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Academics from Multiple Continents Participate in Language Preservation Workshop at UNC-Chapel Hill

August 13, 2019
UNC Global

This summer, a group of global academics gathered at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for a two-week workshop titled “Indigenous and Minority Languages: Living Histories and Opportunities for the Future.” Attendees were able to participate in training and professional development from July 1-12, 2019. The conference was centered on research and field work in language preservation.

The workshop was organized by the linguistics project “Minority Languages, Major Opportunities, Collaborative Research, Community Engagement and Innovative Educational Tools” (COLING). This project, funded by the European Union, fosters language revitalization via programs that are both community driven and professionally developed, while working to provide a platform for developing and sharing expert knowledge in the field.

COLING was launched in 2017 and will be funded through December 2021. It is a large consortium with 12 partners, including institutions based in Europe, the U.S. and Mexico. There have been two previous workshops in the Netherlands and Italy, and two more are planned for June and August 2020 in Europe and Mexico, respectively.

The conference began in the FedEx Global Education Center with welcoming remarks from some of the key organizers of the workshop: Stanisław Kordasciewicz, a project coordinator of COLING from the University of Warsaw; Cynthia Radding, Gussenhoven Distinguished Professor of Latin American Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill; Greta de Leon, Executive Director of the America’s Research Network; and Heidi Wiederkehr, Deputy Director of the Council of American Overseas Research Centers. The remainder of the workshop included a variety of seminars, presentations, panel and group discussions, and a weekend trip to the Cherokee Eastern Band Community in western North Carolina.

The diverse programming touched on topics ranging from linguistic ideologies in the study and preservation of Mayan languages to practical strategies for language revitalization and the opportunities that digitization of spoken and written words presents for the field. Participants in the COLING workshop reported on projects in South America, Peru, Guyana and Brazil and on heritage languages in the U.S.

Kordasciewicz said bringing such a wide array of researchers together is one of the most important aspects of their work.

“We are building a coalition network towards language revitalization efforts and towards maintaining the cultural heritage in Europe, the United States and Mexico,” he said.

Kordasciewicz further explained that COLING takes a unique approach to the work of language and cultural preservation by working closely with individual communities.

“We are trying to be global and have a macro perspective, and on the other hand also have a very grassroots approach in the community,” he explained.

This event was organized in collaboration with the Americas Research Network (ARENET), the Institute for the Study of the Americas at UNC-Chapel Hill, the University of Warsaw “Faculty of Artes Liberales,” the Council of American Overseas Research Centers and the Smithsonian Institution. The program is also one of the UNESCO 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages featured activities.

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