University of California, Santa Barbara - Department of Linguistics
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University of California, Santa Barbara -- June 23 - August 1, 2008  

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INTRODUCTION TO LINGUISTICS FOR LANGUAGE ACTIVISTS
June 24 - July 1, 3:15 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.
IHC Conference Room

Instructors
Marianne Mithun, Professor of Linguistics
University of California, Santa Barbara

 

Course Overview
Projects aimed at language revitalization can have a variety of goals. An obvious one is to allow learners to communicate with the words of their ancestors. This ability can provide an important sense of identity and community. But revitalization programs can have deeper purposes as well. Languages are more than assortments of odd sounds, of alternative ways of saying ‘tree’. They are the embodiment of culture, a key to traditional ways of understanding the world. If revitalization projects are modeled only on English, French, or Spanish classes, these special ways of thinking can be lost. It is possible to do more, to learn to see the language from the inside.

The goal of this course is to equip language activists with some tools for discovering the special logic of their heritage language, for making sense of this language in its own terms, for exploring what makes it unique.

The course will cover basic linguistic tools for identifying the categories and patterns of a language. Languages differ in the sounds they contain, but they also differ in the ways their speakers hear them. Sounds that are heard as different in one language might be heard as the same in another. If one listens with just an English ear, much is lost. Participants will learn to hear new sounds and discover how speakers make sense of what they hear. Languages also differ in how information is packaged into words and sentences. They differ in what they require speakers to specify, and what they allow speakers to leave unsaid. They differ in what is easy to say and what is complex. Participants will learn to discover the kinds of meanings that can be tucked inside of words. They will discover different ways that ideas can be combined into sentences. Such patterns are not accidental: they grow out of centuries of communication, out of what speakers have chosen, over generations, to express.

These basic linguistic tools are helpful for many aspects of a revitalization project. They are crucial for building a program that reflects the true essence of the language rather than simple translations of European patterns of expression. They are important for choosing among possible spelling systems if there is not already one in place. They are fundamental for creating language classes that make sense. They make it easier to use resources such as grammars and dictionaries. They can also help language activists benefit from consultation with other linguists working with the language or related languages.

No prior knowledge of linguistics will be assumed.

   

This page was last modified on 8 June 2008.
Institute on Field Linguistics and Language Documentation - Dept. of Linguistics, UCSB