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Fitzgerald's work, grants add to UTA's national reputation in language documentation and revitalization

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Thursday, September 26, 2013

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Media Contact: Bridget Lewis, Office:817-272-3317, Cell:214-577-9094, blewis@uta.edu

News Topics: awards, communications, community service, faculty, history, humanities, research

Two National Science Foundation grants recently awarded to Colleen Fitzgerald, professor of Linguistics and TESOL, are elevating UT Arlington’s growing reputation and expertise in Native American language documentation and revitalization.

Colleen Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald is currently principal investigator on three separate NSF grant projects totaling more than $270,000: the 2014 Institute on Collaborative Language Research, which will be held at UT Arlington next summer; the Oklahoma Breath of Life workshops with Mary Linn, associate professor of anthropology and associate curator at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History at the University of Oklahoma; and the Chickasaw verb documentation and analysis project with Joshua Hinson, director of the Chickasaw Language Revitalization Program.

All of the projects draw on participatory models, where training indigenous community members constitutes a vital part of Fitzgerald's research.

“There’s a synergistic relationship between teaching and training,” she said. “It’s not only about training community members, but training students to do the research ethically and responsibly. The projects are all tied together in that way.”

The Chickasaw project, funded for nearly $100,000, is the first NSF award for the Chickasaw Nation. Their former homelands were centered around present-day Tupelo, Miss. until the Chickasaw people were forcibly removed by the U.S. government to Indian Territory in the 1830s.

Beth Wright, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, said Fitzgerald’s work is a critical link between preserving important cultures and ensuring that endangered languages survive.

“Language is living culture,” Wright said. “Dr. Fitzgerald’s research is allowing us to help preserve knowledge of the life and culture of indigenous populations for current generations, who at times have been stripped of their native language, and for generations to come.”

For the fourth time, the National Science Foundation will fund the Institute on Collaborative Language Research, or CoLang 2014, which is scheduled June 16-July 25 and will include students, instructors and linguists from Nigeria, Kenya, Japan and Canada, as well as from across the U.S. Fitzgerald will direct the biennial training workshop that will address documentation, revitalization, teaching, ethics and community collaboration. A number of events will be open to the public.

The Linguistic Society of America is an official sponsor of CoLang 2014. Visit www.linguisticsociety.org/content/colang-2014 for more details.

Fitzgerald noted that there has been much discussion in recent decades about the global crisis of endangered languages and how linguists can respond.

“There are a number of people who have advocated training community members as linguists,” she said.

Community training is central to Fitzgerald’s latest project, the Chickasaw verb documentation and analysis, which will enable researchers to catalogue nearly 500 Chickasaw verbs and to analyze texts in the language. Their work will record Chickasaw speakers' traditional knowledge, which is essential to indigenous language revitalization.

The Breath of Life workshops have helped Native American communities in Oklahoma organize language classes, set up language databases, create dictionaries and translate stories into bilingual formats. The news of the research has appeared on Think (KERA/NPR Dallas), the Indian Country Media Network, Diverse Issues in Higher Education and in The Oklahoman.

The University of Texas at Arlington is a comprehensive research institution of more than 33,000 students and more than 2,200 faculty members in the heart of North Texas. It is the second largest institution in The University of Texas System. Visit www.uta.edu to learn more.

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The University of Texas at Arlington is an Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action employer.