Endangered Poetry Project launches at London’s Southbank Centre

National poetry day image
Dai Minority in Mang Tuan, China © Igor Markov

To mark National Poetry Day, Southbank Centre’s National Poetry Library launches a major new project to collect and preserve poems in endangered languages, and has commissioned four poets to write new poems in languages under threat or lost to them personally.

Endangered languages

According to UNESCO, of the 7,000 languages spoken in the world, over half of these are endangered, with languages disappearing at the rate of one every two weeks.  Their figures estimate that by the end of the century, half the world’s current languages will be lost, which will also mean the loss of poetic traditions.  To capture this poetic activity for future generations the Southbank Centre’s National Poetry Library is launching the Endangered Poetry Project on National Poetry Day 2017.

Submit a poem

Members of the public are invited to submit a well-known poem in a language that is endangered or under threat, according to the UNESCO map of endangered languages.  Southbank Centre’s National Poetry Library will collect these poems in both written and audio formats for their archives with the aim of preserving at least one poem in each language it receives.  The library will work with Dr Mandana Seyfeddinipur, Head of the Endangered Languages Archive at SOAS University of London, and translator-in-residence Stephen Watts to preserve the poems in both their original language and in English.

Internationally-renowned poets

To launch the project, Southbank Centre is also commissioning four internationally-renowned poets to write new poems in languages under threat or which have been lost to them personally through displacement or circumstance.  Joy Harjo, a member of the Mvskoke (Creek) Nation will write a poem in the endangered language Mvskoke; Northern Irish poet Gearóid Mac Lochlainn will write in Irish Gaelic, a language classed as “minority” in Northern Ireland; Iraqi poet Nineb Lamassu will write in Assyrian, a language not officially recognised in Iraq; and Ugandan poet Nick Makoha will write in his mother tongue, Luganda, a language he lost when he was forced to flee Idi Amin’s dictatorship as a boy.

World premiere

These poems will receive their world premiere performance by the poets at a free event on Saturday 14 October, Seven Thousand Words for Human, as part of Southbank Centre’s Poetry International festival, which this year celebrates its 50th anniversary.

Want to learn more?

The goal of the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme (ELDP) is to preserve endangered language globally and provides funding for linguists and linguistic anthropologists to document endangered languages.

The Department of Linguistics at SOAS University of London was founded in 1932 as the first department of general linguistics in the United Kingdom.  Today, SOAS remains a centre for linguistic study in an unparalleled range of world languages.

At undergraduate level, it is possible to study BA Linguistics and BA Linguistics and…; while at postgraduate level, SOAS offers degrees in MA Applied Linguistics and Language Pedagogy, MA Language Documentation and Description, MA Linguistics, and MA Linguistics and Intensive Language.

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