Inhabiting a language: linguistic interactions as a living repository for intangible cultural heritage

SOURCE: International Journal of Intangible Heritage
OUTPUT TYPE: Journal Article
TITLE AUTHOR(S): O.Bialostocka
DEPARTMENT: African Institute of South Africa (AISA)
Print: HSRC Library: shelf number 9822
HANDLE: 20.500.11910/10985

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The UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003) recognises as living heritage cultural expressions and practices that provide for the continuity, dynamism and meaning of the social life of individuals and communities. The organisation emphasises the need to document and safeguard intangible cultural heritage (ICH) as a source of people's identity, which gives them a feeling of belonging and represents cultural capital. One of the forms of safeguarding ICH endorsed by UNESCO is the creation of national inventories to catalogue the heritage and make it accessible to the public. However, inventorying living heritage runs a risk of essentialising culture and fixing cultural practices in time. And while it is only natural that the forms of cultural expressions may change with time, the meaning of those practices should be protected, for in it lies the cultural value of heritage. This theoretical paper looks at language as a vehicle of culture that gives meaning to people's experiences, while remaining a tool that adapts its form to changing environments. Therefore, language can be considered a repository and an organic inventory system for the living heritage, as the latter is primarily contained in the linguistic interactions of the people who produce it. Accordingly, the paper advocates for a greater protection and promotion of vernacular languages by assisting communities in developing them and sustaining their local cultural practices.