Linguistics Talk at Lewis & Clark (next MONDAY)

Keith Dede, Associate Professor of Chinese at Lewis & Clark, forwarded me the following information about a linguistics talk that Lewis & Clark is hosting next Monday, on documentation of endangered languages. The title, time/location, and abstract are reproduced below. Everyone is welcome!


Language hotspots as a roadmap to the future of linguistics in the 21st Century

Greg Anderson (Living Tongues Institute)
Monday, April 16th
7:00 pm

Miller 105
Lewis & Clark College

Language Hotspots are areas in the world where we find the convergence of three independent factors: high level of average endangerment, low levels of average documentation, and a high degree of genetic linguistic diversity. Roughly twenty such areas have been identified globally to date. In this presentation I offer a demonstration of the science behind the language hotspots model, a sample of a selection of such language hotspots that have been identified to date, and how this model can be applied to reveal diversity previously unknown to the scientific community.

Arunachal Pradesh is a state located in the extreme northeast part of India, adjacent to Bhutan to the west, Tibet and southern China to the north and east and Myanmar to the southeast. India remains to this date one of the least known areas of the world linguistically, despite over two thousand years of grammatical tradition in the region. To be sure, no one even knows how many languages are spoken in India even today, with official estimates ranging from 118 to 438 to 1,642! The state of Arunachal Pradesh represents an extreme microcosm of this diversity. Over 100 distinct indigenous ethnic groups are found within this relatively small area. Most languages are known only from either a brief word list, often gathered by untrained military officers or civil servants, or government produced phrase books designed for and by non-specialists.

In 2008, I led a team of researchers to the border region between two districts in western Arunachal Pradesh to assess the current vitality of the Hruso or Aka and Miji languages. Though little was known about these languages, much less their current state, armed with the knowledge that language shift was underway across many of the smaller languages of northeastern India, we predicted that these languages would also be shifting to the dominant Hindi language. After a few days interviewing Hruso Aka speakers, we learned of another variety of Aka, locally known as Koro Aka, which was reported to be ‘exactly the same, just a little bit different in dialect’. Upon meeting speakers of Koro Aka, it became immediately clear that this was a previously undocumented language, very much so different than surrounding languages.  Unraveling the mysterious origin of Koro Aka continues today. In this talk, I present what I have learned about the enigmatic Koro Aka language, and demonstrate how one attempts to sleuth the pre-history of a language with no written records, which is previously undocumented, and in an area of extreme linguistic diversity. Though we still have no idea how many total languages there are in India or in Arunachal Pradesh, we now know there is at least one more than previously believed. It was an application of the language hotspots model that led us to this revelation.

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