The Ekegusii Encyclopedia Project - What is a Language?
Language is..... A communication of thoughts and feelings through a system of arbitrary signals, such as voice sounds, gestures, or written symbols, as used by a natiion, people, or other distinct community.
Shocking Realities 4% of around 7,500 languages in the world are spoken by 96% of the world's population. Put another way, 4% of the world's population speak 96% of the languages! Most of these languages are declining or dying, endangered or imperilled. Half of them are likely to be lost in the next fifty years.
Why preserve a langauge? So what if it dies? The slow death of our language will cause the Abagusii's unique experience to be lost from the world and with it, their culture, values, way of life and identity. Also lost will be knowledge of their plants, animals, physical features of the land, and more.
Factors at work 1. Those most fluent in the language are the old.
2. Its usage has declined in the home, in schools, and in church.
3. Growing numbers of parents fail to teach the language to their children.
4. An increase in individualism, materialism and the power of the mass media have weaked the bonds which hold the community together.
Safeguards against language loss What happens to our language depends on the people who are currently able to speak it. We have to decide whether or not to use it. It is our decision; we have to make a choice:
1. Families either choose to speak it in the home, and teach it to their children, or they don't.
2. Elders either choose to speak the language on important occasions and ensure its use in certain important domains, or they don't.
3. Tribal leaders either choose to promote the tribal language and accommodate its speakers in government functions, social services, and community schools, or they don't.
Milestones In this endeavour, we seek to achieve success in this monumental task by firstly developing
a comprehensive general Encyclopedic bilingual (Ekegusii-English) dictionary with illustrations.
With close coordination of a team of approximately 65 community members (language experts, researchers, enthusiasts, teachers, elders, professionals, and a committed team of the organisation's members) we have covered the following areas:
1. Collected and compiled (and are currently translating) a vocabulary of over 28,000 words.
2. Collected and compiled 2,850 proverbs and wise sayings.
3. Collected and compiled 3,650 riddles.
4. Generated over 125,000 meanings in different tenses.
5. Begun research on the following areas in the community's rich culture and traditions as expressed in its:
ceremonies, rites and observances
administration and governance
health and medicine
song and dance
arts and crafts
religion and worship
genealogy and conduct
and we have held community workshops and sensitisation seminars.
6. We are currently sponsoring five HIV-AIDS-affected families.
The need to cover the larger Gusii in search of material. Most elders and language consultants have either passed away or are very old and unable to remember facts chronologically.
A lack of resources (transport, finances and equipment) necessary to reach remote areas by primary researchers.
Finances are needed to organise HIV-AIDS outreach programs (home based care, counselling, feeding and education).