Where Do We Need to Go From Here?



What it means to be linguistically excluded: Interview with Hilaria Cruz

ELAR archive assistants Leonore Lukschy and Francesca Brown recently interviewed Hilaria Cruz on the ELAR archive, and the issues we face during archiving. In particular, the English language being the only current language to navigate ELAR, and how this leads to communities, who wish to access recordings of their languages and loved ones, being unable to find the material. This is what it means to be ‘linguistically excluded’, and here at ELAR, we are seeing what changes we need to make for an inclusive catalogue accessible for both linguists and community members.

Portrait of Linguist Dr Hilaria Cruz
Hilaria Cruz

Hilaria Cruz is a native speaker of Chatino, spoken in Oaxaca, Mexico. ELAR holds eight collections of Chatino compiled by different depositors among them Hilaria. Before starting the interview, she browsed her Chatino collection, and listened to a recording of her late uncle, Marcos Cruz.

What do you think of the recordings?

‘Now that my uncle is no longer alive, and to hear his voice is just so emotional. It makes me want to cry. It’s just the fact that even if he’s gone, I can hear him as if he were here. To me, that’s so beautiful. The sound file is so clear, and you can listen to him as if he were still alive. So I’m very happy that these recordings are here in ELAR. His voice is still here. That’s my first impression. Being able to listen to this here on ELAR and hear his voice.

What was your first impression of the ELAR Archive?

I think that these records have other uses besides just recording the language for linguistics’ sake. You’re providing for families to reconnect with memories of loved ones. It’s not just a recording – this is keeping memories of families, and maybe in a few generations for people who did not know this person, like in this case my uncle, maybe the sentiment will be different. Maybe they will be more emotionally removed, but it is still beautiful.

How can the archive be more user friendly for community members as well as for linguists?

So the biggest problem I see that I were to go there to my aunt’s house and uncle’s children, they would absolutely love to listen to the sound of their father. But then if I were to tell them ‘there are sound files of your father on the ELAR archive at SOAS’, and I gave them the link – I don’t know if they would be able to find the recording. For example, his wife doesn’t know how to use a computer. She would be happy to sit down and listen if we were to allow her that access, but she would not be able to do it by herself. Now if we were talking about his kids, many of them have migrated to the United States. They use a smart phone, but they would not know how to navigate a system where you have to create an account. Let’s say they were to ever open an account and get in, where do you look? How do you navigate to all these places? Because in the metadata right now, we have MCB instead of his name. How would they know this was him without his full name?

Given that we are native speakers, we were able to record some really sensitive material as well. So you have to go back to the privacy as well. For that, what you need is for the documentarian like myself to come back to the archive and spend some time curating and putting in the privacy labels. For example, they were eliciting grammar here, I don’t think they were talking about anything sensitive, so I think that this might be much more open. So I think that if I were working on the metadata of these archives, I would make the descriptions more easy to follow. I would do it in Spanish, of course. And if we had all the money to be had, it would be wonderful to have an oral description of where what is. Like oral metadata. There are still people who are monolingual Chatino speakers, like my uncle’s wife. So having the metadata in all three languages – English, Spanish and Chatino – would be wonderful.

In an ideal world, our interface would be localised for communities but that is not possible right now. But do you think it would be a first step to have it in several major languages?

Definitely. I think if we were to have it in Spanish that would be very helpful. And with the files that are open, we can be very transparent. We can have the names of the recorded people available. It would be important to ask the family, of course. So one thing that would be awesome to do would be to say to my uncle’s family, ‘Hey, you know what, we have some recordings of your husband/father. Do you mind if we make an open description in the archive?’ So it would be up to them if they want this to be shared on the World Wide Web. That’s a master’s degree right there – going back to the families! That’s a full time job.

Yes – especially with the 400+ deposits we have! Thank you so much for your time, Hilaria! You can access her deposit on Chatino here

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