The Ös Documentation Project
A multi-media documentation project dedicated to the moribund Ös language of centralSiberia. Ös (also known as Middle Chulym) is a divergent Turkic speech variety now mostly used by elderly speakers who live in small, isolated villages in Tomsk Oblast’ and Krasnoyarsk Kray in central Siberia. Ös has become endangered in part as a result of open hostility from the state during the twentieth century.
The Ös people were dropped from census statistics as a distinct ethnic group after 1959, regaining separate ethnic identity only in 1999. A priority for this project is the creation of a web-accessible digital archive to make Ös data accessible to scholars and, of greater importance, to the native community itself in the future. Beyond documentation, we will take steps to support the Ös community in their efforts to preserve their language and culture. This includes for example training of speakers in the use of modern media.
The first ever book in Ös currently under production under the direction of Living Tongues, with the proto-type field-tested during the summer, 2005. The Ös documentation project was generously funded from 2005-2008 by a major documentation grant MDP0096 (based at Swarthmore College) to Dr. Gregory D. S. Anderson and Dr. K. David Harrison from the Hans Rausing Endangered Language Program, based at SOAS, University of London.
Living Tongues Institute takes its cue from the community itself in setting priorities for further community-based output and other measures to improve the language ecology. In July 2003, we met with the Chulym tribal council to discuss our proposed research. The council issued a written invitation to us to work in the community and collect data and to assist in the development of a standardized orthography. A pilot version of a book based on stories we collected in a modified native orthography has been developed and this will be combined with an ‘ABC’ book for Ös in the near future. The native orthography is the development of Living Tongues Institute consultant Vasilij Gabov.
Indigenous Ös Orthography
The last work done in the Chulym region was in the early 1970’s by R.M. Biryukovich and earlier in the 1940’s and 1950’s by A. P. Dul’zon. Their results were published in Russian mostly in various local journals. These studies have a large amount of data from the Tatar-like or Tatar-ized Lower Chulym language. In fact, the two so-called Chulym varieties are so different that Ös speakers profess Lower Chulym forms to be completely unrecognizable.
A priority for this project is the creation of a web-accessible digital archive to make Ös data accessible to scholars and, of equal importance, to the native community itself in the future. Digitized audio/video recordings are being housed at the Siberian Languages Laboratory in Tomsk and at the ELAR archive in London.
Community ownership of Middle Chulym intellectual property is a primary consideration in all our work. Digital recordings housed at Tomsk and SOAS must remain under the auspices of the Chulym community itself, which will grant permission (both individually and collectively) for their scholarly use and dissemination.
Because the Middle Chulym community itself is not yet connected to the Internet, we consider it a priority to produce and disseminate materials in alternative media (e.g., print, audio tape, VHS video tape) so that community members who wish to see and hear the language spoken may do so readily.