Many Firsts: The First Sino-Tibetan Summer Linguistics Institute

Xun, Xiang
Vodsal Atsok, Yeshe
Linn, Mary
Lin, You-Jin
Tribur, Zoe
Guan, Xuan
Simms, Nate
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The paper will introduce the First Sino-Tibetan Summer Linguistics Institute, held at Nankai University, China, August 21-September 2, 2016. Nankai University has a long history of providing a graduate linguistics education to students from diverse ethnic backgrounds, and has since 1981 has offered the only accredited Ph.D. in Sino-Tibetan Linguistics. Yet, this is the first institute focusing on training in documenting endangered Trans-Himalayan (Sino-Tibetan) languages to be held in China. It brought together 38 students representing dialects and languages spoken in Tibetan regions of the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai Province, Gansu Province and Sichuan Province. Many of the students travelled several days under harsh conditions to be able to attend. The two-week Institute was composed of two major events. The First Sino-Tibetan Language Research Methodology Workshop provided seven introductory courses in linguistics and the structure of Tibetan languages, including a field methods course, and more evening lectures on a variety of topics ranging from approaches in language revitalization to getting into universities. During the intervening weekend, we held the First Tibetan Language Linguistics Forum. Over 20 top faculty and elder scholars from across China gave papers, many in Tibetan, which added wider acceptance and support to the training workshops. We will present how this extraordinary milestone in Trans-Himalayan linguistics took place and some of the preliminary results of the training. We will discuss the collaboration between the two major partners, Nankai University Sino-Tibetan Language Research Center in the School of Literature and the Smithsonian Institution Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, and three smaller partners, and the on-the-ground hard work needed to make the Institute happen. We will provide details of curriculum and instruction to give the breadth of the training covered in the first institute. We will also discuss the background of the students and their languages, and following feedback provided immediately after and then four months after Institute, we will provide some examples of how students have applied what they learned in their own work. By showing how we worked through difficulties in building international partnerships and local support, and by showing outcomes, we hope to inspire people in other areas with little access to training in language documentation and conservation.
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