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Today I've been pointed to The Center for Indigenous Languages of Latin America (CILLA):
"The Center hopes to help indigenous communities realize their goals of language recovery and widening the contexts of language use by providing technical education in fields related to language, with an emphasis on language maintenance, documentation, and applications to social institutions that depend on language and communication among all citizens."

They have some excellent ideas about training and working with speakers of Indigenous languages.

One thing is publishing in languages which the speakers can read - their publications on the languages are mostly in Spanish as the language of wider communication in much of Latin America (anyone for publishing their grammar in Tok Pisin?)

There's an excellent English poster presentation on the Center's work training speakers of Indigenous languages in research degrees in universities. It's going to appear in a newish electronic journal Linguistic Discovery (which is for "description and analysis of primary linguistic data" - hey! just what we've been looking for). Back to CILLA. An earlier written version was published as:

Woodbury, Anthony C. and Nora C. England. 2004. Training speakers of indigenous languages of Latin America at a US University. In Peter Austin ed. Language Documentation and Description Volume 2. Proceedings of the 2004 Hans Rausing Endangered Language Program Workshop "Training and Capacity Building for Endangered Languages Communities." Hans Rausing Endangered Language Programme, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

Here are some of the important points they make about training indigenous language speakers in research degrees:

• Introduces crucial but usually-absent native speaker perspectives to Latin American languages at all levels, especially syntax, semantics, lexicon, discourse, and ethnography of speaking
[Yes! a perspective that is almost completely lacking unless you have a really language-aware "informant" in a field methods class]

• Asserts and helps meet a responsibility to communities whose languages we study (It’s not enough just to make your overworked grad students “give back” to the community in their spare moments)
[Yes! an enormous amount of work has been put by our ACLA PhD students into discussing the project with people, returning copies of videos to them, making a video newsletter. Time that should be valued by future employers, but we'll have to work on convincing them.]

• Invites us to take indigenous students’ (and their communities’) linguistic agendas into account in our graduate teaching and research,
[Yes! a welcome corrective to the bums on seats approach to deciding what classes to teach.]

• It brings the theoretical/descriptive enterprise into direct dialog with community language advocacy (none of these are antithetical),
[Yes! once each side knows what the other has to offer, the conversation is usually VERY productive. But the aggro before this happens can be quite counter-productive.]

• It promotes productive interaction and exchange between students who are speakers of indigenous languages and those who are not, but who wish to work on them (it is very much a two-way street)
[Yes! it's difficult to get ethics approval and research visas, and this way there's a chance for a local person to see what benefits they could get from having a non-Indigenous researcher, and to check them out.]

I am also very struck by the strongly collaborative approach - lots of staff from different disciplines and students from indigenous and non-indigenous backgrounds working together.

And there's much more. Trouble is of course, finding the right people and getting the funding for them (the written paper goes into this in detail). We don't have anything really comparable here in Australia, except perhaps potentially the Masters in Language Endangerment at Monash University. But, here's to hope!


The original paper by Woodbury and England is still available from the Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project - order from www.hrelp.org under Publications.

Also, Nora England has written a nice article on the role of native speaker linguists in work on Mayan languages that is to appear in a special issue of Linguistiche Berichte edited by Peter Austin and Andrew Simpson. The volume is due out late this year or early 2007.

The issue of the role of native speakers in language documentation and support work will be one of the topics we will be discussing at a training workshop to be held at SOAS 6-8th September.

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