Researchers move to preserve endangered languages

A number of languages in Uganda face extinction if no action is taken to preserve them. One of such languages is ‘So’, commonly known as Tepeth that is spoken by sections of the population in the districts of Moroto, Nakapiripirit and Napak in Karamoja sub region. According to the 2016 The Dean, School of Languages, Literature and Communication, Dr Saudah Namyalo addressing participants at the dissemination workshoppopulation census by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, the language is spoken by 23,422 people. However research shows that hardly 100 people can speak the language fluently. This is partly attributed to the marginalization of the ‘So’ community, insecurity, existing economically and socially viable languages, lack of curriculum for the language and intermarriages. Research further shows that the fluent speakers of ‘So’ are old people and there is hardly transmission of the language to the young generation.

It is on this basis that researchers from the Department of Linguistics, English Language Studies and Communication Skills at Makerere University through a project titled; “Corpus Development of the 'So' Language for Community Empowerment” have developed a documentary corpus to preserve the language, and make it a usable tool for development and empowerment of the speakers, who are a marginalized community. The project was supported by the Government of Uganda through the Makerere Research and Innovations Fund (Mak-RIF). According to the research team led by Dr Celestino Oriikiriza, the corpus will serve as a source of data for use in describing the linguistic nature of the language, establishing its spelling system, compiling its vocabulary in dictionary form, and writing the literature, culture, and history of the people using their language.  It has been archived in the Makerere University Institutional Repository (MakIR) together with a mini survey report, for a follow-up project to describe the linguistic nature of "So", and for accessibility by linguists, researchers, policymakers, among others, who would like to use the data for reference and analysis. 

The Principal Investigator, Dr Celestino Oriikiriza disseminating the research findingsComponents of the Corpus

Research Dissemination workshop

Presenting their work at a dissemination workshop held at Makerere University on 11th February 2021, the researchers made several recommendations for further preserving the language. They urged Government to consider introducing ‘So’ and other endangered languages in the schools’ curriculum. They also called for the use of the language in communicating all national programmes intended for the ‘So’ community. The researchers further noted that preserving the ‘So’ culture in museums would save the ‘So’ community from extinction.

Addressing participants at the workshop, the Dean, School of Languages, Literature and Communication at Makerere University, Dr Saudah Namyalo revealed that many Ugandan languages, including those that are widely spoken like Runyakitara and Luganda are not well documented. Members of the research team, Dr Celestino Oriikiriza (2nd L), Dr Deo Kawalya (3rd L), Mr. Luke Francis Kiwanuka, Dr Freda Katushemererwe (3rd R), Mr. Michael Wangotta (2nd R) together with the representative of the 'So' community, Mr. Michael Lokawuo (R) and the representative from the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, Mr Bakaye“Languages form what we are. Without them our identity is lost. It is therefore incumbent upon us to preserve our languages to save them from extinction. I thank the researchers for the well thought out project meant to preserve one of the critically endangered languages – So,” she said. She appreciated the Government of Uganda and Makerere University Management for the support extended towards the project.

The representative of the ‘So’ community at the workshop, Hon. Michael Lokawuo expressed gratitude to the researchers noting that the corpus was timely and would largely complement their efforts in preserving the language. Hon. Lokawuo is the former Member of Parliament for Moroto Municipality.

The event was graced by the Assistant Commissioner for Culture at the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, Mr. Bakaye Lubega who appreciated Makerere University researchers for committing to projects that address community challenges. “Language helps us to preserve our cultures. I thank the research team for their efforts in trying to salvage the ‘So’ language which was at the verge of extinction.”

Other members of the research team: Dr. Fridah Katushemererwe, Dr. Deo Kawalya, Mr. Michael Wangotta, and Mr. Luke Francis Kiwanuka from Makerere University. Partners: Mr. Richard Nzogi (SIL International, Entebbe), Dr. Sigal Uziel-Karl (Achva Academic College, Israel), Ms. Maria Stolen (SIL International, Entebbe), Mr. Gift Asiku (SIL International, Entebbe), and Mr. Michael Ongunda (SIL International, Entebbe). 

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