By Anna Belew, Outreach Coordinator for the Endangered Languages Project and PhD candidate in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa

The 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages has placed the issue of language endangerment in the global spotlight, drawing new interest from policymakers, educators, and governments. This attention is sorely needed to slow the rate and scope of language loss, which is greater today than at any point in the known past. While policy, and other top-down action, can be hugely beneficial to threatened languages, the truly indispensable work remains on the ground, with the communities and speakers who are revitalizing, maintaining, and strengthening their languages.

The Endangered Languages Project (ELP) is working to support and spotlight the people and organizations doing this work. We’re a collaborative online initiative, designed to promote and facilitate the documentation and (re)vitalization of at-risk languages around the world.  ELP brings together language champions, linguistic scholars, and the public to celebrate, strengthen, and share knowledge about the world’s Indigenous and endangered languages. In recognition of IYIL2019, we’re especially focused on sharing knowledge about the growing wave of language revitalization and reclamation work.

There are countless amazing revitalization initiatives taking place all over the world, but today, we’d like to share about just one of them: the Iyasa Éboó project in Campo, Cameroon. Iyasa is a Coastal Bantu (A.30) language spoken along the southern coast of Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea by perhaps 2,000 people. ELP classifies Iyasa as “threatened,” and it’s currently at a tipping point where youth in their teens and twenties still have some ability to speak, but today’s children are mostly speaking French.

Iyasa Éboó members and family show off their certificates of completion at the end of the workshop.


Enter Iyasa Éboó, a youth-led initiative to strengthen the Iyasa language and culture. Its aims are threefold: to strengthen young people’s language skills; to help nurture the connections between generations in the Campo community; and to produce a youth-authored magazine about Iyasa culture, written bilingually in Iyasa and French, so the community can access some much-desired Iyasa reading materials.  

The project started in August 2018, with a 2-week workshop (supported by the Endangered Language Fund) to train 16 young people in basic language documentation, computer skills, and Iyasa literacy. They learned how to conduct interviews with their elders and neighbors about Iyasa culture and language, how to record and share audio files of these interviews, and how to read and write in Iyasa and type up what they’d recorded in a Word document. The workshop was a hit - the students requested for it to run extra days, so they could learn and practice more. As the workshop progressed, the participants decided to form an organization to carry on the work long-term: they voted on a name (Iyasa Éboó, or ‘Iyasa Forward’, as the youth will carry the language into the future) and the topic of their first publication (majoka, or traditional games - interesting to young and old people alike, and a topic containing important cultural knowledge).

Students work on digitizing their audio recordings during the initial workshop.


The workshops were held almost entirely in Iyasa, right down to lunch-break chitchat and joking. Many of the younger participants (in their early teens) said their Iyasa language proficiency wasn’t very strong before the workshop - but the “peer pressure” of being around older youth who spoke a bit better, and coaxed them into speaking more, has helped them become much stronger and more confident speakers. And working with elders for the project, whom many youth had previously been a bit intimidated by, has helped bridge the generational gap - strengthening the transmission of culture and language.

A student hugs her grandfather, a member of the Iyasa language committee, as he awards her a completion certificate at the workshop’s closing party.


Since the initial workshop, as word of mouth spreads and enthusiasm builds, the membership of Iyasa Éboó has more than doubled. The tireless leadership of Arnauld Djowe (president of Iyasa Éboó), Sammy Mbipite (workshop leader and Iyasa linguist), and the group’s other officers and members has kept the project going strong. In addition to meeting regularly to work on the magazine and discuss language and culture, they have majoka (traditional games) days at the beach, bringing fun and camaraderie into language revitalization:

Iyasa Éboó - Games at the Beach / Majoka e Mánga

Iyasa Éboó members play ákwá mekómba during a game day at Enyɛ́nge na Mánga/Boston Beach, Campo.

The first issue of the Iyasa Éboó magazine will be released this year (you can get a copy by getting involved the project!). This model, bringing together youth-led language work and written publications, has the potential to be useful to other communities who are in a similar language shift situation - and there are countless other models, and other initiatives, which are seeing equally amazing results around the world.

ELP will be highlighting these projects throughout the year, so join us on Facebook, Twitter, and our email newsletter to stay informed and inspired. Mèlàpo éboó (languages forward)!