THE SKOLT SAAMI LANGUAGE MEMORY PROJECT, entry #5
A destructive perspective.

Today: the first tests of the recording and archiving system. Everything has to work perfectly before we take it into the field in a couple of months. The informants will be filmed in their home surroundings looking into the camera. The words of the dictionary will appear on the screen before them and they will read them aloud one by one. Each word will be stored as a separate video file on the computer.

A dictionary is in essence artificial. Only some rare kinds of poetry can bring life into a list of words starting with the same letter, and even then it is seldom systematically alphabetical in its construction. The alphabet and written language in general has a stench of death about it.

The choice of the dictionary as the image of language is the complete opposite of language-as-life. If languages are organic and alive by nature then the Language Memory Project would seem to spell out a death sentence for the Skolt Saami language.

To make matters even worse I am asking 30 representatives of the language in question to become dictionary robots reading aloud only the individual words – the atoms of their living language – in a room with no listeners. On the Finish side this will involve about 10% of the Skolt Saami community – on the Russian side it will involve 100%. In effect they will be atomizing their own language into a list of dead, alphabetized items.

All the while I will be there silently filming the spectacle – this burning funeral pyre of a self-destructing language.
2008-05-04 00:00:00 UTC by the silent reader

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