Featured Linguist: Shobhana Chelliah

Dear LINGUIST List readers and subscribers,

Please enjoy this awesome message from this week’s featured linguist, Dr. Shobhana Chelliah!


I am delighted to support the Linguistlist (LL) in their 2019 fund drive. Like many of you, I rely on LL. I’ve posted conference information, gotten input on typological questions, listed jobs, gathered data to argue for new faculty, and to help our students identify nonacademic jobs in linguistics. It’s hard to imagine working without this resource. Please support LL with your donations. I have and I will continue to.

Dr. Shobhana Chelliah

So now a little bit about myself. I was born in Palayamkottai, a town near the city of Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu, India. When I was seven, my father taught me, my mom, and sister how to eat with knife and fork, packed our belongings and moved us to Washington D.C. He worked at the International Monetary Fund for seven years. In 1975, he decided once again to pack kit and caboodle and move us back to India. Since my Hindi and Sanskrit skills were close to zero, high school for me was at the international boarding school, Woodstock International School. The D.C. experience explains my American accent and the Woodstock experience why I have friends from all over the world.

Now on to my introduction to linguistics: After getting a BA in English literature from St Stephen’s college in Delhi, I signed up for an MA in linguistics, in Delhi University where our Field Methods language was Manipuri (Meiteiron). Thank you M.A. advisor K.V. Subbarao and thank you fellow student and language consultant Promodini Nameirakpam Devi! And thank you UT Austin Ph.D. advisor Anthony Woodbury and collaborator/spouse Willem de Reuse! All four of these great people and many more supported the writing of my first book, A Grammar of Meitei (Mouton 1997). This laid the foundation for my current work on Lamkang Naga, a South Central Tibeto-Burman (Kuki-Chin) language of Manipur. NSF Documenting Endangered Languages grants and the UNT digital library have supported the creation of: https://digital.library.unt.edu/explore/collections/SAALT/. A whole host of questions about metadata, data formats, data organization, and archive usability have crystalized through this experience and my information science, anthropology colleagues, and I are happily tackling those now.

Between 2013-2015, I had the good fortune to serve as the Program Officer for the Documenting Endangered Languages Program at the US National Science Foundation. Thank you Joan Maling, Terry Langendoen, and my Program Officer cohort – What brilliance! What brains! In 2015, with NSF inspiration in my back pocket, I moved back to the University of North Texas, the institution that has mentored, sheltered, and nurtured me since 1996. Here I’ve been involved in creating two types of resources for South Asian Languages: (1) an Interlinear Gloss Translation repository we are calling the Computational Resource for South Asian Languages (CoRSAL) and (2) controlled vocabularies for tagging linguistic data from Tibeto-Burman languages. My partners in these ventures are fellow College of Information knowledge seekers, Computational Linguist Alexis Palmer and Information Scientist Oksana Zavalina.

One really cool happening: UNT is proudly graduating a member of the Lamkang community with an MA in Linguistics and helping her step into her new world as a PhD student in Philosophy with a focus in environmental philosophy. Congratulations, Sumshot Khular! We continue to support students from indigenous populations in India and Pakistan. We have visiting scholars here from Manipur and Pakistan and have admitted a students from Assam, Kashmir, and Pakistan. I am so excited that we can support these students who are committed to their communities and Language Documentation.

So now I am going on the LL website to contribute. Follow me there!

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