CoLang 2014 faculty includes SIL instructors

(July 2014) CoLang 2014 is underway at the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA). Formerly known as InField, this biennial summer course is an opportunity for students, professional linguists and mother-tongue speakers of minority languages to gain skill in language documentation and revitalization. Funding organizations include the Linguistic Society of America and National Science Foundation. Native American languages were the focus of this summer’s session. This year’s CoLang teaching staff included several instructors from SIL.

Verna Stutzman (International Coordinator for SIL’s Dictionary and Lexicography Services), led a 23 June mini-workshop on Rapid Word Collection (RWC). RWC is a method for gathering words to form the basis of a dictionary. By organizing a word-gathering event around the concept of semantic domains, groups of mother-tongue speakers are able to collect many words within a relatively short time-frame (days or weeks, compared to the years involved in the traditional text-based approach). The RWC method has been used effectively in dozens of communities to begin the process of dictionary development. Workshop participants from Ghana, Nigeria and many other countries expressed interest in using the RWC strategy in their respective communities.

Verna Stutzman teaches a course session on Rapid Word Collection;
Dr. Keren Rice and Dr. Mike Cahill share their expertise in orthography development.

Dr. Michael Cahill (Editor-in-Chief of SIL Global Publishing Services, senior linguistics consultant) and Dr. Keren Rice (University of Toronto) co-taught a four-day course on orthographies (writing systems). Co-editors of the recently published book Developing Orthographies for Unwritten Languages, Cahill and Rice introduced important considerations for orthography development.  In addition to understanding the language’s sound system (phonology), other important factors include the community’s experience with various scripts (Roman or non-Roman), standardization of spelling, local/national politics and religious considerations. The workshop provided opportunity for hands-on analysis and collaboration.

A participant commented:

[The orthography course] exceeded my expectations by making me aware of the complexities of orthography design. The linguistic and community-based considerations were well illustrated using examples from diverse language families. As a result of following this course I return to my country more confident in my ability to design a community-friendly orthography. Many thanks, Mike and Keren, for making the classes interesting and interactive. The ways in which you welcomed the views of all the participants, asked them to share their own experiences, and placed your expertise and experience at the disposal of the participants were appreciated by all present.

Two CoLang course sections provided training for those interested in using SIL’s FieldWorks Language Explorer (FLEx). FLEx is a software package which offers many helpful tools for data collection and analysis. One of the FLEx courses was taught by Kent Rasmussen, an SIL linguist currently in a PhD program at UTA. Both classes were attended by over forty students. Many participants were excited about the power FLEx offers to make practical progress in their language documentation and analysis work. SIL's Beth Bryson was available for consultation and help with FLEx.

Having completed two weeks of intensive workshops like these, participants are now engaged in a four-week field methods course. During this part of the program, participants work with speakers of indigenous languages for hands-on language documentation practice.

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