An urgent global initiative to document and make accessible endangered oral literatures before they disappear without record
Of the world's 6,000 natural languages, half will probably not survive for another generation.
For many communities the transmission of oral literature, through ritual texts, songs, word games and historical narrative, lies at the heart of cultural practice, but drastic socio-economic change and the rise of more dominant global cultures risk annihilating them completely.
Globalisation and rapid socio-economic change exert complex pressures on smaller communities, often eroding expressive diversity and transforming culture through assimilation to more dominant ways of life. As vehicles for the transmission of unique cultural knowledge, local languages encode oral traditions that become threatened when elders die and livelihoods are disrupted.
Established at the University of Cambridge in 2009 and co-located in Yale, US since 2011, the World Oral Literature Project collaborates with local communities to document their own oral narratives, and aspires to become a permanent centre for the appreciation and preservation of oral literature. The Project provides small grants to fund the collecting of oral literature, with a particular focus on the peoples of Asia and the Pacific, and on areas of cultural disturbance. In addition, the Project hosts training workshops for grant recipients and other engaged scholars. The World Oral Literature Project also publishes oral texts and occasional papers, and makes collections of oral traditions accessible through new media platforms. By stimulating the documentation of oral literature and by building a network for cooperation and collaboration, the World Oral Literature Project supports a community of committed scholars and indigenous researchers.