In light of (yesterday’s) UNESCO Mother Language Day, I want to write in my Mother Language about a new language that I discovered this month. (My readers should understand that when I say “discover,” I mean this in the same way as Christopher Columbus “discovered” America, namely, that I discovered something for myself. These people functioned fully as a community before any Western “discovery.”) Driving down the road in my own suburb of the Twin Cities, Minnesota, I saw the word “Anyuak” on a sign. What did this word even mean?
After some research, I found that the Anyuak (also, “Anuak”) people mostly come from the Ethiopian side of the border region between Southwest Ethiopia and South Sudan. Recently some violence has occurred between the government and some members of the Anyuak.
Most surprisingly, I learned that the biggest diaspora community of Anyuak lives in Minnesota! I can’t yet tell about the numbers. According to this site, hundreds of thousands fled Ethiopia to the US, and most came to Minnesota, whereas this site claims that the number of Anyuak in Minnesota is “well over 2,000.”
This striking discrepancy piques my curiosity. Who is living here? How many? Who’s counting?
Little has been written about the language: only three books and a couple articles, as far as I could find. The language belongs to the Nilo-Saharan language family, which is a mystery family. It includes the unaffiliated, non-click languages. Hence, this classification tells us very little about the language. Otherwise, I mainly found music videos as examples of the language itself.
In addition, a few church websites advertise Anyuak services in Minnesota and Texas—not just the one in my town. I am very grateful that this local Lutheran church not far from my house welcomed this community right here and advertised it for me to discover.
I feel not like an explorer who went out to discover new things, but like a farmer who unearthed an unknown civilization as he plowed. Such a happy accident!
In the process of writing this post, I happen to feel an uncomfortable sense of colonialism. I don’t want to “colonialize” this language or this people. I want to learn. If you can suggest any pitfalls to avoid, I’d appreciate it.
Have you discovered any communities in your town? If you could, what would you want to learn from them?
- Perner, Conradin. 1990. Anyuak a Luo-language of the Southern Sudan : short grammar and dictionary. New Haven, Conn., U.S.A.: Human Relations Area Files. http://books.google.com/books?id=KT4aAQAAIAAJ.
- Reh, Mechthild. 1996. Anywa language: description and internal reconstructions. Köln: R. Köppe.
- Reh, Mechthild, Sam A. Akwey, and Cham U. Uriat. 1999. Anywa-English and English-Anywa dictionary. Köln: R. Köppe.