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ELDP Project Highlight: Documentation of Northern Alta, a Philippine Negrito language

Today on the ELAR blog, we are featuring ELDP grantee Alexandro Garcia-Laguia’s project ‘Documentation of Northern Alta, a Philippine Negrito language. Alex’s collection with ELAR focuses on Northern Alta, an endangered Negrito language of the Philippines.

Alexandro Garcia Laguia, from the University of Barcelona, gives us his community and scientific highlights from his research from 2017-2018.

Impact on the community and speakers:

1. The printed Alta grammars

This year, the printed version of the Northern Alta grammar arrived to the communities of Diteki, Dianed and Villa. The grammar and lexicon were presented and described as an output based on the analysis of the recordings we had been producing since 2013, in which most of the Alta speakers we have met so far have participated. Although are still unsure of how the grammars will be used in the communities or what their impact will be like in the medium term, the community members are clearly happy and satisfied to finally have a book describing their language.

The teachers at Dianed Elementary school also received a copy of the grammar. When presenting the grammar we informed them that we would be strongly supporting anyone interested in working on the development of educational materials in order to teach the language in the future.

2. The young Alta

The young Alta are more involved in the preservation of their culture than at the beginning of our documentation project. As opposed to the year 2013, in which several Alta children reported to have been mocked at school, the Alta now feel more appreciated and respected. In 2018, the community decided to produce a number of salago, the traditional Alta clothing, which were used by young members of the Alta community in a parade, during the local festivities of the town of San Luis.

As for the community trainees, Jennifer Marques was busy with her new born and could not participate in this year’s training, while Maebell, who had already experience in using ELAN, learned to work with the software Saymore.

Scientific highlight:

A linguistic highlight of this project was the discovery that Northern Alta has a 5-degree demonstrative system. Although the semantic contrasts between these different degrees are still underexplored (see Grammar of Northern Alta, §5.2.2), it seems that this development is rare in the neighboring languages and is thus worth further investigation.

Other neighboring languages such as Southern Alta or Arta are analyzed as showing a 3-degree distinction (proximal, medial, distal). The Negrito language Casiguran Agta also distinguishes 3 degrees, although with different contrasts (near speaker, near addressee or in sight of both, far from both). Other languages such as Ilokano, Pahanan Agta, Palanan, Dinapigue Agta are also understood to exhibit a 3-degree system. Kapampangan language has been shown to exhibit a 5-degree system, (proximal exclusive, proximal inclusive, mesiodistal, distal-visible, distal beyond visibility). Hopefully, as we proceed with the analysis of the Alta corpus of video recordings and elicitation sessions, the semantic contrasts between these different degrees will become clearer.

Figure 1: Artur and Aning point at the location of the location of the sunset
Figure 2: Renita and Dominga point towards the location of Manila
Figure 3: Conchita and Renato point at Dimanangla river

Thank you, Alex!

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