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Across mountain and sea: Bringing language to linguists

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Title: Across mountain and sea: Bringing language to linguists
Issue Date: 12 Mar 2015
Description: We report on a project bringing Tlingit language speakers to the University of British Columbia (UBC) as resident consultants for one academic year. Spearheaded by community members, this project contributes to a model of “best practices” (Penfield et al. 2008) for community-based language research.
Our goal was to establish a sustainable long-term collaboration by building community and scholarly capacity for language revitalization, research, and training. Our successful integration of theory, practice, and application included:

(i) New relationships with fluent speakers from two Tlingit speech communities (Coastal and Inland). This is a breakthrough, as modern nation-state boundaries between Alaska (USA) and the Yukon Territory (Canada) have obscured traditional Coastal-Inland relations. To date, most linguistic research has focused on Coastal Tlingit, so having access to both varieties allows us to document previously un-described differences.
(ii) Student training for future work on the language: a field methods course parallels the research project, allowing us to train several undergraduate and graduate students, a subset of which continue to work on the language.
(iii) Collaboration between linguistic subfields: leveraging expertise in different subfields (phonology, syntax, semantics, linguistic ethnography, and language pedagogy) affords a breadth of scope that would otherwise be impossible.
(iv) Inter-institutional and international collaboration: the project involves two research institutions (UBC and University of Alaska Southeast) in two different countries (Canada, USA). This is especially important in Canada, as no Canadian-based research is currently conducted on Inland Tlingit.
(v) Outreach within the university community: the project features in the Language of the Year initiative undertaken by UBC Linguistics, which brings to the attention of the university community the contribution that field-based linguistic research makes to language stabilization and revitalization.

Bringing speakers to linguists — what we call the Convergent Streams model — used to be very common, but is no longer widely practiced. However, sustained involvement of linguists with different types of expertise over an extended period of time permits rapid advance across several domains and maximizes the impact of scholarly research on language teaching efforts. Our experience suggests that Convergent Streams is most effective when hosts involve administrators early, arrange culturally appropriate compensation such as honoraria rather than salaries, organize transport and accommodation, monitor wellness needs and ensure timely access to medical services, coordinate socio-cultural support by offering meaningful companionship, and have a plan for return to the community.

Penfield, Susan D., et al. (2008) Community collaborations: best practices for North American indigenous language documentation. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 191, 187-202.
URI/DOI: http://hdl.handle.net/10125/25281
Rights: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections:4th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)



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