June 07, 2008

"Breath of Life" conference

Berkeley researchers go global to document endangered languagesInterest by UC Berkeley students in the documentation of endangered languages and in making the information available to native communities seems to have "taken on a new life," Hinton said.

Technology is at least partially responsible for helping to stimulate this renewed interest, she said, with more and more language archives going online and becoming available to interested parties virtually wherever they may be.

The Breath of Life work is aimed at revitalization, whereas the student research is aimed at documentation of still-healthy, if endangered, languages, said Sharon Inkelas, chair of UC Berkeley's linguistics department and professor of linguistics. The June 8-14 conference and the faculty and student fieldwork represent often complementary research at different stages of the lifespan of a language, she said.
An example of the work being done:Andrew Garrett, a UC Berkeley linguistics professor, is known for his ongoing work documenting California Indian languages. He is running a project that is documenting the Yurok language, developing an archive of Yurok texts and audio recordings, and establishing language resources for the Yurok community. Garrett and his students also have worked with Yurok elders on language teaching. Garrett is creating an online multi-media Hupa language dictionary and documentation and doing related research on Northern Paiute dialects in California and Nevada.Breath of Life for California's native languagesLeanne Hinton, UC Berkeley professor emeritus of linguistics, co-founder of the June 8-14 "Breath of Life" conference and author of the "How to Keep Your Language Alive" (2002) handbook, said that a key goal of the conference is to prepare participants to take their languages home and to help turn learning native languages--as a very first language--into a fundamental feature of Indian childhood.

"The school is great for language learning, but if a community really wants its language to be alive, it has to be using it at home," Hinton said. "The tribes are making progress, and there are people who are teaching it to kids at home."

Home instruction helps children to bond emotionally with their language, according to Hinton, whereas classroom learning reflects a more intellectual and dry approach.

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