Preserving native languages discussed at RIT

Daylong symposium features participants working on languages of the Americas

Wilson de Lima Silva (white shirt) with a Desano teacher, Maria Castilho, and villagers during a trip to Brazil.

Preserving Native American languages, reviving others and the technology involved in doing so are among the topics to be discussed Friday, April 22, at the Linguistics Research Symposium on American Indian Languages at Rochester Institute of Technology.

The symposium will also provide a forum for the exchange of research among scholars, members of the indigenous communities, native speakers, educators and language activists who document, conserve and revitalize languages.

“This is a public event for any open-minded individual interested in knowing more about the linguistic and cultural diversity in the Americas,” said Wilson De Lima Silva, symposium organizer and assistant research professor in RIT’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology. “We will be talking about language revitalization methodologies, linguistics analysis and description and the documentation of endangered languages of the Americas, including Haudenosaunee languages such as Mohawk, Seneca and Oneida.”

And the interest in this topic is great in Rochester and across New York. He estimates about half of the 85 people who pre-registered are Native American.

There are 16 research presentations throughout the day, with scholars working on languages in South America, Central and North America. Visit their webpage for specific topics and times.

The symposium starts at 9:15 a.m. and continues through 7 p.m. in RIT’s Student Alumni Union, 1829 Room.

There will be two plenary talks by linguists working on Native American languages. At 11 a.m., Ofelia Zepeda, a linguistics professor from the University of Arizona, will talk about efforts to teach practical skills as a means for supporting local tribal efforts to sustain language programs at home.

At 5 p.m., Leanne Hinton, professor emerita of American Indian Languages, endangered languages and language revitalization, from the University of California at Berkeley, will talk about what it means to revitalize a language and how to measure that success.

The event, sponsored by RIT, its College of Liberal Arts, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Office for Division and Inclusion and Native American Future Stewards Program, is free for RIT students, faculty and staff, $10 for non-RIT students and members of Native American tribes/nations, and $30 for the general public.

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