Presentation by Nicté Fuller Medina, Ph.D. at the 2nd Belize National Research Conference, 2019
Language and culture in Belize is at risk on at least two fronts. First, Belize’s indigenous languages have been assessed as having low vitality according to the Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger (Mosely 2010). Second, given that language and culture are inextricably intertwined, such a state of affairs also threatens the rich cultural knowledge of the various ethnolinguistic communities of Belize. The current paper introduces two multi-phase projects as paths to safeguarding language and culture in Belize. The first project Language Mapping: Towards a National Model for Language Revitalization and Preservation (a collaboration with the Institute for Social and Cultural Research) aims to collect real-time data regarding language use, transmission and proficiency. Such data facilitates the development of a national language policy comprising evidence-based strategies and priorities. The second project, Language, Culture and History: Belize in a Digital Age (Fuller Medina 2018), proposes a decolonial model for digital preservation and repatriation of legacy data. This project has as its focus linguistic and cultural data collected in Belize pre-1980 and which archives community histories, cultural practices and beliefs as well language as it was spoken at an earlier time. Consequently, its recovery responds to the loss of cultural knowledge that often accompanies language shift or loss and fills gaps in Belize’s cultural history. Thus, safeguarding language and culture must entail both the task of preservation of older materials and the task of intervening where loss is currently occurring.
Key words: linguistics, digital archives, Belizean culture, decolonize