SOAS University of London

Department of Linguistics, School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics

Story collection to storybook: Producing community material

Andriana Koumbarou (SOAS), Marie Thaut (SOAS), Candide Simard (SOAS)

Date: 28 November 2017Time: 3:30 PM

Finishes: 28 November 2017Time: 5:00 PM

Venue: Brunei Gallery Room: B102

Type of Event: Seminar


The Sylheti Project is an extracurricular project to document Sylheti as it is spoken by users of the Surma Community Centre which houses the Bengali Workers' Association. Most of the members of the SOAS Sylheti Project are Linguistics and Language Documentation and Description students at SOAS, University of London supervised by Dr Candide Simard. For the past five years, the Project has been providing invaluable fieldwork and community-involvement experience to SOAS linguistics students. Alongside other sub-projects, the SOAS Sylheti Project has compiled a dictionary for an Android app funded by the Alumni & Friends Fund, held an academic conference, the proceedings of which will be published shortly, and produced a storybook through a crowdfunding campaign.

This presentation concentrates on this latest sub-project, the making of the storybook ‘The Boy Who Cried Tiger, and two other stories as told in the Sylheti language’ [fuaTae sillaito bag aise aro duiTa kicca siloTi bashae], based on various recordings of stories told by London’s Sylheti speakers.

We discuss a range of issues we encountered in the process of transposing these stories into writing:

1) The issue of uniformization of grammar, in which it is crucial to discuss variation and how to deal with it in a manner that speakers find acceptable.

2) Issues of representation, that is, the choice of scripts and spelling which first required the evaluation of the functional load of phonological features while recognizing the cognitive needs of the speakers who are often fluent in Bengali and English and read in both Bengali and Roman scripts. We also needed to take account of socio-political issues: writing has an important symbolic value for the community in Camden, and also amongst Sylheti speakers all around the world, as indicated by the revitalisation efforts of the Siloti Nagri script.

3) Issues of culture and identity, notably in the development of the illustrations.

We will illustrate our discussion with examples from phonology, morphology and syntax, and will present the solutions that were agreed upon in the decision-making process that involved linguists and Sylheti speakers.

About the speaker

Andriana Koumbarou is a PhD student at SOAS, University of London, working on the expression of focus in Hindi with the help of a SOAS Research Studentship.

E. Marie Thaut is a MA student in the Language Description and Documentation programme at SOAS; she is Founder and President of the SOAS Sylheti Language Society.

Candide Simard is a Senior Teaching Fellow in Linguistics at SOAS.