Saving Garifuna

Here’s a short video called “I want to go back” – saving an endangered language about the Garifuna language. Taking popular music that already existed, infusing with Garifuna beats, and translating the lyrics, The Afri-Garifuna Jazz Ensemble are attempting to raise

…awareness of the endangered language of the Garifuna People that was proclaimed a “Masterpiece and Oral Intangible Heritage of Humanity.” Therefore, Afri-Garifuna Jazz will be another platform where the history and language of the Garifuna will be safeguarded through music.

The language is particularly interesting in that it’s made up of other languages

  • 45 % Arawak (Igñeri)
  • 25 % Carib (Kallínagu)
  • 15 % French
  • 10 % English
  • 5 % Spanish or English technical terms

But also because there is a vocabulary used by men and another used by women:

Relatively few examples of diglossia remain in common speech, where men and women use different words for the same concept, such as au ~ nugía for the pronoun “I”. Most such words are rare, and often dropped by men. For example, there are distinct Carib and Arawak words for ‘man’ and ‘women’, four words altogether, but in practice the generic term mútu is used by both men and women and for both men and women, with grammatical gender agreement on a verb, adjective, or demonstrative distinguishing whether mútu refers to a man or to a woman (mútu lé “the man”, mútu tó “the woman”).

There remains, however, a diglossic distinction in the grammatical gender of many inanimate nouns, with abstract words generally being considered grammatically feminine by men, and grammatically masculine by women. Thus the word wéyu may mean either concrete “sun” or abstract “day”; with the meaning of “day”, most men use feminine agreement, at least in conservative speech, while women use masculine agreement. The equivalent of the abstract impersonal pronoun in phrases like “it is necessary” is also masculine for women, but feminine in conservative male speech.

The part of my brain that understands the motivations and intellectual curiosity of translation and interpreting is springing all over the room right now. I probably should have done linguistics instead of mathematics at university.

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