ELCAT

New Evidence for Neanderthal Language Announced

YPSILANTI, Michigan – The controversy over whether Neanderthals possessed a capacity for language may have been resolved. After years of speculation by evolutionary anthropologists and geneticists, a group of linguists has announced today that they have uncovered written evidence proving the Neanderthal capacity for language.

“Neanderthal man was able to express his ideas about the world around him, but was restricted by his limited syntax,” Professor Schmaltz explained at today’s press conference. “Whereas modern man combines words hierarchically into structure, the Neanderthal could only concatenate them linearly.”

It seems that Neanderthals had a single syllable oog, which, when repeated, formed different words. oog has been translated as ‘Oog’ a proper name, oog.oog meant ‘two people named Oog,’ oog.oog.oog meant ‘emotionally distant – like a teenager anxious to move out of his parents’ cave’ and so on.

Schmaltz’ team was able to identify and translate two texts left by Neanderthals. The first, a recent discovery in Spain, is a fragment of a teenager’s diary. It reads oog.oog.oog and has been translated as ‘[Dear diary, I feel] emotionally distant. [I wish I had my own cave]’.

‘[Dear diary, I feel] emotionally distant. [I wish I had my own cave]’

oog.oog.oog

 

The second text is either an exhaustive history of the region or simply the Neanderthal word for ‘antelope’, oog.oog.oog.oog.oog.oog.oog.oog.oog.oog.oog.oog.oog.oog…

 

oog.oog.oog.oog.oog.oog.oog.oog.oog.oog.oog.oog.oog.oog…

oog.oog.oog.oog.oog.oog.oog.oog.oog.oog.oog.oog.oog.oog…

 

These findings suggest Neanderthals were just as culturally sophisticated as modern humans, but totally lacked an efficient method of communication. It has long been known that while Homo Sapiens’ culture developed rapidly, Neanderthals stagnated over thousands of years. Schmaltz hypothesizes that innovations simply would have taken too long to explain, as new words would have to be even longer chains of oog’s.

Schmaltz went on to speculate that the high-five traces its origins back to a borrowing from Proto-Neanderthal. “With each hand representing the name ‘Oog,’ slapping them together must have been used as a greeting. It truly was the original instant message.”

 

Making the Most of LINGUIST: Resources for Research

As a researcher, there are a lot of ways to formulate research questions and gather linguistic data. LINGUIST offers several features you can use to reach out to the linguistics community as you conduct your research.

  • Queries: You can submit research surveys, tests, and ask for resources relevant to your research here:

If you think someone may have already asked a similar question, check out Summaries to see if our readers have provided a response.

For general research needs, LINGUIST features a Publications Area where you can find bibliographic resources:

In this area, you can find:

If you’re doing language documentation research or your research is more technical in nature, you should visit our

for technical tips.

In fact, all of our projects can be used to gather information, and generate and support language hypotheses:

So once you’ve finished your research, how can you use LINGUIST to make the most of your career? Stay tuned for the next letter on LINGUIST’s resources for professional development.

Remember, these services are available to the linguistic community by your donations. To help us keep these services available in the future, remember to donate and help support.

LINGUIST List: Networking for Linguistics

Dear Fellow Linguist,

Hi, I’m Bryn. If you have ever donated to the LINGUIST List, you are the reason that I was able to complete an exciting and enriching internship at the LINGUIST List this summer. If you have yet to donate, you have the opportunity now to help fund my work and the pursuit of my MA in Linguistics at Eastern Michigan University, while I continue serving you as a LINGUIST List student editor and team member of the Catalogue of Endangered Languages (ELCat).

Ever since I earned my BA in Linguistics and Russian Language & Literature from the University of Michigan in 2011, I have been compelled by the wildly idealistic passion to rescue endangered languages, or at least to document them for the advancement of the science. Beginning with a summer internship, the LINGUIST List has focused my energy on ELCat, one of our many projects desgined for the benefit of the linguistic community. The goal of ELCat is to assemble research on endangered languages into one up-to-date, vetted, searchable resource, which is now live at www.endangeredlanguages.com. My job is to find the best information on endangered languages and bring it to you, which has cultivated in me the important scholarly skills of resource retrieval, fast but thorough processing of linguistic literature, and bibliography management.

More than just an enthusiastic ELCat team member, I am also your editor for conference calls for papers at the LINGUIST List. That’s right: I am the one who makes sure you know that the deadline to submit to your field’s biggest conference is fast approaching, that your abstract must be no longer than 500 words, and that your submission will be rejected outright if it’s anything but a hyper-anonymized PDF with exact-to-the-milimeter margins. If you have ever submitted a conference to the mailing list, you might remember me as the one who triple-checked your spelling and painstakingly formatted your submission, who emailed you at 6 a.m. Sunday morning when you need to change your deadline, or who distributed your appel à communications in three more languages than I can personally speak.

As a linguist, I am incredibly grateful to be part of a discipline with such a well-established infrastructure to help us navigate the labyrinth of academia. Not every field has a resource like the LINGUIST List. You would be surprised how many calls for papers I have to reject for lack of linguistic relevance: submissions pertaining to economics, business, and ecology, submitted to LINGUIST for lack of a better way to distribute their announcements among their own colleagues. Our linguistics network is a great source of pride for me and, I hope, a great service to you.

If you believe in the service we provide, or if you just want to make sure graduate students like me continue to receive their stipend checks, please follow this link and donate to the LINGUIST List:

http://linguistlist.org/donation/

Sincerely,

Bryn Hauk
Calls & Conferences Editor
ELP/ELCat Team Member
The LINGUIST List

LINGUIST List: A Global Community

Dear LINGUIST List Readers,

I am Lwin Moe, a programmer here at LINGUIST List. I am originally from Burma, also known as Myanmar. I came to work at LINGUIST List as an intern a few summers ago, and came back as a programmer after graduating from Indiana University. Before I tell you more about what I do at LINGUIST List, here is a link to donate if you will:

https://linguistlist.org/donation/donate/donate1.cfm

I am a co-administrator for LISTSERV software, where LINGUIST List is hosted. I also create tools and programs for LINGUIST List crews to do their day-to-day tasks for posting. Last year, we built data entry tools for the Endangered Languages Catalogue project. We exported the data to Endangered Languages Project website at endangeredlanguages.com. I now maintain the website after LINGUIST List was tasked with updating it.

I was able to become a part of the LINGUIST List crew because of your support last year. I would like to take this opportunity to request a small donation from you to support what we do here. We would not be able to provide the linguistics community with the resources if it were not for your generous support. Here is the link to donate if you decide to do so:

https://linguistlist.org/donation/donate/donate1.cfm

Thank you,
Lwin Moe

The Heart of LINGUIST List Is Its People

Dear LINGUIST List Readers,

We all know that behind everything in the world stands people. Everything in the world was once created by someone: the phone that you have in your pocket, the TV that you watch every day, your favorite website that you go to for the information you need. All that was created by people, and all that was once just someone’s idea, the idea that someone thought could one day grow into something big.

So was the LINGUIST List. And now it is the world’s largest online source for the academic field of linguistics. But we don’t want to stop at this point. We have many ideas on how to improve our site and make it even better and more convenient for the linguists of the world. I know that this is true, because I am one of the LINGUIST Listers. Let me tell you a little bit more about myself and how I encountered the LINGUIST List for the first time.

My name is Uliana, I come from Russia and I joined the LINGUIST List as a Graduate Assistant in September of 2012.

I visited the LINGUIST List in the fall of 2011 during my summer trip to the USA. I got the chance to see how the LINGUIST List works from the inside and meet the people that post linguistics jobs, build language trees for MultiTree, create digital language maps for LL-MAP, work on lexicons for LEGO. I was introduced to the projects, their developers and participants. Never will I forget the first impression that I got about the LINGUIST List: it was about the people. I met a group of highly-motivated professors and students who strive to contribute to the word of linguistics, people who are ready to share their knowledge with the world and learn.

And later on I got the opportunity to join this unique team and become one of the LINGUIST Listers. So right now I work for several projects such as MultiTree, the Endangered Languages Catalogue, and LL-MAP, I also post Job Announcements in the Job area of the site.

I have been on the LINGUIST List team for over a year and let me tell you something, it was one of the best years of my life! I don’t remember a single day when I didn’t learn something new in the LINGUIST List. I’m surrounded by the most enthusiastic and devoted people; each and every one of them is smart, intelligent and creative. It is a real team – a team of people that work really hard together to contribute every day to the development of the site and its services with their great ideas, suggestions and work performance. But what matters most is that together with you and other LINGUIST List readers we create a colossal linguistics society where we can search or post jobs, conferences and linguistics events; we can inquire about endangered languages of the word, compare languages and language families on MultiTree and then check those on LL-MAP and more.

And we can do all that and will be able to do even more because the LINGUIST List is moving along with the rest of the world and we are working hard to implement new technologies into our services. But we do need your support to make them available for you and every other linguist.

So, I’m asking you today, please donate. Your donation will help us to improve the LINGUIST List and its services for you and your convenience. And it doesn’t matter if what you can donate today is just $5. What matters is that we all are linguists and we all live our academic or non-academic linguistics world. So donating to the LINGUIST List you will contribute to the development of the linguistics society of the world and help make it better.

https://linguistlist.org/donation/donate/donate1.cfm

Thank you for supporting the LINGUIST List!

With sincere gratitude,

Uliana Kazagashea
LINGUIST List

Thank You Applicants!

Thank you to everyone that applied for the 2014 summer internship program. This year we received a record number of 100 applicants! We anticipate to begin to review the applications within the next few weeks.

Didn’t get the chance to apply for this year and want to prepare for next year’s cycle? Here are some things that will make you stand out:

1. Show a passion for something

Here at the LINGUIST List, our staff is full of people with a variety of skills in different fields. Some know programming, others really love phonology or syntax. Whatever you have a passion for, go for it! Our office is full of a variety of people (and some animal guests) and we like to have interns that seem excited about a particular field.

2. Double check your contact information

Each year, we inevitably have a few submissions where the application email address is put in incorrectly and bounces. This year, we added in a section where we asked for an alternate method of contacting you. This was mainly done to make sure that in case the main email bounces we can still get a hold of you. What if we didn’t have that information? You would not have known how awesome we thought your application was and we will be forever without telling you this. Remember, if you think you submitted it with a typo or accidentally a word, you can always contact us. We would love to hear from you! We all make mistakes :)

3. Brush up on your skills

Want to improve on your programming skills? Want to learn a new trick? You should check out our tutorials and YouTube videos to get started. There’s some on the basics of HTML, CSS, ColdFusion, Javascript, and SQL. Are you more of the hands on type and are in the Ypsilanti area? Keep an eye out on our social media pages for postings about talks and demonstrations that will be happening in our office.

4. Ask to volunteer

If you don’t have time to fully commit to a summer internship or want to still help out in our office, we are always looking for reliable volunteers to assist with our projects. If you are interested in helping out on a regular basis, review our list of projects and email linguist@linguistlist.org with your questions.

 

2014 LINGUIST List Internship Program Now Accepting Applications!

The LINGUIST List is pleased to announce the availability of a limited number of paid internship positions for the summer of 2014 at the LINGUIST offices in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Internships are available for a three-month period between May and August 2014.

llcrew4

Interns will have the opportunity to participate in the daily operations of the LINGUIST List and its parent organization, the Institute for Language Information and Technology (ILIT) at Eastern Michigan University. ILIT serves the discipline of linguistics by providing digital tools and services that sustain the scientific analysis of language and by disseminating high-quality language data and linguistic information. In addition to the LINGUIST List website and mailing list, ILIT manages a number of grant-funded projects that develop the cyberinfrastructure of linguistics; interns may expect to work primarily on the following projects:

(1) Language and Location: A Map Annotation Project (LL-MAP: http://www.llmap.org): This project began as a joint NSF-sponsored project of Eastern Michigan University and Stockholm University and is hosted as an ongoing project at ILIT. In LL-MAP, language information is integrated with data from the physical and social sciences by means of a Geographical Information System (GIS). Tasks for this project include map-making (using Global Mapper and Google Earth) and using the LL-MAP Scholar’s Workbench to style and upload maps. You will also be responsible to help develop a new interface for the map viewing facility.

(2) MultiTree (http://multitree.org): The MultiTree project is a digital library of scholarly hypotheses about language relationships and subgroupings. This information is organized in a searchable database with a web interface, and each hypothesis is presented graphically as a diagram of a family tree. Typical tasks for this project include researching language relationship hypotheses and entering this information into the MultiTree database.

(3) Endangered Language Catalog (ELCat: http://www.endangeredlanguages.com/): This project launched in fall 2011 with funding from the NSF. The ELCat project is responsible for posting data about endangered languages with evaluation from global experts. This information is used to confront the issue of language endangerment by allowing users to upload data and multimedia files regarding thousands of languages in order to document, preserve, and teach others about each language. Potential interns will be responsible for resource discovery, reading scholarly articles, data entry, and bibliography management.

(4) 19th International Lexical Functional Grammar (LFG) Conference: This conference will take place from July 17, 2014 through July 19, 2014 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  The focus of this conference is to promote interaction and collaborations among researchers interested in non-derivational approaches to grammar, where grammar is see as the interaction of (perhaps violable) constraints from multiple levels of structuring, including those of syntactic categories, grammatical relations, semantics, and discourse. There will also be a special panel session on “Language Documentation and Linguistic Theory” with a focus on under-resourced and endangered languages. Interns will be responsible for assisting with the design and printing of conference materials, assisting non-local attendees with finding local events, and other tasks to be determined by the local conference organizers.

(5) Grammar Engineering Platform Development: The goal of this project is to create an online IDE for morphological analyzers (and potentially syntactic grammars) where linguists are able to simply copy and paste their data into a form online, specify grammars and rules, and perform analyses and parses of data. Interns will learn about XFST, FOMA, Finite State Morphology, Context Free Grammar, Unification Grammars, linguistic theories, documentation standards, java, python, and Django development techniques. Interns do not necessarily need to already know about the above. On-site training workshops will be provided. If you already have experience with these tools, please make sure to mention this on your application and/or supplemental materials.

(6) Website, App, and Localization Development: LINGUIST List is working on creating a new website and posting system. Interns will help to create not only a new website, but also to develop applications compatible with the iOS and Android systems. For the localization, interns that have a higher reading ability in languages other than English are highly desired. Training on localization, app development, and the website creation will be provided. If you already have experience with these tools, please make sure to mention this on your application and/or supplemental materials.

Interns are required to work 40 hours per week, Monday through Friday, and will receive a stipend of US $8.50 per hour. Housing is not provided, although we are able to provide some assistance in locating accommodations.

International applicants must have a visa that permits them to work in the US. LINGUIST List will work with applicants to obtain a visa; however, this is not guaranteed, as the administrative procedures involved are subject to university approval.

Applicants with external funding or support are encouraged to apply to work here as an extension of the internship program.

LINGUIST List fellowships for the M.A. Linguistics program at Eastern Michigan University for 2014 may be available to selected interns. For more information, see http://www.emich.edu/english/programs/linguistics/.

The deadline for internship applications is January 27, 2014. Applicants will be contacted early in February; Skype interviews with finalists will be scheduled for mid-February or March.

To apply for an internship position, fill out the Google form in its entirety at:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1no5TJ4XHf0PJ3sUN4PfKwzrPQvUTubzEYbSXgIkALEI/viewform.

Applicants are welcome to submit supplementary materials to interns@linguistlist.org  with the subject line “2014 LINGUIST List Internship Application [Your Name]“

ILIT Open House 07/11 and 07/12

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Are you in Michigan for the 2013 Linguistic Institute? Come and visit us for our Open House! Stop by to talk to the staff and students about their work here and the possible opportunities that await. We will be open to the public for two times: Thursday July 11th from 9-2 and Friday July 12th from 2-5. We plan on making it an informal event, so bring your friends and stop in throughout the two session times.

We are in the Cooper building near Eastern Michigan University’s campus at 2000 N Huron River Dr. in Ypsilanti.

The easiest way to get here from downtown Ann Arbor is to take “The Ride” on line 3 for $1.50. You can get on at two locations: Ann and State or Glen and Catherine. Take this into Ypsilanti and it will go down Washtenaw Avenue. Your stop will be on Huron River Drive at the Eastern Michigan University Stadium. The LINGUIST List is across the street from the stadium bus stop inside the Cooper Building. On Thursday, one of our interns, Thomas Haider, will be guiding people to the Cooper building from the Ann and State Street stop. The bus will pick people up at 8:55am and Tom will be there around 8:45am. If you miss the bus, the buses run about every half hour and you can take another one into town.

If you get lost, you can call us at 734-487-0144. We look forward to seeing you!

Thomas Haider

Here’s Tom, your friendly tour guide and the face to look for at the bus stop.

 

The LINGUIST List Welcomes the Summer Interns

This summer, we are happy to welcome 10 interns for this summer! They will be put to work by working on various projects such as ELCat, LL-MAP, and MultiTree.  Congratulations interns on being selected for 2013! If you are interested in becoming an intern, be on the look-out for our application cycle to open again next spring. In the mean time, there are other ways to get involved here at LINGUIST List. Just contact us for more information.

Eric Benzschawel [ˈbɛn.ʃɑl]

Eric at the Basler Münster in Basel, Switzerland, taken last spring when he was studying abroad at Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg (Breisgau), Germany.

I’m Eric Benzschawel, a BA candidate for spring 2013, receiving a degree in Linguistics with honors and Germanic Studies, and minors in Dutch and Western European Studies. I’ll be working this summer as an intern at the LINGUIST List through early August, contributing primarily on the MultiTree and LL-MAP projects.  I speak German and Dutch as second languages.

My personal areas of interest in linguistics are: syntax, morphosyntax, morphology, corpus linguistics, and computational linguistics. I’m a Germanophile too, so I enjoy Germanic historical linguistics or linguistic work on modern Germanic languages.  I have a keen interest in Faroese everything (seems like such a cool place!) and histories of Germanic peoples, especially the Dutch Golden Age and the Holy Roman Empire.

All the schoolwork definitely keeps me busy, but that doesn’t mean there’s no free time! I deeply enjoy reading high fantasy, science fiction, history, and linguistics books.  I enjoy music of all genres and play saxophone in the Indiana University Marching Hundred.  I’m also a fan of football (Green Bay Packers), college basketball (Indiana Hoosiers), hockey (Chicago Blackhawks), and soccer (Seattle Sounders FC, Deutsche Nationalmannschaft, Nederlands voetbalelftal).

Emily Remirez

Emily with her dog Sophie.

I was born and raised on the Gulf Coast of Texas and am currently a junior at Rice University in Houston, majoring in Linguistics with a concentration in Cognitive Science and minoring in Anthropology. I have been interested in language for as long as I can remember, and there is very little that I dislike about linguistics. My main interests (for now) are L1 acquisition, cognitive linguistics, linguistic relativity, animal communication, language typology, syntax, morphology, Central and South American languages, language contact, creoles and pidgins, historical linguistics, and phonology. Outside of linguistics, I like animals, reading, Wes Anderson movies, absurdity, science fiction, and Arrested Development.

Dana Fallon

Dana enjoying the scenery in Cinque Terre, Italy.

My name is Dana Fallon and I’m just about to graduate from the University of California, Santa Barbara, with a BA in Linguistics! I also have a French minor and I had the wonderful opportunity of studying abroad in Lyon, France, last year, during which I got to travel through a lot of Europe. In addition to French, I’ve studied Japanese and some Latin. In my spare time, I’m usually playing guitar or piano, knitting/crocheting, or seeking out dogs to play with.

Kaveh Varjoy

Kaveh at a 2012 piano recital with three of his students.

My name is Kaveh Varjoy. I’m a California-born-and-raised linguistics major at UCSB, going into my senior year. I spend my free time going through used bookstores, splashing around in the ocean, and playing the piano (or at least trying to). My favorite TV show is Arrested Development (it’s back – yay!) and my favorite book is Dante’s Divina Commedia, and there is no limit to the amount of music I enjoy, though I do have a soft spot for jazz and the rat pack. My interests in linguistics are based around language documentation – especially sign languages and Deaf culture, North American languages, and African languages – and the sociocultural intersect between form, identity, and (in)justice/equality.

Bryn Hauk

I have known since high school that my passion was linguistics, but it wasn’t until my freshman year at the University of Michigan that I learned of the myriad subfields from which I was expected to choose a lifelong path. Having tried and loved everything from semantics to second-language acquisition, I finally discovered documentary linguistics, which seemed to combine the best parts of all specializations with the added bonus of fieldwork in faraway places. I have been lucky enough to do just that in northwest Russia with the Veps people, and I hope to continue documenting indigenous languages of Russia in the future as I pursue my MA at EMU. At the LINGUIST List, I get the opportunity to flex my documentary muscles working on our Catalogue of Endangered Languages and to learn important new technologies and scripting languages.

Myles Gurule

I’m a sophomore at Brown University, tentatively planning to double-major in Computer Science and Linguistics. My interests include formal language theory, natural language processing, and Slavic languages. I grew up in northern New Mexico and in my spare time, I coach policy debate, read, and go hiking. I’m excited to learn about current linguistic research and discussion as well as the practical linguistic applications of CS.

Jacob Collard

Jacob at a May Day Festival, performing a Longsword Dance.

I am a rising Junior at Swarthmore College and have now been interested in linguistics for over six years, doing work with endangered languages (Ju|’hoan, Valley Zapotec, and Cherokee), computational linguistics, and syntax. I’m also interested in storytelling, writing, and literature, as well as folkdance, board games, and roleplaying games. I tend to lose myself in the forest, as I enjoy hiking and exploring, which I try to do every day.

Lesley Dennison

Hi, I’m Lesley and I am excited to join The LINGUIST List as an ELCat team member! I’ve been interested in languages ever since high school French class, where I would write notes to my best friend in IPA.I graduated from Eastern Michigan University in April of 2013 with a BA in Linguistics and a minor in Japanese. I will be starting my MA in Linguistics at Eastern in the fall of 2013. When I am not doing linguistics, I like to read, write, travel and cater to my adorable cat, Esteban.

Sara Couture

I recently earned a Bachelor’s degree in Linguistics with a minor in German from Wayne State University and I’m currently a summer intern at LINGUIST List. At LINGUIST List, I’m mainly working on the MultiTree project, but I’m also part of the Catalogue of Endangered Languages team and the LL-MAP team. I’m really excited about being immersed in linguistics all summer, learning about the nuts and bolts of language documentation and the technology that is involved.

In hindsight, majoring in Linguistics was inevitable for me. I was one of those nerdy kids who liked to make my own secret codes and alphabets and had notebooks filled with information about Elvish and other constructed languages. Language has always been one of my passions. But I didn’t find the formal field of linguistics until college. I had decided to major in English with the vague notion of becoming an editor or a technical writer. The English degree had a theory requirement, and I chose an Introduction to Linguistics. I absolutely loved it, and when I found out I could become an editor with a Linguistics degree as well as an English degree, I switched majors immediately and the rest is history.

I have an insatiable curiosity about all things linguistic, so it is very difficult for me to narrow down my interests. But at the moment, my primary interests are historical linguistics, dialectology, sociolinguistics, syntax, Germanic linguistics, Celtic linguistics, and English linguistics. Outside of linguistics, I’m always in search of a good story to keep me entertained. I love to read and watch movies. I have a wide, eclectic taste in genres, and I have dabbled in fantasy, science fiction, mystery, historical, classic, thriller, horror, contemporary or westerns. When I’m not doing any of these things, I try to give my mole eyes a rest and go bike riding.

Thomas Haider

I was born 1985 in the area of Munich, Germany. After a sheltered childhood in the middle of Bavaria and some education I pursued an apprenticeship in a physics lab, followed by some more education, a civil service in a youth hostel to finally end up in Heidelberg to study Computational Linguistics and Philosophy. Apart from one year abroad in the Netherlands I have been there for 5 years now, meanwhile enrolled in a Masters programme, writing and reading poetry on stage, dealing with lexical semantics, transgressing borders of verbose gibberish and densified expression.

LINGUIST Around the World: A Report from Cameroon

Editor’s Note: Our ELCat Team Leader, Anna Belew, attended a workshop and conference in Cameroon during the summer of 2012. This article was taken from our archives.

Ever since I started studying documentary linguistics, my passion has been working with African languages. Something about the Niger-Congo family just charms me. All those noun classes! The verbal infixes! The incredible multilingualism found in so many African speech communities! It’s dreamy. It was thus with no little delight that I learned I’d been accepted as a participant in the first Workshop on Sociolinguistic Documentation in Sub-Saharan Africa, held in conjunction with the 7th World Congress of African Linguistics (WOCAL), at the University of Buea, Cameroon in August 2012.

The documentation workshop took place over the three days prior to WOCAL and was one of the most enriching academic experiences I’ve ever had. Organized by Dr. Jeff Good (University at Buffalo) and Dr. Tucker Childs (Portland State University), it brought together linguists from all over Africa, Europe, and North America to address some really interesting questions. The workshop’s primary aim was, as stated on the workshop website, “understanding how we can adequately document the sociolinguistic contexts of Sub-Saharan African languages.” While “traditional” documentation usually focuses on describing a language’s phonology, morphology, syntax, and lexicon, there hasn’t been as much work (yet!) on how to document the sociolinguistic setting of a language. This includes some Big Questions: What’s the best way to document patterns of multilingualism? How can we document language attitudes and prestige? Which methodologies give the most accurate data? What special ethical concerns might arise in sociolinguistic documentation? How can this type of research help inform effective language policy in Africa? My working group tackled an intriguing question: What factors determine the “market value” of an African language? That is, why do people choose to use particular languages in particular situations, and how do we study that? Answers to questions like these can help us understand why some languages (Swahili, Hausa) thrive and grow, while others (Twendi, N|uu) are seriously endangered. The workshop produced plenty of lively discussion and a lot of excellent ideas, and I can’t wait to see the projects that will come out of it.

Working Group 3 of the Sociolinguistic Documentation Workshop

The next five days, WOCAL proper, were no less thrilling. I don’t care if I sound like a dork calling an academic conference “thrilling” —it was thrilling. Linguists from over 60 countries, from every populated continent, coming together to share their work on African languages. The great minds of African linguistics, in the flesh, giving amazing presentations and making small talk over the refreshment tables. Seeing old friends, meeting new ones, and learning about what it’s like to be a linguist in Senegal, Botswana, the Netherlands, or Brazil. What could be better?

I gave a talk at WOCAL. Full disclosure: it was my very first talk at a professional conference. I was asked to give a presentation and a poster on the Catalogue of Endangered Languages, specifically the Africa section of the catalogue, which I’m the team leader for here at LINGUIST List. It was an honor to be invited to speak a bit about our research process, the goals of the Catalogue, and the broader Endangered Languages Project. It’s a project that tends to inspire strong opinions, and I’m glad I got the chance to engage with a range of questions and concerns from scholars; their feedback will help us make the Catalogue even more accurate and useful to linguists.

It’s tough to pick favorites out of all the amazing talks I attended, but I’ll give summaries of a few that were of particular interest to me. The late Dr. Maurice Tadadjeu, a pioneering advocate for mother-tongue education in Cameroon, presented a plenary address on the Écoles Rurales Électroniques en Langues Africaines (ERELA)  project. ERELA works to make computers available in rural schools and provides resources for teachers to integrate computer and internet technology into their curricula. Here’s the cool part: students are taught in their native language, and the software they use is localized into their language. This means that kids can, for example, learn to use MS Word with an Ewondo interface, writing Ewondo documents—much more effective than trying to teach them to use software in a language they don’t speak (like English). A related project, Going Kompyuta, works with ERELA to translate software into less-resourced languages.

Another excellent talk by Drs. Goedele de Clerck and Sam Lutalo-Kiingi, both Deaf linguists, presented the state of sign language research and development in Africa. A pointed illustration of the lack of resources for the African Deaf community: the talk was given entirely in International Sign Language, but as no sign language interpreters had been available to work the conference, the non-signing audience had to follow as best they could by reading the slides. Rarely have I been more aware of the privilege I generally enjoy as an English speaker, whose native language is an academic lingua franca. Experiencing lack of access to information due to a language barrier (in this case, not being a signer) reminded me not to take that privilege for granted. 

Other favorites: SIL Tanzania’s Suzanne Kruger gave a thought-provoking talk on the ethics of obtaining informed consent in cultures whose notions of individual consent differ from Western ones; the University of Buea’s own Charles Tiayon discussed the intersection of professional translation and language endangerment; the DoBeS Bakola documentation project team spoke about the difficulties of pinning down what language you’re supposed to be documenting when varieties diverge and mixing is rampant; Mark Dingemanse (MPI) presented some recent research on ideophones (one of the most interesting topics in linguistics—look it up right now if you haven’t studied ideophony yet); and Moad Hajjam of the Université Mohammed 5 Rabat presented a sociolinguistic study of attitudes towards Moroccan Arabic (Darija) in Moroccan hip hop. And, of course, there were dozens of other incredibly interesting and impressive presentations of which I couldn’t hope to scratch the surface in a short newsletter article. Suffice it to say that I learned a ton and enjoyed myself thoroughly.

It wasn’t entirely academic fun, though. I’ll let you in on a secret: WOCAL had the best dance parties. And the best ndole (stewed leafy greens and fish). And the most interesting, welcoming, and brilliant people. And the best views of Mount Cameroon breaking through the clouds in all its stunning enormity, as one stands in the foggy gardens of UB’s campus, surrounded by strange noisy birds. I think I’ve left a tiny chunk of my heart in Buea. I exchange it gladly for the wealth of ideas and experiences I took with me.