Sustaining languages and people through healing oral practices: Vepsian puhegid

Laura Siragusa

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


This paper introduces Veps and their heritage language, Vepsian, in order to unwrap some issues related to the question, ‘can a language be sustainable.’ I argue that this question is debatable in itself, given that languages are neither abstract nor detached entities which need to be sustained in order not to vanish. Yet, there are specific social factors that hinder people from speaking them. Maintaining a focus on ways of speaking, I claim that people manifest (or not) languages depending on the ecology in which they find themselves. Language ecology comprises language ideologies as much as communicative practices. Therefore, the concept of sustainability needs to be re-directed towards the ecology where people manifest language more than towards language as a system of rules and literacy as the main focus of revival movements. By reframing the concept of sustainability I here present language as an indicator of relations with the environment, human and non-human beings as well as the relation itself. And I demonstrate that it is specifically in these relations that people can sustain their ways of speaking and vice versa. That is, by speaking and employing specific oral genres Veps have demonstrated to protect (and sustain) themselves from undesirable misfortunes.

Indeed, I intend to stimulate further discussion around language sustainability and revival movements by introducing Vepsian oral practices and moving away from more structural approaches to language and a focus on literacy, yet showing their political and social benefits.

My presentation will be based on field work conducted among Veps in the Republic of Karelia, the Leningrad and Vologda Oblasts since 2009, but also archival material found at ERM, Tartu, and at Kunstkamera, Saint-Petersburg.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2015
EventXII International Congress for Finno-Ugric Studies - Oulu, Finland
Duration: 17 Aug 201521 Aug 2015


ConferenceXII International Congress for Finno-Ugric Studies


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