Researching endangered languages

Working on never-done-before language documentation research is a reality for UNT linguistics students, thanks to faculty who receive funding from the National Science Foundation and National Endowment for the Humanities.

"Because we have funding, we're able to bring students into a lab setting where they can work together to pull apart the data and try to understand how each piece fits," says Shobhana Chelliah, a professor who receives NSF funding for the creation of a lexical database and online dictionary for Lamkang, one of about 30 Tibeto-Burman minority languages spoken in Manipur State, India.

This summer, she and six UNT students will travel to the University of Hyderabad in India to present the dictionary and writing system they have formulated for Lamkang speakers. Chelliah has taken multiple trips to collect data, as well as to receive submitted data from native speakers.

The research of Sadaf Munshi, associate professor, is focused on Burushaski, a language isolate spoken in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan and in Srinagar. She has received NSF funding for field trips to Srinagar, in the Indian administered state of Jammu & Kashmir.

And linguistics affiliated faculty member Tim Montler has worked on documentation for languages including Alabama, Klallam and Coeur d'Alene. He received NEH funding in 2012 for an online dictionary of Saanich, the only dialect of Northern Straits Salish in Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

"Sometimes research is seen as something faculty do on the side, but that's not true of our program," says Chelliah, director of the NSF's Documenting Endangered Languages program from 2012 to 2015. "All of our coursework incorporates our specific research material and almost every class has a way for students to be involved in this research."

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