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Involving students in meaningful language preservation work as early as possible

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Title: Involving students in meaningful language preservation work as early as possible
Authors: Wells-Jensen, Sheri
Wells-Jensen, Jason
Fullenkamp, Lucas
Issue Date: 12 Mar 2015
Description: Instructors who offer a unit on language death in an Introduction to Linguistics course know that the topic is greeted with almost universal fascination and concern. For a surprising number of students, the discovery that languages can and do die becomes a call to action, and they begin to ask how they might be able to get involved.

It is at this point, unfortunately, that a disconnect occurs. If the students themselves are not speakers of an endangered language, they are often encouraged to pursue further study in linguistics, with the idea that (perhaps at some point in graduate school) they might be able to engage in some kind of real work with an endangered language. At this point, most students understandably turn to other concerns.

This need not be the case. As linguists and teachers we will do the most good for the communities we wish to serve by meeting our students where they are, and offering them opportunities to put their energy and enthusiasm to work directly.

This presentation follows our attempts to engage novice students in real language preservation work at all levels, including working with a native speaker, participating in dictionary creation, working with texts, assisting with teaching language lessons, and designing pedagogical materials. Although this is not, strictly speaking, 'beyond' the university, we advocate an approach which welcomes and usefully employs those with only a small amount of formal training.

We discuss details of our work with the Mingo Nation United Remnant Band in Northwest Ohio and an ongoing project with speakers of Oroha, a language of the Solomon Islands. In both cases, we were able to involve students almost immediately by breaking down tasks into subparts, deciding what level of expertise was needed for each, and providing students with instructions tailored specifically to each task. In this way, students could participate meaningfully almost at once, and both projects benefitted greatly from their enthusiasm. We offer a set of guidelines gleaned from both our successes and our occasional missteps.

Most importantly, we conclude with thoughts from the Mingo and Oroha communities, who welcomed the respectful participation of our students. They would remind anyone considering the involvement of students in these projects to place as much emphasis on respect for the community as on linguistic knowledge and pedagogical practice.
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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