NSF-Funded Dictionary of Gyalsumdo Released

Of the more than 6,000 languages spoken in the world today, only about 20% of these have established and community-embraced writing systems (orthographies). The other languages have survived through time through oral traditions and transmissions to younger generations. In scenarios of language endangerment, one approach to preservation and promotion is the production of written materials that younger speakers may have access to in education environments (schools). The collaborators of the NSF CAREER (BCS 1149639) project “Documenting the Languages of Manang, Nepal” undertook such an effort to preserve and promote the Gyalsumdo language, which has just around 250 speakers, most of them over the age of 50. The IRIS Center played a big role in the production of this valuable resource. GCover_March2.jpg This Gyalsumdo-Nepali-English dictionary is identified as both “practical” and “community” in its organization and purpose. It is practical in the sense that it provides a useful introduction to the lexicon (vocabulary) of Gyalsumdo for scholars with linguistic, anthropological and taxonomic interests (e.g. plant, clothing, festival, geo-spatial and food terms, etc.) or for those who want to learn more about speaking the Gyalsumdo language. It is also a community-based dictionary in the sense that we hope it is a tool that can play a role in the maintenance and survival of the Gyalsumdo language. Many of the descriptions and analyses of languages are made for the benefit of scholars, and therefore are of little use or value to the speech communities themselves. A community dictionary, on the other hand, is constructed to be useful to semi- or passive users of a language such that they may increase their knowledge of the vocabulary. When placed amongst other curricular materials in local schools, a community dictionary also allows students to consider how the Gyalsumdo language fits into other subject areas in their education and in their larger community. This is often considered the “symbolic function” of a dictionary: it provides to Gyalsumdo equal footing in terms of the languages of wider communication of Manang and Nepal. This dictionary was published by the Centre for Nepal and Asian Studies at Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu Nepal. Five hundred copies were made available to Gyalsumdo community leaders to distribute at their discretion to local primary and higher secondary schools in Gyalsumdo-speaking communities in Manang District, Nepal. IMG_0160.jpg A program was held in Kathmandu, Nepal (at the Gyalsumdo Gompa in Swoyambhu) at the time of the dictionary distribution (March, 2016), honoring this product, which was a true community effort. Community leaders played critical and regular roles in orthography creation, in lexical item selection, and in the overall dictionary structure. In particular, the authors wish to thank the following individuals, who are IRIS-affiliated and also Nepal-based: Mr. Norbu Lama, Mr. Ritar Lhakpa Lama, Ms. Ching Chippa, Dr. Joseph Perry, Dr. Oliver Bond, Dr. Shunfu Hu, Ms. Prita Malla, Mr. Prabal Malla, Ms. Yesha Malla, Ms. Kanchen Kharki, Ms. Tiffany Downing, Ms. Morgan Rogers.  

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