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The 4th Language (auto)biography Contest awards ‘Josefa Ballena, una veu wichí’

Josefa Ballena, Wichí songwriter

Josefa Ballena, Wichí songwriter

M. Carme Junyent and Pere Comellas, members of the jury of 4th Language Autobiography Contest

M. Carme Junyent and Pere Comellas, members of the jury of 4th Language Autobiography Contest



The Faculty of Philology of the University held, on Thursday November 30, the award ceremony for the 4th Language Autobiography Contest. The first award was given to Josefa Ballena, una veu wichí, by Virgínia Unamuno and Mònica Barrieras. This study is focused on the Wichí community, in northern Argentina, which was attacked over the years but has kept the language thanks to the tasks of its speakers and revitalization initiatives, like those carried out by the lecturer and main character of this story, Josefa Ballena.

The Language (Auto)biography Contest, organized by Fundació Aurèlia Figueras, the Study Group of Threatened Languages of the University of Barcelona (GELA) and the Vives University Network, awarded the study Josefa Ballena, una veu wichí, representing the project of revitalization of languages on Wichí. The award is therefore given to the Wichí community. The co-editor of the work, Mònica Barrieras, noted during the ceremony that the award will be dedicated to the creation of a publishing house to publish books and educational material in Wichí.

Furthermore, this fourth edition of the contest gave two ex aequo honourable mentions to the works Languages for Lipreading: a language autobiography, by Amy Dara Hochberg, on the 20th century Jewish diaspora through the own language and family itinerary, and Entre llengües i paisatges, autobiography by Daniel Pinto, bringing the excitement for language diversity of someone who never lost a chance to keep being fascinated by languages.

Wichí voice, a fight for language survival

Josefa Ballena, una veu wichí is an audio-visual biography which offers an interview to Josefa Ballena, Wichí intercultural bilingual lecturer, conducted by the researcher Virgínia Unamuno, who works with this community in the process of language introduction in schools, and UB lecturer Mònica Barrieras. The story starts with the testimonial of Josefa Ballena, who undertook a task of language revitalization on Which out of her academic tasks and the songs she created as songwriter in this area’s language.

The project of this biography resulted from a research stay Barrieras and Unamuno made. Both researchers gathered the story by Josefa Ballena, telling them about the different aspects of the reality of the Wichí language and communities through life, activities and personal thoughts, in a documentary-shaped interview.

Wichí people are in the Argentinian provinces of Chaco, Salta and Formosa, and neighbouring areas of Bolivia. The geographical area corresponding to Argentina has around 50,000 Wichí people. After centuries full of persecutions, massacres, loss of territory and acculturation attempts, the Wichí community is still speaking and transmitting their language in a high percentage, over 90%. However, some youngsters are currently showing a certain relaxed attitude and tend to use Spanish more, which shows the need to promote the language survival.

Four editions of the Language (auto)biography Contest

GELA has promoted the creative activity of language autobiographies with a contest that reached its fourth edition this year. The language autobiography is the description of someone’s experiences regarding languages, ranging from learning methods, to surrounding languages, ways to acquire it, or any experience related to language. According to one of its promoters, the lecturer M. Carme Junyent “everyone has a language autobiography to be told”. Therefore, GELA has created this international contest, available for any proposal related to a language experience, which can be expressed in a wide range of ways, from written text to audio-visual works, comics, etc.

Since proposals are very diverse, the jury is made up of professionals from different fields, such as Narcís Iglesias, lecturer from the University of Girona and expert on language autobiographies; Carles Solà, journalist; Esteve Miralles, expert on theatre and dramatic translations of literary adaptations, and M. Carme Junyent and Pere Comellas, members of GELA.

Among the awarded works of previous editions is Osaei okuso laitaanyanyukie enkukut ang’o’lmaasai (the colored necklace of my mother tongue) by Lorna Sempele, Maasai journalist and editor, a work on the language experience of the author with Maasai, a threatened language.

The wide range of formats of the submitted proposals allowed the jury awarding different works such the audio-visual one by Christian Ruiz Morillas Biografia lingüística, in which the author shows his relation with sign language, which he uses despite not being deaf, and with which he creates musical compositions. Another one is the documentary called Palabras de mamita, by Natàlia Carbonell, Carla Farrerós, Robert Molina and Míriam Seguí, which narrates the biography of Joana Colom , republican lecturer with communist ideas who exiled in Russia with her daughter after the Civil War, and which touches on the relation of the 20th century Catalan communism with language ideologies.

The different awarded works of this edition of the contest can be checked here.



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