consider some background data about endangered languages and the results of our projects for various cases, such as for the Paleo-asiatic languages Ainu and Nivkh which are represented in Eastern Asia.

Author’s bio

Since 1990, Tjeerd de Graaf, associate professor of phonetics at Groningen University (the Netherlands) until 2003, has specialised in the phonetic aspects of Ethnolinguistics. In 1990, he made his first fieldwork trip with a Japanese expedition to the minority peoples of Sakhalin. Since then, he has contributed to various research projects on endangered languages and the use of sound archives related to the ethnic minorities in Russia. This was done in co-operation with colleagues in the Russian Federation and Japan. Most of these projects were financially supported by special grants from the European Union and the Netherlands Organization of Scientific Research (NWO). In 1998, Tjeerd de Graaf received a Doctorate Honoris Causa from the University of St. Petersburg for his work in the field of ethnolinguistics. Since 2002, he has been a board member of the Foundation for Endangered Languages (Great Britain) and a research fellow at the Frisian Academy, which co-ordinates research on European minorities—in particular the language, history and culture of Frisian, one of the lesser used languages of Europe. In the first half of 2003, he spent a semester at the University of St. Petersburg as visiting professor. In 2004 and 2005, Tjeerd de Graaf worked as guest researcher at the Slavic Research Center of Hokkaido University (Japan).


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