Symposium on American Indian languages planned at RIT

Smithsonian curator and linguistics experts will attend

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Research Assistant Frank Matos,left, with Wilson Silva, right, lead a National Science Foundation-funded Desano language documentation workshop at the Desano-Tukano community of Sao Sebastiao do Umari, Tiquie River, in Northwest Amazonia last June.

Preserving American Indian languages is the focus of a symposium hosted at Rochester Institute of Technology on April 7, when up to 100 people from around the country will gather to learn about projects to study, document and preserve native languages for future generations.

The Symposium on American Indian Languages (SAIL) was started in 2014 by Wilson Silva, an assistant professor in RIT’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology.

“SAIL brings together members of the indigenous communities, scholars, students, educators and language activists,” he said. “It is a forum for anyone interested in sharing experiences and best practices on topics related to documentation, preservation and revitalization of endangered languages.”

Topics this year address issues using digital technologies for archiving of language material, methods for language revitalization, descriptive grammatical studies, and Navajo poetry.

Plenary speakers are Gabriela Pérez-Báez, a linguist and curator at the Smithsonian Institution who will talk about goals of language revitalization, and Colleen Fitzgerald, a linguist at the University of Texas in Arlington and current program director of the National Science Foundation’s Documenting Endangered Language Program, who will talk about sustaining indigenous languages in the 21st century.

A poster session will also show the work being done by RIT students and faculty, including development of a digital dictionary, digital illustration of a children’s book, and documenting plant names in a multilingual community in Amazonia.

“This is a public event for an open-minded individual interested in knowing more about the linguistic and cultural diversity in the Americas,” Silva said.

The symposium is free to RIT students, faculty and staff who register prior to April 1 (or $10 at the door); $10 for members of Native American tribes, nations or groups and non-RIT students who register prior to April 1 (or $20 at the door); or $35 for others registering in advance (or $50 at the door).

Visit the symposium website for the schedule, location and registration information.