Linguistics faculty, students help preserve Native American languages

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Linguistics faculty, students help preserve Native American languages

Several Fresno State linguistics faculty members and students have returned from doing fieldwork this summer with The Language Conservancy, a national organization that works to preserve indigenous languages. Work done by the faculty and students from June 8 through July 30 will help in the documentation and revitalization of the Crow and Hidatsa languages.

Many tribes are in danger of losing their native language as only a few fluent speakers remain. Every 14 days a language is lost forever, according to The Language Conservancy website.

Since 2009, linguistics faculty members Drs. John Boyle, Chris Golston, Niken Adisasmito-Smith and Brian Agbayani have worked with native speakers from the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians locally to devise a writing system and start the process of developing a Chukchansi dictionary and grammar structure. Students have helped complete this work.

“So far, we’ve developed Chukchansi language learning apps for mobile devices, language teaching materials and an English-Chukchansi dictionary,” said Agbayani, chair of the Linguistics Department, which is part of the College of Arts and Humanities.

Boyle was interviewed in a segment that Montana Public Radio did on the work done this summer. It was broadcast on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday.

“Our faculty in linguistics are world-renowned scholars who apply their knowledge for the greater good,” said Dr. Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities. “They preserve language and, in doing so, allow us to appreciate and understand the diversity and richness of our Native American languages.”

Agbayani said this is the first time that a number of students have accompanied the faculty members for indigenous language fieldwork.

For more information, contact Lisa Maria Boyles, communications specialist for the College of Arts and Humanities, at 559.278.5803 or lboyles@csufresno.edu.

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