Endangered Archives

EAP089: Reconstruction of sound materials of endangered languages in the Russian Federation for sound archives in Saint Petersburg

Dr Tjeerd de Graaf, Isaac Massa Foundation
2006 award - Major project
£50,119 for 24 months

Archival partner: Institute for Linguistic Studies/Pushkinsky Dom, Russian Academy of Sciences St Petersburg

Project Overview

In the summer of 2005, a report was published on the research programme called Voices from Tundra and Taiga, initiated by Dr. T. de Graaf at the University of Groningen (Netherlands), the University of St. Petersburg and the Sound Archive of the Russian Museum of Literature, the Pushkinsky Dom (Russian Federation). The programme has been concerned with the study of endangered Arctic languages and cultures of the Russian Federation, which urgently need to be documented before they become extinct. A catalogue has been prepared of existing recordings and also a phonographic and video library of recorded stories, folklore, singing and oral traditions of the peoples of Siberia.

At present, many old recordings still remain hidden in private archives and places where the quality of preservation is not guaranteed. This project aims to make part of these recordings available and to add them to the database developed in St.Petersburg. The St.Petersburg Institute for Linguistic Studies (ILS) is one of the most important Russian centres for the investigation of minority and regional languages in the Russian Federation. Many researchers in this institute have collected sound material and many of these recordings (primary data) are not stored in safe places, whereas the related field notes, manuscripts, card files (secondary data) can be found in the institute or also in private archives.

The aim of the project is to re-record the material on sound carriers according to up-to date technology and store them in a safe place together with the metadata, which will be obtained from the related secondary data. The storage facility provided by the project will modernise the possible archiving activities in the Russian Federation and bring them up-to date with the present world standards. It will be important to co-ordinate this with the staff of the Pushkinsky Dom, where a collection of great historical value (selected by UNESCO in its programme Memory of the World) can be enriched with the new data. In the project we are concentrating on a selection of recordings, especially those of some Siberian languages, such as Nivkh, Even, Evenki, Aleut, Nenets, Udege and other ones.

In the beginning of the project two Russian colleagues will be trained in the Vienna Phonogrammarchiv for the period of two weeks. There the director and his colleagues will be responsible to familiarise Russian specialists with present archival standards and modern techniques. Specialists from Vienna will travel to St. Petersburg to install equipment and locally instruct Russian colleagues. They will also stand ready to assist for the purpose of solving special problems.

The various collections to be safeguarded will be brought to St. Petersburg, where they will be transferred along with relevant linguistic materials from the collection of the Archive itself. Copies will be provided to the British Library and the Vienna Phonogramm Archiv.

A documentary film of the Frisian Broadcasting Company Omrop Fryslân, which was broadcast on national TV in the Netherlands (2001), describes the reconstruction of historical sound materials in the archives of the Pushkinsky Dom, the Russian Institute of Literature in Saint-Petersburg. It shows the collection of Edison wax cylinders and the way that material of some endangered languages in Russia can be obtained from these recordings.

Project Outcome

At the end of the project period the following private collections have been digitised, stored in the digital sound archives of St.Petersburg, copied on various digital sound carriers and deposited with the British Library:

Albina Kh.Girfanova's collection of Udeghe language and folklore
Marina D. Lublinskaya's collection of Samoyed language and folklore
Krasnoyarsk State Pedagogical University collection of Siberian Russian
Yevsei I. Peisakh's collection of Krymchak folklore
Peter Y. Skorik's collection of Kerek folklore
Ivan M. Steblin-Kamensky's collection of Tadjik and Wakhi language and folklore
Alexander L.Grünberg's collection from Afghanistan

Total time and size: 111 hours 17 min. 47 sec. - 217.8 GB
Medium of copies: HDD Rovermate MS-25E1 SATA WAV
Medium of original material: open reel tapes (OR) 46, or cassette tapes (CC) 95.

Language(s): Azerbaijan, Balochi, Chagatay, Chatror, Dari (Farsi-Kabuli), Enets, German, Kati, Kerek, Mendzon, Nenets, Nganasan, Parachi, Pashai, Pashto, Russian, Shugni, Tajik, Udeghe, Vaygali, Wakhi (Vakhan)

The greater part of these private collections was recorded on magnetic tape (open reel OR and cassette CC), mainly of Russian production. Old open reel tapes were on cellulose acetate base. These tapes have become brittle with age, whereas many were in bad winding condition. Experience told us, however, that most of the tapes could still be played. For this purpose a STUDER machine was obtained from Vienna and there were also the team's own facilities for the transfer of historical mechanical carriers such as cassette tapes.

Results of the project have been reported at various conferences and in publications.

The scholars who provided their original recordings received copies of their material on DVD and all of them gave the original tapes to the Pushkinsky Dom, where they will be stored. The digital copies are preserved on DVD, on hard discs and on LTO-tapes. These copies are sent to the British Library, the Vienna Phonogram Archive and the Institute for Linguistic Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

In this way, in Russia a central sound archive of historical linguistic data has been extended with the most up-to-date technical facilities. This will be of utmost importance, providing a source of authentic material, for instance for linguists specializing in languages spoken by minorities in the Russian Federation. Many of these languages are endangered and it is important to obtain all existing sound material and to make new recordings of speakers of these languages. The aim of this project has been limited to the re-recording of private sound recordings and their storage, where the focus was on a number of endangered languages. However, in the future the work will continue and extend to other recorded material, such as in the field of ethno-musicology.

Read online the open access article: The use of sound archives for the investigation, teaching and safeguarding of endangered languages in Russia, published in the EAP Anniversary publication From Dust to Digital. The article can also be downloaded as a PDF (432KB).