Academic journal article Southwest Journal of Linguistics

2006 Presidential Address: Indigenous Languages and Spanish in the United States: How Can/do Linguists Serve Communities?

Academic journal article Southwest Journal of Linguistics

2006 Presidential Address: Indigenous Languages and Spanish in the United States: How Can/do Linguists Serve Communities?

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT. This paper presents two projects that combine research with community needs. The first project is an effort to develop a community-based team to work with archival recordings of Tohono O'odham. These recordings are located throughout the United States, yet are inaccessible, unpublished, and even untranscribed and untranslated. The second project represents recent work to develop a service-learning course at Texas Tech University, where tutors earn credit by tutoring English as a second language. This is done in collaboration with Literacy Lubbock, a community agency that already provides literacy and ESL instruction, with particular attention to working with Spanish speakers.

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1. INTRODUCTION. For a number of reasons, the field of linguistics may be uniquely positioned to make contributions to a culture of service in academia. The knowledge of linguistics has been deployed as a tool to fight language discrimination that affects marginalized groups. An early significant example of this would be the roles played in court cases leading to equal educational opportunities for children whose home language was a minority language or dialect. Linguists testified to the validity of African American English in the 1979 court decision, Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School Children v. Ann Arbor School District (Wolfram et al 1999). The involvement of linguists also played a role in the United Nation's General Assembly passing a resolution in favor of acknowledging the rights of linguistic minorities to use their language variety, putting linguistic rights into the context of human rights (see the United Nations, Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities at http://www.ohchr.org/ english/law/minorities.htm).

Documentary and field linguistics also offer the potential to contribute back to communities. Certainly such work preserves language and culture for future generations, and documentation can be used as a component to language revitalization programs.

Moreover, many linguists are used to being around people from diverse linguistic backgrounds. It is possible that this may translate into giving voice to those traditionally underrepresented in educational institutions, as well as potentially transforming educational institutions in student and faculty ranks.

Language and linguistic knowledge can be used as a vehicle for empowerment. The question this raises is whether there is a moral or ethical obligation to use our linguistic knowledge to counter prevailing myths about language, particularly when those myths perpetuate language discrimination. These questions are also important for the profession in our consideration of ethics, perhaps made more relevant by the establishment of an ad-hoc committee on ethics by the Linguistic Society of America in 2006.

But there is a longer tradition of linguistics in the sphere of public service. Consider the following: 'Linguistic science is uniquely equipped to redress the language dimensions of morally indefensible racist ideologies wherever they are found (Baugh 1999:9).' Baugh uses this in reference to a 1972 resolution by the Linguistic Society of America that addressed the linguistic reasons against the claim by Arthur Jensen in 1969 that genetic reasons existed showing that black children were intellectually inferior to white children (Linguistic Society of America, as cited in Baugh 1999).

In fact, there are a variety of cases where linguists have acted collectively. The Linguistic Society of America has passed additional resolutions on various issues (Linguistic Society of America), such as against English only laws (1987), presenting linguistic arguments for the validity of Ebonics/African American English (1997), against the Unz/Tuchman California Ballot Initiative (1998), and presenting linguistic arguments for the validity and independence of American Sign language (2001). …

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