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Scholars Gather as University of Missouri Hosts African Linguistics Workshop


Columbia, MO, July 11, 2012 --(PR.com)-- On June 22nd and 23rd the University of Missouri hosted its first African Linguistics Workshop. The conference, organized by MU linguistics expert Dr. Vicki Carstens, a Professor in MU’s College of Arts & Science and Chair of MU’s interdepartmental linguistics program, was planned to coincide with the visit of Xhosa language scholar Dr. Loyiso Mletshe. Professor Mletshe is faculty in the Xhosa Language Department at the University of Western Cape in South Africa.

With support from MU’s Global Scholars Program and UM’s South Africa Education Program, Carstens and Mletshe have been collaborating to analyze aspects of the linguistic structure of the Xhosa language since 2011. In 2011 Dr. Carstens was accepted for the MU’s Global Scholars trip to Cape Town, South Africa. During this visit, she first met Dr. Mletshe. A linkage grant Dr. Carstens was awarded by UM’s South African Education Program funded her return trips to Cape Town twice to collaborate with Dr. Mletshe and his graduate students in the Xhosa Language Department.

The conference presentations focused on the unique syntax (phrase and sentence-level grammar) and phonology (sound systems) of several African languages including Zulu and Xhosa (South Africa), Manyika (Zimbabwe), several varieties of Luyia (western Kenya), Kikerewe (Tanzania), Pular (Guinea), and Chichewa (Malawi). According to Carstens the workshop “turned out to be a very stimulating and at the same time a fun event. My concept was to host something big enough to be lively but small enough … to foster and strengthen collegial ties and scholarly exchange.”

Xhosa is one of South Africa’s eleven official languages and is spoken by approximately 7.9 million people. The language, which is marked by a number of tongue-clicking sounds, falls in the Bantu language group.

Zulu is spoken by nearly 9 million people, who live mainly in Zululand, northern Natal, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, and Swaziland. During the early 19th century Christian missionaries first devised a way to write Zulu, focusing on producing written religious tracts. The first Zulu grammar book was published in 1859.

Manyika, which is a dialect of the Shona language, is primarily spoken by the Manyika people in the eastern part of Zimbabwe and in Mozambique. Manyika means “be known”.

Luyia, which refers to both the people and their language, is spoken in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. The 6.1 million Luyia speakers represent about 16% of Kenya’s population. Many Luyia fought for the British during the Second World War as conscripts in the King’s African Rifles (KAR). Frequently Luyia name their children after significant events. During and after World War II numerous Luyia children were named “Keyah”, a transliteration of KAR, the acronym for the King’s African Rifles.

There was also a special session for papers written in MU’s Spring 2012 linguistics course “Field Methods in Linguistics” taught by Professor Michael Marlo. Field Methods is the capstone course for undergraduate majors in linguistics. In it, students learn to document and analyze an unfamiliar language. This year the class worked on Tiriki, a variety of Luyia. Carstens noted that faculty were “impressed that [the students] produced work worthy of presentation at a professional meeting.”

MU’s African Linguistics Workshop drew numerous presenters and attendees including MIT Zulu language expert Claire Halpert; Pomona College Professors Michael Diercks and Mary Paster; Ohio State University Professor David Odden; California State University Fullerton Professor Patricia Schneider-Zioga; Indiana University Professor Robert Botne; scholars from the University of Missouri, University of Minnesota and University of Kansas; and students from the Missouri Scholars Academy. The Missouri Scholars Academy is a three-week academic program for 330 of Missouri’s gifted students ready to begin their junior year in high school. The academy is a summer residential program held on, and partially funded by, the University of Missouri. Conference participant Dr. Schneider-Zioga felt that the “event provided a wonderful forum for linguists working on African linguistics.”

As a result of the success of MU’s first African Linguistics Workshop, Dr. Carstens is planning a follow up workshop for next summer, which will be held at the University of Michigan where she will be teaching at the Linguistic Society of America's summer institute.

The teaching and learning of African languages in U.S. educational institutions began with the enactment of the National Defense Education Act (NDEA) of 1958. According to scholars, researching and studying Less Commonly Taught Languages (LCTLs) remain vital to America’s capacity to handle challenges of the 21st century. The United Nations estimates 30% of the world’s languages are spoken in Africa (over 2000 languages).

For further information on MU’s African Linguistics Workshop, contact Dr. Vicki Carstens at carstensv@missouri.edu.

Story contact(s): Elizabeth Bissell Miller, millereliz@missouri.edu,
573-882-9061
Office of the Vice Provost for International Programs, University of Missouri
Contact Information
University of Missouri
Elizabeth Bissell Miller, MA, MAT
573-882-9061
Contact
ip.missouri.edu

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