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About Natives4Linguistics

About the Project:

The primary objective of the Expanding Linguistic Science by Broadening Native American Participation project (also known as Natives4Linguistics or N4L) is to improve the field of Linguistics by broadening the participation of Native American within Linguistics by 1) directly bringing Native Americans to the Linguistic Society of America annual meetings, and 2) by developing and promoting strategies to better integrate Native American needs and values about language into linguistic science.

Project Rationale (statement of need): 

1) Underrepresented groups within Linguistics

  • Out of 2420 total Linguistics Ph.D. recipients at United States institutions between 2004 and 2014, only eight were American Indian/Alaska Native (National Science Foundation, 2017).

  • Given the increasingly large focus on Native American languages within Linguistics, particularly Documentary Linguistics, the underrepresentation of Native Americans in Linguistics is of special concern.

2) Differing views between many Native Americans and linguists regarding:

  • how language is defined.

  • how language should be studied.

  • what counts as worthy scholarship.

  • best practices for working with sovereign Indigenous nations.

  • the Western research framework that is applied to the study of Native American languages by many linguists.

3) Regardless of the differing views, many Native Americans recognize how the discipline’s tools can be tremendously helpful and illuminating.

  • As such, the logical response is to not abandon Linguistics, but rather to improve it.

Intellectual Merit:

This Project focuses on identifying and evaluating what kinds of research questions, methods, ethical issues, and findings emerge when Native American definitions of language (e.g., “language is us”) are used to frame linguistic issues, rather than the more common current practice in linguistic science wherein language tends to be framed structurally (e.g. with phonology, morphology, and syntax as default categories) and in abstract ways. Its primary aim is to promote more diverse (and better) research questions, methods of analysis, and research outcomes in linguistic science.

As stated in its Strategic Plan, the Linguistic Society of America “values worldwide linguistic diversity and supports the preservation and revitalization of endangered languages” (Long-Range Strategic Plan II: 2014-2018). Many initiatives already work toward this objective and have had significant impacts. These include social, political, and educational advocacy for language minority groups, and a vast increase in the scope and quality of documentation on many endangered languages. However, less addressed within Linguistics is the idea that “linguistic diversity” should include different notions of what language is – not just as something to report on, but as a base to guide scientific inquiry. A shortcoming of the field is that while the science may use data from a broad range of languages, it often does not employ the diverse ideas about language that come from language communities. A result is that potentially fruitful ways of approaching linguistic research and of analyzing or disseminating data will not come forth, thus inhibiting scientific advancement.

Broader Impacts:

One of the project’s goals is to expand the intellectual scope of Linguistics in a way that creates a better environment for Native Americans (and others) to participate in it, rather than to simply educate Native Americans about the field and its tools as they currently exist.

The objective is that many of the community scholars who participate in this Project will be empowered to pursue more training in Linguistics, with the recognition that their ideas can contribute to the field. In 2019, a new Natives4Linguistics Special Interest Group of the Linguistic Society of America was formed to facilitate this process.

Note: This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation/ National Endowment for the Humanities Documenting Endangered Languages Program under Grant No. BCS-1743743. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation or National Endowment for the Humanities.

Natives4Linguistics Project Staff

Wesley Y. Leonard-Principal Investigator

Wesley Y. Leonard is an associate professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Riverside, and previously served as chair of Native American Studies at Southern Oregon University. He completed his PhD in Linguistics in 2007 at the University of California, Berkeley, focusing on the sociolinguistic factors that guide Native American language endangerment and reclamation. A citizen of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, he has investigated and published on his nation’s formerly sleeping language, which was brought back into contemporary community use through analysis of historical documentation. This informs his current work on creating, interpreting, disseminating, and promoting Native American language documentation and related research in ways that facilitate language reclamation efforts. 

Megan Lukaniec-Co-Principal Investigator

Megan Lukaniec is a member of the Huron-Wendat Nation of Wendake, Québec and an assistant professor of Linguistics at the University of Victoria. She completed her PhD in Linguistics in 2018 at the University of California, Santa Barbara. After graduating from Dartmouth College in 2006 with a B.A. in Native American Studies, she began working on reclaiming and revitalizing her dormant language on the reserve of Wendake. With the help of the Wendat Language Project Team, she developed an online trilingual dictionary. Her dissertation project is a grammar of Wendat. She has served as a member of the CoLang Advisory Circle. She has also participated as a Linguistic Partner in two Breath of Life Institutes.

Adrienne Tsikewa-Workshop Coordinator/Point of Contact 

Adrienne Tsikewa (Zuni Pueblo) is currently a 3rd year PhD Linguistics student at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her research interests are language documentation, description, applied linguistics, language acquisition, socialization, socio-cultural linguistics, language revitalization and reclamation, and her research focuses on Shiwi’ma (Zuni language). She earned a BA in Spanish from Colorado College in 2004 and an MA in Native American Languages and Linguistics (NAMA) from the University of Arizona in 2013. During her time at Arizona, she served as a Graduate Assistant for the American Indian Language Development Institute (AILDI). She continues to serve as a member of the CoLang Advisory Circle and has served as a co-chair for the 20th and 21st Workshop on American Indigenous Languages (WAIL).