Icon for: Lawrence Kaplan

LAWRENCE KAPLAN

Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks
Public Discussion
  • Icon for: Brian Drayton

    Brian Drayton

    Researcher
    May 14, 2018 | 08:13 a.m.

    What important work!  

    During the 3-week second session, did folks work primarily with Alaskan languages, or from that region, or did you bring in some speakers from elsewhere? 

     

     
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    Lawrence Kaplan

    Lead Presenter
    May 14, 2018 | 03:34 p.m.

    Thanks for posting!  During the three-week session, we worked with two Alaskan languages, Aleut (from the Aleutian Islands) and Han Athabascan, spoken along the Yukon River in both Canada and Alaska.  Both languages are severely endangered, and we were fortunate to have native speakers of both to work with the groups, who got quite a lot out of the experience.  The third language, Miyako, is a Ryukuan language from Okinawa, Japan.  Two Japanese linguists worked with a Miyako native speaker, all of who traveled here to Alaska.

     
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    Brian Drayton

    Researcher
    May 14, 2018 | 05:00 p.m.

    If I'm not mistaken, a fair amount of descriptive work has been done on the Aleut and Hän Athab. languages — Is the work with them to build up/preserve lexicon and stylistic material, or to develop teaching materials for new speakers? 

    On another point, did the workshop(s) give attenders some suggestions about what languages they might work on or did they come with projects in mind?

     

     
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    Lawrence Kaplan

    Lead Presenter
    May 14, 2018 | 06:44 p.m.

    You're quite right.  Aleut is fairly well documented, especially by the Norwegian linguist Knut Bergsland and now by Anna Berge at the Alaska Native Language Center.  Berge led this practicum, with the emphasis being how to use archival materials in language work, since we have that documentation in our Native language archive here.  Han is also fairly well researched, and the practicum leader is one of the linguists who has worked on it.  I think what he did with his group was to show them how to work with the two Han speakers in the room and get them started on Athabascan grammar, which is of course very complicated.  I wasn't in the workshop at all so I can't really tell you what else they did.

     
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    Lawrence Kaplan

    Lead Presenter
    May 14, 2018 | 06:47 p.m.

    Mostly, CoLang attenders come with a language interest, often an ancestral language or the language of a community they have worked with.  There are all levels from beginners to graduate students, so some already know quite a lot.  It's almost surprising how well it works, given the different levels, but the workshops address different subjects and levels too.  Some attenders develop a language interest at CoLang, like some of the Aleut group who want to do more with that language.

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  • Icon for: Mark Windschitl

    Mark Windschitl

    Facilitator
    May 14, 2018 | 12:45 p.m.

    Lawrence, I really was intrigued by language revitalization, I had never heard this phrase, but was aware of the dying out of languages thoughtout the world (one every two weeks you mentioned? that is serious). What were your secondary aims in this project? For example, in addition to documenting these languages and taking video of speakers together with their stories, what other work did you feel you wanted to accomplish to make a difference?

     
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    Lawrence Kaplan

    Lead Presenter
    May 14, 2018 | 03:40 p.m.

    Mark, Thanks for your question.  The CoLang institute provides education to participants on how to work with so-called endangered languages, those whose future is uncertain, given a decreasing number of speakers.  For one, our workshops teach linguistic methods for working on languages that are not already well-documented, like major world languages are.  Besides analyzing the grammar of the language and learning to prepare teaching materials, not all languages have practical writing systems, so there was a workshop on orthography design.  And there are always social issues concerned with dealing with people of other cultures who may have experienced discrimination.  Have a look at the CoLang2016 website: alaska.edu/colang2016.  CoLang2018 will take place in a few weeks at U of Florida.

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  • Icon for: Kevin Brown

    Kevin Brown

    Facilitator
    May 14, 2018 | 04:12 p.m.

    Fascinating! Not knowing much about this area, can you give a primer on the ways in which endangered languages might be revitalized or at least preserved and some of the most significant challenges you or others working in this area have faced?

     
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    Lawrence Kaplan

    Lead Presenter
    May 14, 2018 | 04:29 p.m.

    Those are big questions!  There needs to be effective language teaching first of all, so that more people begin using the language.  Good language teaching is generally not easy to achieve but very possible.  Languages need to be documented, so that they can be taught with accurate materials.  Then there are the many social issues that minority groups and their languages experience, since small languages are often not valued by the larger society, and this has a negative effect on the group whose language it is and thus on the viability of the language.  There are a very quick few words on some of the issues facing language revitalization efforts.

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    Lawrence Kaplan

    Lead Presenter
    May 14, 2018 | 08:14 p.m.

    Thank you for stopping by and viewing our video.  CoLang 2016 was the fifth institute of its kind, and CoLang is held every other year.  Participants and instructors came to Alaska from many different countries to attend workshops on a variety of topics, providing training on language documentation and revitalization for those interested in perpetuating the world's endangered languages.  Practicum workshops extended beyond the initial two weeks and offered a more intensive experience with particular languages, two Alaska Native languages (Aleut and Han Athabascan) in addition to Miyako, a Ryukyuan language from Japan.  Practica included linguists specialized in these languages as well as native speakers.  CoLang2018 will be held this June and July at the University of Florida in Gainesville: http://colang.lin.ufl.edu.  See also uaf.edu/anlc for information on and resources for Alaska's native languages.

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  • Icon for: Brian Drayton

    Brian Drayton

    Researcher
    May 15, 2018 | 10:01 a.m.

    People interested in this project might like to know about this website for some background on the problem of language disappearance:

    http://www.endangeredlanguages.com

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  • Icon for: Megan McKinley

    Megan McKinley

    Facilitator
    May 15, 2018 | 10:31 a.m.

    Hello, Lawrence. Thanks for sharing this important work! I’d like to hear more about your thoughts on the role of indigenous languages and storytelling within STEM fields. What do you see as the most important lessons that the field of science education can learn from your work? What successes have you had and what challenges have you run into?

     
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    Lawrence Kaplan

    Lead Presenter
    May 15, 2018 | 02:03 p.m.

    Hello Megan, Storytelling is an important part of many cultures, particularly those that place great importance on oral transmission of history and other cultural information, and that is true of many indigenous groups, where stories carry quite a lot of the important knowledge that one needs to be a full-fledged member of the group.  We have many stories recorded for Alaskan languages, some translated into English, some published, and they convey all sorts of information about worldview, knowledge of science and the environment, spiritual beliefs and more.  I like to see science education include indigenous perspectives, which of course often vary widely from Western science but give the views of people who depend on knowledge of their surroundings for their livelihood.  Some STEM education already includes this sort of information, and we have worked successfully with biologists on ethnobiology as well as geologists on land forms and sea ice, and others.  It can be challenging to bridge the gap between traditional indigenous knowledge and Western science, but it's well worth the effort, since the result can be a very rich and inclusive picture. 

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  • May 16, 2018 | 10:24 p.m.

    What an inspiring video! It is particularly wonderful to see how people around the world have an interest in preserving the languages that appear to be dying. Do you also travel to other parts of the world to study dying languages trying to revitalize them, or do you bring people to your lab to work there? How can people get involved in that type of work?

     
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    Lawrence Kaplan

    Lead Presenter
    May 17, 2018 | 02:14 p.m.

    I'm glad you liked the video.  The situation of endangered languages is very dramatic and attracts the interest of many people, for various reasons.  People who haven't learned their ancestral language are very concerned about possible language loss and feel the lack of the language in their own lives.  This is also true for languages that aren't endangered, but then the situation isn't urgent.  I concentrate on Alaskan Inuit languages and am in a position to support other language efforts for our twenty indigenous languages here in Alaska.  I've traveled a bit, mostly to other Inuit areas of the Arctic to learn about their situations.  In Greenland and much of Eastern Canada, Inuit languages are being passed on to children and are not in the same situation as Alaskan languages.  How can people get involved?  This happens in a variety of ways, and one of the best is to become educated in linguistics, and within the field are many paths leading to language work with communities, often for small languages that may have declining numbers of speakers.  CoLang is held every other year and offers workshops on language documentation and revitalization for all levels.  CoLang2018 will start next month at the University of Florida:  http://colang.lin.ufl.edu

     
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  • Icon for: Brian Drayton

    Brian Drayton

    Researcher
    May 17, 2018 | 02:30 p.m.

    You are pulling at me hard, here!  I was an ABD in linguistics, and got a little acquaintance withfield techniques, and Algoquian languages, then went off into science and science ed.  Now approaching retirement, I've wondered if I could make some small contribution in the study of some endangered language, while my ears hold out. Hm. 

     

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    Lawrence Kaplan

    Lead Presenter
    May 17, 2018 | 02:39 p.m.

    I sensed some serious linguistic knowledge there. It might be interesting for you to get in touch with an indigenous group in your area (PA?), since there may be a language project that you could contribute to.  There are tribes in the east working on language revitalization, and the ones I've heard of are in NY state, Maine, Massachusetts.

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