Listening as an Act of Recognizing Humanity

Wax cylinder recording materials – 1965

Since the invention of the most rudimentary of sound-capturing technology coincided with European descendent explorations of geography annexed through hostile acts of imperialism, the opportunity to hear dying languages remains with us. Taking time to listen to such recordings can serve as a respectful acknowledgment of past violences which stripped the world of certain human and spiritual potentials in service to domination by others.

The Doug Ellis Audio Collection provides nearly instant access online to stories, memories, and historic accounts recorded during the mid-20th century in Cree communities of Ontario. The sound quality is good and contextual remarks both in English-speaking voice and archive notes, along with good searching capability on the site, make this a starting point with almost no technical threshold. John Wynne’s account of “How Ghost River Got its Name” is itself one of interracial violence between First Peoples.

Like animal species, human linguistic diversity is open to both threat of endangerment and endangerment, or loss, itself. To be considered endangered, a language has fallen to such disuse by its native speakers that they no longer incorporate it fully into daily life, passing it between generations. Seeking archival recordings made when such languages were threatened—and thus the subject of non-native, native, or both teachers and record keepers—may provide guidance for the future: how can we maintain an awareness that every language is an expression of humanity that is both shared and privileged.

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