Documentary Highlights Endangered Languages

bob_holman.jpgBob Holman. Kayla Desroches/KMXT

Kayla Desroches

He’s a professor of poetry performance at Columbia University, he’s a co-director of the Endangered Language Alliance, and he’s a spoken word poet. And, as to that last item, I’ll let the man speak for himself…

“I gotta rock’n’roll mythology / I gotta total apocalypse pathology / I got the most PostHysterical Poetry / if it ain’t comin’ at you then it’s breezed on by / I got the heavy-duty political intent / I got the worm farm free-form diamond noodle content / I gotta breezy ways and boppin’ rays / and when the word explodes the motherlode is where I’m at.”

That’s Bob Holman reading two verses from his poem, “Rock’n’Roll Mythology,” which he’s published in multiple journals and which he performed on the HBO TV-show, “Def Poetry Jam,” in 2004.

And now Holman is in Kodiak to share another of his projects, the PBS documentary “Language Matters.” Holman served as the film’s host and says it investigates three places on the planet.

“First we visit Australia. Charlie Mangulda is the last speaker of Amurdak and there’s really nothing that can bring language loss home any clearer than to see a person who carries the whole weight of his lineage, of his culture. When Charlie forgets a word, unless a linguist has already recorded it, it’s gone.”

Holman says they investigate Welsh, the only language to come off the endangered list.

“How did they do that? And you’ll see how they did it – through civil disobedience back in the 60s, when civil rights and the Vietnam demonstrations were going on, in Wales they were demonstrating for Welsh and English to be treated the same way. The little old ladies would not pay their taxes unless the tax form was in Welsh.”

And he also talks about Hawaii, where he says the number of ‎Hawaiian-speakers has grown from 400 in 1960 to 30,000 today, but Holman says that doesn’t save the language.

“Especially because it’s not getting support from the educational system the way that it should truly to revive, but along with that language being revived, a lot of other aspects of Hawaiian culture. And that’s what you see in the film, how the hula, that we think of as a tourist dance actually is a way of carrying both the traditions and the language. Every hula has a mele, a chant, that goes with it.”

The film aired nationally on PBS in January and Holman says he received support from the human welfare organization, the Ford Foundation, to bring the film to language revitalization centers in Alaska and Hawaii.

You can catch a screening of “Language Matters” Friday at 6:30 p.m. at the library. You can also participate in a poetry workshop with Holman Saturday at 1:30 p.m., also at the library.

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