Volume 4 Issue 1 (2006)
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Training speakers of indigenous languages of Latin America at a US
This poster presents our experiences since 2001 with the University of
Texas' Center for Indigenous Languages of Latin America (CILLA).
The core idea of CILLA is to recruit into our Linguistics and
Anthropology Ph.D. programs promising graduate students from indigenous
communities in Latin America. The students focus on documentary and descriptive
linguistics, which we take as the starting point for both scientific study and
community language activism.
We feel that our work so far with ten indigenous students from Mexico,
Guatemala, Panama, and Peru has had and will have a profound effect on the
character of training of all Latin Americanist linguists at UT, whether
indigenous or not; and on training in general linguistics and anthropology.
It has also led to research by students and faculty which, we argue,
takes a highly integrative approach to the relationship between practical and
scientific agendas about language in indigenous communities. We are pleased to
be joined in this poster session by two sets of our students presenting their
work: Christine Beier and Lev Michael, The Iquito language documentation
project, and Emiliana Cruz and Hilaria Cruz, Chatino language
activism through documentation and training in Cieneguilla & San Juan
We hope to encourage those in other universities contemplating such a
program for themselves in a way that suits their own interests, needs, and world
The poster gives a short history of CILLA; a description of its
organization and program operation; a discussion of research on indigenous
languages of Latin America by students and faculty; and an assessment of the
impacts of the program so far.
An earlier, written work on this theme appeared as Woodbury and England
CILLA: The Center for Indigenous Languages of Latin America
Spurred by a major UT initiative on Latin America, a
multidisciplinary faculty group formed in 1998 to plan a Center for Indigenous
Languages of Latin America (CILLA).
The case we made to our provost and deans:
- Indigenous languages are an entryway to the study of
indigenous communities and movements in Latin
- Latin America’s endangered
linguistic diversity is of scientific and humanistic
- Existing faculty and assets are strong
in requisite areas
England was hired in Spring, 2001, as founding director of CILLA.
CILLA began operation in Fall, 2001.
England proposed that in the long run, the best way to do
good research on indigenous languages of Latin America was to offer state of the
art graduate training in language documentation and description to new
generations of speakers.
The mission to train indigenous students also profoundly
- Training of non-indigenous Latin
- Training of students in linguistic
- Language advocates in speech
description—making records and compiling grammars and
dictionaries—serve as foundations for different indigenous-language
- Community language advocates with social, political,
economic, aesthetic, and spiritual motivations for language investigation and
- Linguists (whether or not also
community members) with scientific interests in linguistic diversity,
universality, and prehistory
- The university and
wider public with humanistic interests in linguistic
Amazonianists gather at the CILLA 2
Conference, Austin, October, 2005
CILLA is an Organized Research Unit within UT’s Teresa
Lozano-Long Institute of Latin American Studies.
Director’s (England’s) faculty line and office
are in Linguistics.
Indigenous students apply and enter as regular M.A. and
Ph.D. students in Linguistics or Anthropology, and study English if
CILLA's initial operating budget includes funding
- A year of English training for two students per
- Conferences involving indigenous and
non-indigenous Latin American
- Visiting scholars from Latin
- But no research budget (research finds
The entire Linguistics and Anthropology faculties teach
CILLA students, but the following have special interests in Latin American
- Megan Crowhurst. Linguistics. Phonology; Zapotecan; Tupian
languages of Bolivia.
- Nora England.
Linguistics/Anthropology. Mayan languages; documentary/descriptive linguistics;
language and identity.
- Pattie Epps. Linguistics.
Documentary/descriptive linguistics, Hup, languages of Brazil, sociolinguistics,
- Joel Sherzer. Anthropology/Linguistics.
Documentation, archiving, speech play, Kuna, Latin American areal
- Tony Woodbury.
Linguistics/Anthropology. Chatino, Yupik, documentary/descriptive linguistics,
Conferences in Spanish, featuring indigenous and
non-indigenous colleagues from Latin America.
- Biennial Conference on Indigenous Languages of Latin America
(CILLA-1 in 2003 and CILLA-2 in 2005)
special topic conferences (Topics have included ‘Linguistics at the
Service of Indigenous Languages’ and ‘Fostering Indigenous
Literatures of Latin
faculty (Dr. Roberto Zavala Maldonado, CIESAS-Sureste, 2003; others
Regular gatherings (4 or 5 times per semester since 2002;
mostly in Spanish).
Foreground: Nora England, Rodolfo
Cerrón Palomino, Luis Enrique López, Tulio Rojas Curieux at CILLA
symposium "Linguistics at the Service of Indigenous Languages", April 4,
A year of English for those needing it.
Students seek M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Linguistics or
Students follow the normal departmental program:
- Linguistics: Syntax I and II; Phonology I and II;
Historical; Sociolinguistics; Semantics; and qualifying paper for advancement to
- Anthropology: Core courses in
Social Anthropology and Linguistic Anthropology; Ph.D. candidacy
Students from both
departments take electives in documentary/descriptive linguistics, e.g. Field
Methods, Tools for Linguistic Description, The Structure of X.
Linguists take advanced electives in general linguistics
(phonetics/phonology, syntax/semantics, sociolinguistics); Anthropologists are
encouraged to take the linguistics core courses.
At least one faculty member serves as a mentor who is
familiar (or makes him/herself familiar!) with the linguistics of each
student’s native language in order to guide the student’s
How CILLA fits in Linguistics
- Indigenous students get the normal training in linguistics
or anthropology while also pursuing the documentation, description, and
preservation of their community language.
encourage all students to work closely with different faculty and define
themselves multiply (e.g., as documentary-descriptivist and specialist in
language X and syntactician or linguistic
- We encourage all
first-year students to “bond” as they take the core courses together
(they seem to do it anyway!).
- We maintain a
sense of community among all our Latin Americanists through CILLA
activities, conducted in
the CILLA conference on Mesoamerican Languages, May, 2005. Front: Hilaria Cruz,
Nora England, Colette Grinevald, Megan Crowhurst; Back: B’alam
Mateo-Toledo, Juan Jésus Vázquez, Tony Woodbury, Roberto
We actively solicit applications to our Linguistics or
Anthropology programs from indigenous language speakers with:
- B.A. or equivalent
for formal analysis
- Strong commitment to
community language maintenance
from someone familiar with a program like ours (if
Applicants have come
in response to our solicitation (in Spanish), or through encouragement by us,
colleagues, or current students.
Backgrounds have varied: some had considerable prior
exposure to linguistics, others didn’t. Some were already highly
proficient in English; others weren’t.
Table: Current and
recent graduate students from Latin American indigenous
Emiliana Cruz Cruz
Tomas Cruz Cruz
Hilaria Cruz de Abeles
Ausencia Lopez Cruz
Vidal Carbajal Solís
- We have relatively large graduate programs and relatively
little graduate support (But tuition is low and many students find TA-ships in
- UT was generous in providing
initial support for indigenous students, with the expectation that outside
funding would come along...but our early efforts were not too
- In 2004, The Ford Foundation’s
International Fellowship Program proposed
to fund indigenous students from five Latin American countries at UT, based on
CILLA’s experience and on their mission to work with “candidates
from social groups...that lack systematic access to higher education.”
They now fund three of our students.
indigenous students (a US citizen and a US resident) received NSF graduate
- One indigenous student is funded by
- Several have received departmental
funding in Linguistics and in Anthropology, or worked as GRAs for the Archive of
Indigenous Languages of the
Training indigenous students profoundly influences the type
and quality of documentary linguistic research by graduate students and faculty
(whether or not they are working in their own communities).
Emergent characteristics of the research:
- Collaborative (among student and faculty researchers and
- A mix of documentary,
pedagogical, descriptive, and sociolinguistic
- Documentation and community work are
springboards (not adjuncts) to scientific research, which develops alongside
- The Iquito Language Documentation Project. A massive,
team-based collaborative language revival effort centered around documentation
and description, funded by the Hans Rausing Endangered Language Documentation
Program, University of London.
- The Chatino
Language Documentation Project. Community activism via literacy teaching and
resource production for language
- Mayan Languages Documentation
Project. England and Mateo-Toledo at UT, in collaboration with an indigenous
academy, Oxlajuuj Keej Maya’ Ajtz’iib’ (OKMA) in Antigua,
Guatemala; funded by NSF (Mateo-Toledo) and
- Individual student field documentation
projects. Generally at the doctoral level, funded by NSF, Fulbright, or ELDP.
See list of student
Structure of Chatino class, community
preceptor training workshop, Austin, April, 2005; Alexandra Teodorescu, Yolanda
Cruz, Gelacia Cruz, Alexis Palmer
- Cynthia Anderson. Linguistics, entering class of 2003.
Interests: Nahuatl documentation and sociolinguistics; Iquito
- Christine Beier. Anthropology, entering
class of 1999. Interests: Nanti discourse and culture, Iquito
- William Blunk. Linguistics,
entering class of 2004. Interests: Yucatec Maya, verbal art and language in
- Lynda de Jong Boudreault. Linguistics,
entering class of 2001. Interests: Iquito, Soteapan, descriptive and documentary
linguistics, language teaching materials.
Brody. Linguistics, Ph.D., 2004. Interests: Yucatec Maya writing and
- Laura Cervantes. Anthropology, Ph.D.,
2003. Interests: Bribri language, poetics, ritual, and
- Emiliana Cruz. Anthropology, entering
class of 2002. Interests: Chatino (her native language) documentation and
description; community language
- Hilaria Cruz. Linguistics, entering
class of 2004. Interests: Chatino (her native language), documentation and
description; community language activism.
Cruz. Latin American Studies, entering class of 2003. Interests: Chatino (his
heritage language), identity and
- Simeon Floyd. Anthropology,
entering class of 2002. Interests: Quichua, Amazonian languages,
- Gabriela Garcia. Linguistics,
entering class of 2005. Interests: Tepehuan (Uto-Aztecan), grammatical
- Maria Garcia. Anthropology, entering
class of 2003. Interests: Ixil literacy and oral
- Taryne Hallett. Linguistics, entering
class of 2003. Interests: Iquito, linguistics of Costa Rica,
- Molly Harnisch. Linguistics,
entering class of 2004. Interests: Iquito, pedagogy,
- Kerry Hull. Anthropology, Ph.D.,
2003. Interests: Ch’orti’
- Ajb’ee Jiménez.
Anthropology, entering class of 1999 Interests: Mam (his native language),
community, identity, and language
- Felix Julca. Linguistics, entering
class of 2005. Interests: Quechua (his native language), language and
- Susan Kung. Linguistics,
entering class of 1996. Interests: Tepehua, descriptive
- I-Wen Lai. Linguistics, entering class of 2002. Interests:
Iquito, grammatical description.
López Cruz. Intensive English, 2003. Interests: Zapotec (her native
- B’alam Mateo-Toledo.
Linguistics, entering class of 2001. Interests: Q’anjob’al (his
native language), other Mayan languages, particularly Awakateko and
Mocho’, syntax, syntax/semantics/pragmatics interface, language
description and documentation.
- Lev Michael.
Anthropology, entering class of 1999. Interests: Nanti, Iquito, descriptive and
documentary linguistics, discourse, phonology,
- Vivian Newdick. Anthropology, entering
class of 2001. Interests: Political discourse in Chiapas indigenous
- Aaron Ponce. Linguistics, entering
class of 2004. Interests: Descriptive and documentary
- Kayla Price. Anthropology, entering
class of 2003. Interests: Kuna language planning, orthography,
- Brianna Rauschuber. Linguistics,
entering class of 2004. Interests: Descriptive and documentary linguistics,
- Wikaliler Daniel Smith.
Linguistics, entering class of 2004. Interests: Kuna (his heritage language),
documentation and description.
- Vidal Carbajal
Solís. Intensive English, 2004. Interests: Quechua (his native language),
- Heather Teague. Anthropology,
entering class of 2004. Interests: Q’eqchi’, indigenous
- Juan Jesús Vázquez.
Linguistics, entering class of 2004. Interests: Ch’ol (his native
- Stephanie Villard.
Linguistics, entering class of 2005. Interests: Chatino, languages of Oaxaca,
B’alam Mateo-Toledo (left) works
with team at OKMA, Antigua, Guatemala
Impacts of Training
Academic and Institutional
Training indigenous students in language documentation and
- Introduces crucial but usually-absent native speaker
perspectives to Latin American languages at all levels, especially syntax,
semantics, lexicon, discourse, and ethnography of
- Asserts and helps meet a responsibility
to communities whose languages we study (It’s not enough just to make your
overworked grad students “give back” to the community in their spare
- Invites us to take indigenous
students’ (and their communities’) linguistic agendas into account
in our graduate teaching and research, for
- It helps focus linguistics on linguistic diversity alongside linguistic universality.
- It opens data- and document production, use, management, and
archiving as methodological problems.
- It brings the theoretical/descriptive enterprise into direct
dialog with community language advocacy (none of these are
- It promotes productive interaction and exchange between students
who are speakers of indigenous languages and those who are not, but who wish to
work on them (it is very much a two-way
We hope our experiences
will encourage those in other universities contemplating such a program for
themselves in a way that suits their own interests, needs, and world
Our students have shown a strong commitment to return to
their communities; we expect they will take leadership positions in both
technical linguistic and language policy matters.
We encourage a strongly collaborative approach in all
projects, whether or not the linguists involved are community members.
We involve indigenous linguistic enterprises in projects and
actively build links to them and to local scholars.
Some examples so far:
- B’alam Mateo-Toledo is coordinating a team of OKMA
researchers in project on documentation of Mayan languages in Guatemala, and
involving them in his own research, and has also worked with people in his own
- Chatino project members Emiliana and
Hilaria Cruz have found and addressed high levels of local interest in literacy
and language study both in their own community and other Chatino communities,
teaching classes and training preceptors both in Oaxaca and in
- The Iquito project signed a multi-year
contract with the Iquito community which has led to the training of local field
workers and teachers, to extensive teaching materials, and to regular adult and
youth classes in
Many thanks to all our UT students and colleagues—including those
mentioned—who have commented on and contributed to the content of what we
describe. We also wish to express our enormous gratitude to members of the UT
administration who have continued to support and encourage us in this
enterprise, especially Sheldon Ekland-Olson, UT’s Provost; and Richard W.
Lariviere, the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts.
Woodbury, Anthony C. and Nora England. 2004. Training speakers of
indigenous languages of Latin America at a US University. Proceedings of the
2004 Hans Rausing Endangered Language Program Workshop "Training and Capacity
Building for Endangered Languages Communities." Hans Rausing Endangered Language
Programme, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of