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Multilingual Education
A special session at the American Anthropological Association (AAA) Conference

SIL Anthropology Consultant and AAA Fellow, Marilyn Gregerson organized a special session of mother-tongue and multilingual education experts for the 105th Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association (San Jose, California, 15-19 November 2006). The AAA has become the world's largest professional anthropology organization since its founding in 1902. The special session, reviewed by the Council on Anthropology and Education, was entitled "Mother-Tongue Education for Speakers of Ethnic-minority Languages."

Classroom in a Ratanakiri village

Dr. Gregerson’s paper, based on her own fieldwork in Southeast Asia, described features of a non-formal literacy program in Ratanakiri, Cambodia, sponsored by an NGO, International Cooperation Cambodia. In that community-based program, speakers of indigenous, ethnic minority languages first learn to read their own language and then go on to learn to read Khmer, the national language of Cambodia.

Session Chairman and SIL literacy consultant, Dr. Mary Morgan, presented a paper describing a grassroots literacy program among the Tharu people of Nepal. The program has helped the Tharu through education to improve their chances of survival, as well as serving as a mechanism to preserve their own language and rich cultural traditions.

SIL International Anthropology and Literacy Consultant, Dr. Isabel Murphy, presented a paper on mother-tongue literacy for Amerindian societies in Brazil.

Dr. Christine Sims

Dr. Christine Sims, Assistant Professor of Education at the University of New Mexico participated as discussant for the session. Professor Sims, who lives in the Acoma Pueblo, contributed her own unique perspective as a Native American with expertise in Bilingual Education. One of her personal concerns is that the younger generation of Acoma people would continue to be able to speak their mother-tongue (Keres language), in the face of the wide-spread use of English among young people in the pueblo.

Four scholars from other institutions presented papers in the session. The papers presented during the session, to be published in a single volume, were:

Clemons, Andrea (University of Southern California) and Gerente, Eva (University of Texas at Arlington). “Language, Non-formal Education, and Political Identity: A Comparative Study.”

Gregerson, Marilyn J. (SIL International and Council on Anthropology and Education). “Learning to Read in Ratanakiri: A Case Study from Northeast Cambodia.”

Hays, Jennifer (State University of New York-Albany). “Steps Forward and New Challenges: Mother Tongue Education in Southern Africa.”

MacKenzie, Pamela (International Network for Development, UK/India). “Multilingual Education among the Tribal Communities in India.”

Morgan, Mary (SIL International). “A Language Worth Writing.”

Murphy, Isabel I. (SIL International). “Maintaining Two Worlds: Mother Tongue Literacy For Brazil’s Amerindian Societies.”

Paciotto, Carla (Western Illinois University). “Heritage Language Programs: The Case of the Slovene High Schools in Italy.”

Additional SIL Participation at the AAA

Five other SIL anthropologists attended the AAA annual meeting.