Crisis Talk: Endangered Languages Week Set

“Language,” mused author Samuel Johnson, “is the dress of thought.” Likewise, if what you wear reflects what you are, then your style of speech indicates your thinking and part of your origin.

Beginning next Monday, the Department of Linguistics & TESOL will partner with other campus organizations for Endangered Languages Week, a week-long event designed to look at our speech diversity and highlight those languages that are in danger of becoming extinct.

“The goal is to raise awareness of the global crisis of language endangerment, and to raise awareness of the many and diverse languages and cultures around us that are endangered and understudied,” said Dr. Colleen Fitzgerald, Professor and Chair of the Department of Linguistics and TESOL.

With Endangered Languages Week, Fitzgerald hopes to be able to expose the rich diversity of languages and cultures in Texas and Oklahoma to both the students of UT Arlington and the local community. There will be speakers of languages from nearly every continent, and discussion will cover verbal arts, writing systems, and grammatical complexity from west to east.

“As a graduate student involved in planning this week, I have enjoyed trying to make connections with speakers of lesser-known languages and planning events that will enlighten and entertain anyone who attends,” said doctoral candidate Lori McLain Pierce.

Pierce believes this week will be great for the local community as well as UTA students to showcase at-risk languages from around the world. “Many people are not aware that languages can become endangered, so this event sheds more light on this issue while promoting some of these languages,” she said.

The week will kick off with Dr. Jerry Edmondson, Professor Emeritus of Linguistics and a member of the Academy of Distinguished Scholars. The recently retired Edmondson will speak about the aboriginal people of Taiwan, which he has studied off and on for 30 years. Part of his talk will focus on the study of Taiwan’s 14 aboriginal languages, done by Robert Blust of the University of Hawaii. These languages preserve many features in their grammars and sounds that are rare in the other Austronesia languages. The immediate objective will be to document in detail the nature of the very rare sounds of these languages and to discover exactly how they are made, Edmondson said. He will show videos of some of these unusual sounds and discuss how he and his Taiwanese colleagues will continue their study while there are still fluent speakers.

For Edmondson, the importance of the Endangered Languages Week event is to raise awareness that a world language is dying every month.

“That is why there is critical need for making records, video, and other kinds of language documentation,” Edmondson said. “Most people, it seems, are unaware of the crisis.”

Edmondson recently set up an endowment to fund student research grants. As part of his retirement, Edmondson wanted to share his passion with young scholars and to help them in their own research projects in linguistics. Proceeds will help generate research grants for students with a priority for projects on field linguistics and endangered language study.

On Tuesday, Dr. Mary Linn (University of Oklahoma) will present research on the Euchee language, languages of the Southeast, and the languages of Oklahoma in a Festival of Ideas Global Research Institute event. Linn and Fitzgerald are currently collaborating together on Oklahoma Breath of Life, a project funded by a National Science Foundation grant. It is a project in which linguists mentor and transfer knowledge to American Indians so they can teach their own languages within their communities.

Fitzgerald also said Wednesday’s Māori haka performance is a must-see event: a traditional ancestral war cry dance from the Māori people of New Zealand performed by a native speaker from the Māori.

[Written by Karla Cano, College of Liberal Arts]


Endangered Languages Week

Monday, Oct. 31
Noon: Professor Emeritus Dr. Jerold A. Edmondson, “Taiwan’s endangered aboriginal languages” (Chemistry & Physics Bldg. 303)

Tuesday, Nov. 1
Noon: Verbal Arts in Native American Languages (Trimble Hall 200)
5 pm: Dr. Mary Linn (U Oklahoma), “State of the State: Oklahoma Native Languages in the 21st Century,”: A Festival of Ideas Global Research Institute Event (University Hall 011)

Wednesday, Nov. 2
Noon: Verbal Arts in the World’s Languages, featuring the Māori haka (Trimble Hall 200)
5 pm: Dr. Michael Cahill (SIL), “Extreme Literacy: Developing an Orthography for an Unwritten Language” (University Hall 011)

Thursday, Nov. 3
Noon: Verbal Arts in the Languages of Africa (Trimble Hall 200)
5 pm: Screening of “The Linguists” with panel discussion following, featuring Drs. Timothy Montler and Sadaf Munshi (UNT) and Dr. Colleen Fitzgerald (UT Arlington) (University Hall 011)

Friday, Nov. 4:
Noon: The Chickasaw Language Revitalization Program (Trimble Hall 115)

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