Documentation Of The Vlashki/Zheyanski Language (‘Ruo’)

Co-Principal Investigator: Zvjezdana Vrzić


Vlashki/Zheyanski (SIL code ‘RUO’) is a severely endangered Balkan Romance language, also known as ‘Istro-Romanian’ in linguistic literature, now spoken in six mountain villages in the Istrian peninsula in Croatia. Speakers in the southern village of Šušnjevica and its environs call their language Vlashki, while those in Žejane, a village further north, call it Zheyanski. The project’s main goal is to create an annotated digital linguistic corpus of audio and video recordings and written texts, and a bidirectional trilingual dictionary (Vlashki/Zheyanski, Croatian, and English), a description of the syntax of Vlashki/Zheyanski, and a study of the macro- and micro-sociolinguistic forces that have affected the language’s survival to this point and its current endangerment both in Croatia and New York City, where a compact enclave of immigrant speakers has lived since the 1950s and 1960s.

The heart of the current proposal is the morpho-syntactic annotation and translation into Croatian and English of 75 hours of audio and video recording in accordance with current documentation practice. The recordings will consist primarily of oral histories and narratives. Additionally, two major written collections of texts that were gathered in the 1920s and 1930s will be digitized, annotated, and translated into Croatian and English. The envisioned corpus is noteworthy for its inclusion of audio and video data not only from Vlashki/Zheyanski’s home villages in Croatia, but also from the largest community of Vlashki/Zheyanski speakers outside Croatia, that in New York City, as well as the inclusion of the data from the 1920s and 1930s. Hence, it will provide insight into diachronic and synchronic variation in the language, from the 1920s and 1930s until today, and in two homeland communities and one diaspora community. Other work on the project will also open up research possibilities unavailable so far: a) the dictionary will contain data related to both diachronic and synchronic variation, be the largest dictionary available, and be the only one with translations in English, while b) the syntactic description to be undertaken within the project will also contribute to the understanding of the language’s relationship with other branches of Balkan Romance and within the Balkan Sprachbund.

While this project’s principal thrust is the documentation of a severely endangered language, it will simultaneously educate speakers of the language as to the value of the language and the pressing need for its documentation. The project will provide interested community members with knowledge about language documentation techniques. It will encourage speakers to take an active role in it. Project materials will be accessible to community members. Availability will be achieved via the website and/or community organizations. In its community-centered orientation, the proposal builds on and reinforces the Co-PI’s ongoing work with community members in the scope of the Preservation of the Vlashki and Zheyanski Language project.