Meskwaki language project commenced
October 27, 2016
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Associate Professor of Linguistics and French Laurie Zaring commenced a collaborative research project this past summer, working to revitalize the Meskwaki people’s language amongst their settlement in Tama County, IA. Luther student Pablo Lopez Alonso (‘17) aided Zaring in her work.
The project is intended to increase the fluency of settlement members in the Meskwaki language. It also seeks to train native speakers to teach their language to others. According to Zaring, Yolanda Pushetonequa, a member of the Meskwaki community, has been communicating with the Meskwaki people to promote the value of conserving their original language within the settlement.
After hearing Pushetonequa speak at the Undergraduate Research Conference last year, Zaring responded to her request for support from linguists, beginning the language revitalization project.
Zaring is currently working on a book that will be a grammar guide for Meskwaki language learners.
“This is a chance to give back to a culture that has had so much taken away from it,” Zaring said.
According to Zaring, staying in touch with Pushetonequa and native speakers was key to the project:
“[I worked] with native speakers to figure out how the language works,” Zaring said. “I have never worked with an indigenous community before, so I was just really excited to find out more about what the state of the language was and why is it important to them.”
Alonso aided Zaring in the project by analyzing verbs, among other tasks. He explained that this was a unique opportunity to work with a language.
“It’s pretty cool because there are probably only three or four linguists who have worked with this language,” Alonso said. “The community is really interested in teaching and learning the language. It is exciting.”
Zaring had previously taught aspects of the importance of language revitalization in her Introduction to Linguistics class. However, she explained that she had only worked with European languages and not those of Native Americans.
“I was surprised that there were no linguists from Iowa doing this,” Zaring said. “That’s why we got in touch with [Pushetonequa]. We are not many but we can try to do what we can.”
According to Zaring, the fact that this was a new experience in her career as a linguist makes the project more exciting, especially as the linguistics department becomes more popular at Luther.
Zaring hopes to get Luther students interested as the project continues. This spring, Zaring will bring her research to the classroom with the new course she developed based on her research, titled “Linguistic Pursuits”, which will analyze why it is important for American Indian communities to maintain fluency in their languages.