Linguistics Department

Language and Culture Job Talk - Rosa Vallejos Yopán (Univ. of Oregon) "Integrating language documentation, language revitalization, and linguistic research: a case study from the Amazon"

Mon, February 20, 2012 | UTC 3.134

3:00 PM - 4:00 PM

This talk focuses on the significance of documenting language interaction for language revitalization and linguistic research. Across the social sciences, responsibility to the communities with which the researcher is engaged has become a central theme. In linguistics, there is growing consensus that researchers, particularly those working in endangered language communities, have a responsibility to engage in community-based research models. One of the major forces driving the field of documentary linguistics is the need to create a lasting record of languages that can be useful to both speakers and linguists. Interactional data from natural settings shows not only patterns of language use, but also is full of situated meanings, language attitudes and cultural knowledge. For little known languages, such a culturally relevant corpus serves as empirically reliable data for linguistic theory, and as a resource for language preservation and revitalization efforts.

To illustrate this, I will describe a documentary project launched in 2003 in collaboration with the Kokama people from the Peruvian Amazon. The Kokamas’ heritage language is deeply endangered: the remaining fluent speakers are mostly older than 60, live in small, dispersed villages and speak the language in very restricted situations. About five decades ago, Spanish became the language of communication for the majority of the population, interrupting the natural process of language transmission. I will report on the successes, challenges, and lessons of this collaborative project.

Within this project, my documentary work has fed my linguistic research. Documenting interactional patterns is not only essential for revitalization initiatives and instructional programs, but also for examining structures beyond the sentence level. The involvement of community members throughout the project has been crucial for the naturalness, richness, and variety in the collected data. These data have allowed me to complete two studies dealing with the syntax-discourse interface: focus constructions and purpose clauses. In order to fully account for these patterns, a good understanding of both the discourse context and the sociocultural context in which the language is spoken was crucial.

Finally, I will address the issue of how the results of language documentation and linguistic research can help advance indigenous language instruction. Kokama is currently being taught as a heritage language to children in elementary schools and to young adults being trained as bilingual teachers. Research shows that focused grammar instruction has value, particularly at the adult level. I will illustrate how training language instructors in descriptive linguistics, exploring specific grammatical topics with them, and working together in the creation of culturally and linguistically appropriate materials can contribute to the success of indigenous language teaching programs.


*Search to fill the Language and Culture position sponsored by LLILAS, in conjunction with the Departments of Spanish and Portuguese, and Linguistics*

Please contact Carla Lañas with any questions:

Bookmark and Share