Linguistics Department

Fellowships Go to Three Linguistics Doctoral Students for Studies of Endangered Languages

Tue, December 15, 2009

Three doctoral students in the Department of Linguistics have received fellowships from the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

Wikaliler Daniel Smith's two-year fellowship will support his field research on the Kuna language of Panama. Kuna is a Chibchan language spoken largely in the Panama-Colombia border area, with an estimated 44,100 speakers. As a member of the Kuna community, Daniel Smith has a particularly strong interest in the documentation and description of Kuna, especially in making written materials and other media about the language available to the general community of speakers. His project will document naturally-occurring speech and will make recordings available to the community through web-based digital archives. Importantly, his project will equip other community members with the skills to continue the documentation of Kuna. Finally, the project will produce a comprehensive grammar of Kuna.

The ELDP fellowship to Justin McIntosh supports his dissertation research on the “Documentation of Teotepec Chatino language, history and culture." Chatino is a family of Otomanguean languages spoken in the southeastern Sierra Madre Mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico. There are approximately 2500 speakers of the Teotepec variety spread across several communities. McIntosh's work will lead to the compilation of a body of narratives and procedural texts; community knowledge of these texts is quickly disappearing. In his research, McIntosh places a strong emphasis on native-speaker training and on community participation in historical and cultural documentation. His goal is to produce an integrated corpus of transcribed and analyzed texts that reflect the rich culture and history of the Teotepec communities.

Over the three years of her fellowship on the "Documentation of Formal and Ceremonial Discourses in K'ichee'", Telma Can Pixabaj will build a database of formal and ceremonial texts that she will collect in three K'ichee' communities in the highlands of Guatemala. For her dissertation, she will also examine subordinate clauses in K'ichee'. Like Smith and McIntosh, Ms. Can encourages a new generation of K'ichee' linguists; as part of her project, she will train two K'ichee' speakers in documentation techniques and in text transcription and analysis. Ms. Can is herself a native speaker of K'ichee'.

With the three awards that we announce here, and with Eric Campbell's award that we announced earlier (see, doctoral students in the Department of Linguistics have received four recent awards from the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme.

The faculty of the Department of Linguistics have great expertise in the documentation and description of the indigenous languages of Latin America. Prof. Tony Woodbury serves as the dissertation advisor for Justin McIntosh and for Eric Campbell; Woodbury is also the PI on both their ELDP awards.  Prof. Nora England is the dissertation advisor for both Wikaliler Daniel Smith and Telma Can; she is the PI on their awards.  Professors Patience Epps and Megan Crowhurst also work on Latin American languages.

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