After more than three decades in session, the Department of Linguistics’ Native American and Native Languages Seminar has become a forum for linguists to study Native languages, as well as to present and receive feedback on their research on the topic.
Linguistics 265A: American Indian / Indigenous Languages Seminar is a weekly seminar that was first created by Pamela Munro, Emeritus Research Professor in Linguistics, in the 1980s, to allow graduate students to discuss Muskogean languages, which are a group of native languages originally spoken in the now southeastern United States.
Over time, the original group of graduate students graduated and the seminar expanded to include the study of indigenous languages of the Americas and the world.
The seminar meets every Tuesday and brought together various participants and speakers, including graduate students and linguistics professors from different universities – some of whom are former Munro students – as well as retired linguists.
Each week, a researcher presents original research to the group. UCLA students can register for the seminar for one unit if they do not plan to present or for four units if they are doing a presentation. The last meeting of the seminar included a presentation by Munro on comparative in Yuman languages.
In the past, Munro said, the seminar was entirely in-person at Campbell Hall. However, since the COVID-19 pandemic closed universities in 2020, the seminar has been held online. It now offers a hybrid format in which attendees can choose to attend only online or join the Zoom from Campbell Hall with Munro, provided they are masked.
Munro said she hopes to continue offering the seminar virtually in the future and called on the university to keep the seminar online in order to continue fostering equal collaboration with researchers beyond UCLA.
“People from many countries in Europe and many states and other places in California and Mexico have come to the seminar during the pandemic,” she said. “We could all meet in person as before, and maybe we could have a Zoom window, but that wouldn’t have really had the same effect on the discussion.”
Munro has been a professor at UCLA since 1974 and is the author of several books, including “Mojave Syntax”, “Slang U” and the manual “Linguistics: An Introduction to Linguistic Theory”. She also conducts ongoing research in collaboration with native speakers of Chickasaw, Garifuna, Zapotec, Quichua and Wolof and teaches two community language courses on Tongva and Garifuna languages, which are mainly reserved for those of heritage groups.
Cormac League, a fourth-year student in Latin American Studies and Linguistics at the University of Southern California, has attended the seminar for the past two weeks. League said it focused primarily on Uto-Aztec languages and contacted Munro, an expert on the language group.
“I asked him if I could go to (seminar),” he said. “I’ve only been there twice, but I’m so grateful that (this) resource is available, especially for people outside of school. Because it’s like, to study native languages, it’s just not if you want to do it, you have to research it.
League said he plans to continue attending seminars, even after graduating, as he plans to pursue higher education. He was inspired to research seminar topics in the languages he studies and plans to discuss them with his own teachers, League added.
Cynthia Teyolia, a graduate student in Native American Studies, said she decided to enroll in the seminar to present her own research on Dise, a member of the Zapotec language family indigenous to southwestern Mexico. Dise is an ancestral language for her, Teyolia added – her great-great-grandmother was from Ayoquezco, Oaxaca, where the language is spoken, and her mother still carries on the cultural practices of that heritage.
Although not a linguistics student, Teyolia said her presentation at the seminar provided her with useful feedback on her research and helped her connect with Munro for guidance in her continued study of Dise.
“The work I do with Dise is a lifelong mission, it’s something I would love to accomplish, to be able to talk,” Teyolia added.
Teyolia said she plans to collect oral histories about discrimination against indigenous peoples and the theft of land by settlers from indigenous communities in Oaxaca as part of her graduate research, which Munro could help her with. to navigate.
“I feel like (Munro) is the kind of teacher who thinks outside the box, who helps me think outside the box,” Teyolia said.
The next seminar on November 23 will feature a presentation by Aaron Sonnenschein, professor of linguistics at California State University, Los Angeles. Sonnenschein said he initially attended the seminar as a graduate student in linguistics at USC in the 1997-1998 academic year.
Munro was a valuable mentor and member of his thesis committee during his graduate studies, Sonnenschein added, and embodied a community-centered approach to linguistics aligned with his own goals.
Sonnenschein has presented research at the seminar several times over the years, he said, and initially presented on the Zoogocho Zapotec language as a graduate student. He said it was important for students to be able to receive feedback and have the opportunity to discuss methodology and research in a collaborative forum.
“As a graduate student, it was extremely important to be able to be tested in a friendly but informal way where people can ask really tough questions that you didn’t have answers to,” Sonnenschein said.
The presentation of the upcoming seminar will focus on a community book project by Chontal, he added.
Teyolia was happy to have the opportunity to teach Dise at the seminar and allow others to focus on and honor the language.
“We don’t need to talk about languages as this shrinking thing, or something that has the ability to die out – our languages live and breathe,” she said.