Department of Linguistics and TESOL Faculty

Colleen Fitzgerald

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Linguistics Professor Colleen Fitzgerald is waking up Native American languages on the brink of extinction. The Department of Linguistics and TESOL chair helps Native American tribes in Oklahoma bring their languages back to common use. “We work with tribal members to breathe new life into the languages,” she says. “They aren’t dead; they are sleeping.” Oklahoma is home to 39 indigenous languages, and two of Dr. Fitzgerald’s projects document and revitalize the languages for the next generation. In May 2012 she and Mary Linn at the University of Oklahoma will run the Oklahoma Breath of Life Workshop for communities whose languages have no fluent first-language speakers. Fitzgerald and her students also assist the Chickasaw nation, which has only 80 fluent speakers. Documentation supports the Chickasaw Language Revitalization Program, and her funding includes a grant from the National Science Foundation. Fitzgerald collaborates with language teachers and program directors as well as with tribal elders and assures them that her projects are long term and not for profit. “For many Native American communities, language is from the creator,” she says. “It is sacred.”

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