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100 years, 100(s of) voices, more languages than ever before.

Wasai Biran Issa In Dazaga Language

Indigenous voices from all around the world

PEN’s Translation and Linguistic Committee is presenting a collection of five video-poems in indigenous or minorized languages between February 15 and 19, to mark the International Mother Language Day on February 21.

The aim of this project is to offer a small glimpse into the diversity of languages in every continent through poems narrated in their original, non-hegemonic languages.

To date, the project has gathered over 30 videos from Africa, the Americas, the Asia-Pacific region and Europe. The diversity of represented languages embraces: Basque, Catalan, Chamoru (Chamorro, Guam), Chol (Chiapas, México), Ewe, Garifuna, Huarpe (Argentina), Innu (Quebec), isiXhosa, Kurdish, Livonian, Manx, Mari, Maya (Yucatán, México), Pangasinan (Philippines), Quechua (Bolivia), Riffian Amazigh, Sami (northern Finland, Sweden, and Norway and the Kola Peninsula in Russia), Tatar (Crimea), Tibetan, Tigrinya, Tsotsil (Chiapas, México), Udmurt, Uyghur, Welsh, Yoruba, Zoque (Chiapas, México). The collection is not complete and will continue growing. It will be featured throughout 2021.

You can enjoy the authentic sound of the first five video-poems, with subtitles into one of the PEN official languages: English, Spanish or French. The first five video-poems we are presenting to mark the International Mother Language Day, are:

CH’OL

Ch’ol is a Mayan language from the north of Chiapas, with speakers in the states of Campeche and Tabasco, too. This language has a crucial role in the history of Central America: it was relevant to decipher the writings of the ancient Mayas and contributed to the building of the city of Palenque.

The poem is by Juana Peña’s (PEN Chiapas), who won the Premio de Literaturas Indígenas de América 2020.

CRIMEAN TATAR

A long-term ban on the study of the Crimean Tatar language, following the deportation of the Crimean Tatars by the Soviet government, has led the UNESCO to list the Crimean Tatar language among the languages under serious threat of extinction (severely endangered). Today this language has 540.000 native speakers.

“Every word in the Crimean Tatar language, every person speaking and thinking in the native language is a chance for the language to survive.” Seyare Kokche

The poem is by Seyare Kokche, Crimean Tatarian poet and researcher. The video was provided by PEN Ukraine.

DAZAGA

Dazaga is a Saharan language spoken by approximately 400,000 people. Although important for trade in Northern Chad and eastern Niger, today the Dazaga language is losing ground. Its recent use in written form has sparked off a proud revitalization of the spoken language.

The poem is by Wasai Biran Issa, 17 years old. Wasai learned to read and write at the very first Dazaga language school which was opened in 2014.

KURDISH

Spoken by millions of Kurds in Kurdistan and by the Kurdish diaspora, Kurdish is one of the main languages of the Middle East. Despite different regimes have banned its use in education, media or culture for decades, the Kurdish language enjoys a great vitality today.

The poem is by Moeyed Teyib. His poems were banned during the 80s but continued circulating, being passed from one person to another secretly in tape recorder cassettes.

PANGASINAN

A Malayo-Polynesian language, and one of the eight major languages spoken by the Pangasinan people in Philippines. Its dying literature is currently being revitalized by its speakers.

The poem is by Santiago B. Villafania (Philippine PEN). Santiago is a bilingual Filipino poet who writes in English and in his native language Pangasinan.

More languages than ever, more voices than ever.

PEN International activities to celebrate the International Mother Language Day, are part of a series of events planned throughout 2021 to mark PEN International’s Centenary. Founded in 1921 by English writer Catherine Amy Dawson Scott, PEN International has spent 100 years celebrating literature and protecting freedom of expression. You can stand up for persecuted writers by making a donation today.