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SIL scholar presents multilingualism paper at Chicago Linguistic Society’s 46th annual meeting

(April 2010) International linguistics consultant for SIL, John M. Clifton, Ph.D., presented a paper at the 46th annual meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society (CLS), held 8–10 April at the University of Chicago. Scholars with diverse backgrounds and theoretical perspectives were invited to present and discuss their work. The conference focus for this year is “Reevaluating the Semantics-Pragmatics Interface, Multilingualism and Probabilistic Theories of Grammar.”

Language map from the Ethnologue Language map from the Ethnologue

At the session focusing on multilingualism, John M. Clifton, an international linguistics consultant with SIL and adjunct professor at the University of North Dakota, presented a paper, “Stable multilingualism in Tajikistan.” Many ethnolinguistic minority languages are becoming extinct as speakers shift to languages of wider communication. In some communities, however, people continue using their local language alongside a regional or national language.

Clifton’s paper documents stable multilingualism in three language communities of Tajikistan: Yaghnobi, Parya and Ishkashimi. Speakers of all three languages interact regularly with neighboring Tajik or Uzbek speakers. None of the three local languages has the official governmental status of Tajik or Uzbek; nor are they used in the schools. Members of all three communities speak Tajik or Uzbek well, but have not dropped their local languages. Instead, they use the local language in the home and community, and Tajik or Uzbek in official settings.

In response to the question, “Why do some ethnolinguistic minority communities continue speaking their local languages?” Clifton suggests that they have strong local social networks, and that language is important to their identity as a people. His paper presents tools developed to measure each of these factors, and shows that both factors are strong in the communities under consideration. He concludes with suggestions concerning how to support ongoing use of both the local language and the national language.

Chicago Linguistic Society conference

The University of Chicago campus The University of Chicago campus

CLS is the oldest student-run linguistics society in the United States that organizes an annual conference each spring. All CLS officers are volunteers from the department and are usually second- or third-year graduate students. The conference has produced a volume of proceedings for each year of its existence. The volumes are found in libraries around the world and the proceedings are now becoming available online.

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