12 Future Leaders Trained in First Regional Approach to Language Revitalization – JUNE 2019

Soledad García de los Santos is a Chatino-speaking university student from a mountain village in Oaxaca, Mexico, who is happiest wearing the colorful embroidered blouses typical of her region. Ricardo Jiménez Jiménez, an aspiring actor, is a Mixtec speaker from central Oaxaca. What they have in common, along with ten other students representing four other languages, is a commitment to work together to revive their endangered languages using the Speaking Place methodology. The students learned these methods over three weeks of training this winter in Oaxaca.

An interdisciplinary team led the Community Video Workshop of Oaxaca (TAVICO): five Oaxacan instructors along with Ben Levine, Julia Schulz, and Robert Leavitt from Speaking Place. The team provided intensive training and practice in camera and sound work and practice in Feedback Filming: video presentation and facilitation of discussion—an essential part of Speaking Place’s unique approach to language documentation and revitalization. The methods have been honed over fifteen years working with the Passamaquoddy of Maine and the Mixe (mee-hay) of Oaxaca. Participants are now engaging their own indigenous communities using TAVICO tools, and are already brightening the future of their languages.

A collaborative effort, TAVICO addresses the needs of communities whose social stability depends on conservation of language, identity, and land. The pilot unites Speaking Place with the Universidad Autónoma Benito Juárez de Oaxaca (UABJO) and the Centro de Estudios y Desarrollo de las Lenguas Indígenas de Oaxaca (CEDELIO), which promotes the strengthening and preservation of indigenous languages. Our interdisciplinary team is committed to making regional language and community revitalization sustainable, helping communities adapt and evolve as they meet the challenges of globalization and climate change.

How do we measure the need for such assistance? The call for applications to the TAVICO program on the CEDELIO Facebook page received 12,000 visits in two weeks. Currently there are ten communities waiting to participate in the next round of training—places where young people like Soledad and Ricardo are eager to bring these resources to serve their communities.

In this video (https://vimeo.com/336006769), TAVICO participants talk about the workshops and how they help them to better serve their communities. All of the footage was shot by participants in their towns after their first workshop week.

Origins of Speaking Place Methodology Featured in Forthcoming Documentary – JUNE 2019

Higher Ground Productions (Barack and Michelle Obama’s new production company) has bought worldwide rights to a forthcoming documentary film that incorporates video shot by Ben Levine in 1971 at a summer camp for handicapped teens in upstate New York. The film chronicles the history of the handicapped rights movement. The video documentation and feedback methods Ben and his partner Howard Gutstadt developed at that time are the basis for the work that Speaking Place is doing today and for the methods Speaking Place staff are sharing with community activists in Maine, Southern Mexico and elsewhere. Netflix will distribute the film, which we expect to air in the fall of 2019.

See a recent Forbes Magazine article here:

Grant for Innovative Approach to Passamaquoddy Language Recovery – JUNE 2019

The Maine Community Foundation has awarded $10,000 to Speaking Place to continue a training program for leaders in language reacquisition for Passamaquoddy fluent comprehenders—adults who understand but cannot speak their language. Speaking Place is the first organization to identify this need and develop interdisciplinary methods, which have already created new speakers. Three communities in Alaska and Oaxaca are now considering working with Speaking Place to train teachers of fluent comprehenders.

New Board Members – JUNE 2019

Margaret Apt is a fluent speaker, student and teacher of her language, Passamaquoddy, and community research coordinator for the Passamaquoddy-Maliseet Dictionary. Beginning in 2006, Margaret worked with the Speaking Place team to develop the critical role of Facilitator in documenting natural group conversation. She is a leader in Passamaquoddy language revitalization, most recently as Director and Head Teacher in the Passamaquoddy immersion preschools. A grandmother and great-grandmother, Margaret writes, "I have lived in Sipayik all my life, except for the few years I was gone to educate myself about the other world I really knew nothing of, except what I read."

Elizabeth Ranslow Goldstein, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist living in Burlington, Vermont, where she maintains a private practice. Her multicultural values have been a grounding force throughout her career, including exploring ways in which psychotherapy can be beneficial in indigenous communities. She conducted her PhD research in the Passamaquoddy community and has since worked with veterans, developing expertise in helping individuals recover from trauma, as well as teaching, consultation, supervision, and administration.

Jan Rosenbaum has been involved in photographic imaging for 50 years. He worked as a photojournalist for several years, then for Agfa, designing imaging systems for medical and computer graphics systems. After moving to Maine in 1997 he returned to the creative photographic community, becoming faculty advisor to the MFA Program and teacher of photography at Maine Media Workshops + College. His work is in the collections of the Cranbrook Museum, the New Museum, the Farnsworth Museum, and private collectors.

Many thanks to our Speaking Place Interns:
Ellery Chalmers, Assistant Editor. A Camden, Maine, native, Ellery just graduated from the School for the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) with a BFA in filmmaking.
Sophie D'Anieri, from Portland, is now living in Oaxaca and researching Oaxacan indigenous agriculture.
Bruce Hilsmeyer, Assistant Editor. Bruce is a videographer and video editor who lives in Camden.
Kyra Zabel, Social Media. Kyra is a University of Maine Farmington student majoring in creative writing and anthropology.

‘Waking up French’ - documentary film explores emigrationThe Valley Breeze

“It will touch the hearts of today’s French Canadian descendants whose parents and/or grandparents made the difficult decision to leave their beloved homeland in the hopes of a better life for themselves and their children.”

–AFGS publisher Sylvia Bartholomy

September 6, 2017
Article by Sandy Seoane

Washington County, Maine – MARCH 2017

The Passamaquoddy-Maliseet Language Portal, an online application developed by the Passamaquoddy Tribe and Speaking Place with support from the National Science Foundation and the Administration for Native Americans, celebrated its 5th birthday with a complete system upgrade.

A more robust video player and more efficient ways of uploading and combining videos and captions will make the Portal more sustainable in the future. Robert Leavitt has been active in refining the Passamaquoddy dictionary side of the Portal as well as guiding its overall development and testing. The Portal has become an important language learning and research resource, both in and away from the community.

Mexico Training and Language Revival Project Expands; Oaxaca, Mexico – MARCH 2017

The community self-documentation project of Totontepec (see below) is aiding other communities and institutions in Oaxaca State to begin language documentation and revival work.

This winter, Robert Leavitt and Ben Levine. in collaboration with Professor Mario López Gopar of the Facultidad de Idiomas, Universidad Autónoma Benito Juárez de Oaxaca, and Saúl Reyes Cortes, Totontepec Language Documentation Coordinator, completed teaching their first semester of a new course in public service media production. Students will then implement projects across the Oaxaca Valley. Sixteen juniors are participating in projects as diverse as documenting a language that only has 10 speakers to doing community advocacy addressing mining and resource extraction. This work is being funded in part by the Speaking Place Annual Appeal.

Warsaw, Poland – MARCH 2017

At the invitation of the Engaged Humanities Conference at the University of Warsaw, Ben delivered a 2-hour presentation via Skype entitled: "A Community Documentation Model for Recognizing and Addressing Historic Community Trauma and its Effects on Language Revitalization and Community Problem Solving."

He was able to show video segments from Passamaquoddy documentation and from his documentary film Réveil-Waking Up French. One participant responded: “This was a wonderful and extremely rich presentation.” For Ben, it was an opportunity to present forceful evidence of community trauma as a factor in language disappearance and also how facilitated documentary video feedback has helped reverse its effects.

Universidad Autónoma Benito Juárez de Oaxaca (UABJO), Oaxaca, Mexico – JANUARY 2017

Robert Leavitt opened our course in community documentation with Professor Mario López Gopar and 16 students (Juniors) with writing assignments designed to help the students clarify their relationship to their community as a step to choosing a project using video.

They are taking this course as a degree requirement for their off- campus community service component. In January, Saúl Reyes Cortes (Totontepec Community Documentation Coordinator) joined Robert in teaching video production. Ben visited in March to help refine the syllabus. (See photo on HOME PAGE)

Leeuwarden, the Netherlands – DECEMBER 2016

The Mercator-SOAS-CIDLeS Conference on Documenting Endangered Languages – Ben Levine delivered a presentation entitled “Documenting Endangered (Minority) Languages in their Cultural Context: Opportunities for Education and Revival.” The conference focused on how documentation can be developed into educational resources for language education and revival.

CoLang 2016, University of Alaska, Fairbanks – JUNE 2016

Ben Levine and Julia Schulz taught community language documentation with video to 16 students from Alaska and such diverse countries as Australia, Slovakia, England, Nigeria, Japan, and the Canadian Northwest.

The course was designed by Dr. Mandana Seyfeddinipur of SOAS, the University of London, who has been actively training groups around the world in visual, multimodal documentation with an emphasis on gesture. Our respective methods are quite compatible and we are looking forward to more opportunities to support her work.


Eleanor Stevens

Passamaquoddy Tribe Looking to Children to Preserve Language – MPBN

Languages across the world are disappearing as fewer people learn to speak, read, and write the words of their ancestors. Research suggests that roughly half of the 7,000 languages currently spoken will be gone by the start of the next century. . .

December 23, 2015
Author: Jennifer Mitchell

New school seeks to keep language alive. – The Quoddy Tides

“Our number one goal is to create new speakers," says Donald Soctomah, the project administrator for a new language immersion school to teach the Passamaquoddy language to children ages 3 to 5. The tribe recently was awarded a three-year $750,000 grant for the program from the U.S. Department of  . . . 

November 13, 2015
Author: Edward French

Donald Soctomah has been involved in efforts to keep the Passamaquoddy language alive. PHOTO BY JOHANNA S. BILLINGS/BDN

Donald Soctomah has been involved in efforts to keep the Passamaquoddy language alive.

Passamaquoddy Tribe to Launch Language Immersion Program – Bangor Daily News

PLEASANT POINT, Maine — A three-year, $750,000 federal grant from the Administration for Native Americans (ANA) is aimed at helping the Passamaquoddy revive their language.

The tribe will use the money to develop two language immersion programs for preschoolers and a handful of adults — one at each of the reservations in Pleasant Point and Indian Township, said Donald Soctomah, who is serving as administrator as an in-kind contribution required by the grant . . .

October 28, 2015
Author: Johanna S. Billings

Endangered Languages – The New Yorker

The New Yorker magazine published a letter by Ben Levine and Julia Schulz in response to a feature article on endangered languages. 

"We read with interest Judith Thurman’s piece on attempts to save dying languages (“A Loss for Words,” March 30th). There’s a quip among workers in New England nursing homes that goes, “They come in speaking English, and they go out speaking gibberish.” 

May 4, 2015
Authors: Ben Levine & Julia Schulz

George Neptune uses the Portal to learn Passamaquoddy, his heritage language. PHOTO BY DANIEL QUINTANILLA/SPEAKING PLACE

George Neptune uses the Portal to learn Passamaquoddy, his heritage language.

Passamaquoddy Language Portal Now Offers Access on Mobile Devices – Bangor Daily News

Quietly, the Passamaquoddy-Maliseet-speaking people of Eastern Maine and New Brunswick have been making history, taking their language and lifeways to far-flung community members, linguists, and scholars around the world on line via a groundbreaking web application developed in collaboration with Speaking Place of Rockland and Northeast Historic Film of Bucksport. That application, called an Endangered Language Portal, or, in this case Passamaquoddy-Maliseet Language Portal, links the 19,000-word Passamaquoddy on-line dictionary with over one hundred videos produced by documentarians Ben Levine and Julia Schulz of Speaking Place . . .

January 27, 2014
Author: Julia Schulz

Reviving Passamaquoddy: A Community Finds Healing in Its Own Words – Cultural Survival Quarterly

The first school was built in Motahkomikuk, a Passamaquoddy community in northeastern Maine, in the late 1930s. St. Ann’s Indian Mission School, run by Catholic nuns, enrolled children from Motahkomikuk and nearby Sipayik, the two reservations where most Passamaquoddy live. The children, who spoke Passamaquoddy, came to school only to find that English was required. . . 

December 2012
Author: Meg Holladay