of UCR Today
A UCR linguistics professor, Wesley Leonard, specializing in
Native American languages, has been awarded a government grant to
host a unique workshop on the intersection of linguistics and activism.
Professor Leonard of the UCR Department of Ethnic Studies received
a $150,000 grant to organize and facilitate Expanding Linguistic
Science by Broadening Native American Participation, an application-only
conference to be held in Salt Lake City, Utah in January 2018.
The conference seeks to promote activism for the preservation
of linguistic diversity among Native American populations. Featuring
eight speakers, all of American Indian or Alaska Native descent,
the workshop will seek to cover how diverse attitudes from different
American Indian communities can intersect to aid the preservation
or revitalization of said languages. A particular focus will be
placed on cultural factors such as religion, spirituality and society,
and how these are integral to understanding Native American languages.
The conference is organized as a prelude to the Linguistic Society
of Americas (LSA) 92nd
annual meeting, which will occur in Salt Lake City shortly after
Professor Leonard, in an earlier press
release, emphasized that traditional attitudes toward studying
languages often fail to capture the complexities and intricate characters
of Native American languages. Instead of viewing them as games
to be solved, Leonard argued, progress in the study of these
languages requires a more holistic and personal approach. True to
the conferences title, such an approach will be promoted in
the form of increased awareness within American Indian communities
to their own rich linguistic heritage.
Leonard also stressed that the extinction and decline of languages
was often more a result of outside factors than of the resiliency
of the language itself. Persecution, lack of support from the US
government, economic hardship and the resulting social misfortune
pose serious threats to the survival and use of Native American
languages. Primary among these causes is the cultural and linguistic
pressure American Indian communities have historically faced from
mainstream American culture. The symposium is intended to lay the
foundation for a more holistic and effective future approach to
preserving these languages.
Professor Leonards interest in organizing this conference
stems from researching and, sometimes successfully, attempting to
revive dormant or sleeping Native American languages.
Leonard was inspired by 1990s efforts to revive Myaamia, an extinct
language originally spoken by the tribe Leonard is a member of.
After witnessing the strong collaboration between the Miami Tribe
of Oklahoma and Miami (Ohio) University, resulting in approximately
500 Myaamia speakers, Leonard seeks to foster a stronger connection
between mainstream linguistic academia and tribal communities which
often lack the resources to undertake such efforts on their own.
Professor Leonards work has been published in many prominent
and publications. His efforts to revitalize Native American
languages continue within UCRs Department of Ethnic Studies
where he has served as a professor since November of 2016.