Event Date: 5th February 2022


This talk begins with a brief outline of global threats to linguistic diversity and then moves on to an exploration of ways in which linguists can contribute to revitalization projects. The main emphasis is placed on the documentation of endangered languages and dialects through fieldwork, using examples primarily from the presenter’s own fieldwork in the former Yugoslavia and in the U.S. state of Montana. Some attention is also given to other contributions that linguists can make when their help is requested by endangered speech communities, by working with language teachers to elucidate grammatical concepts and to develop teaching materials.

About the Speaker:

After receiving her Ph.D. from Yale University in 1968, Professor Sarah Thomason taught Slavic linguistics at Yale (1968-1971) and then general linguistics at the University of Pittsburgh (1972-1998). Since 1999 she has been at the University of Michigan, where she is now the Bernard Bloch Distinguished University Professor of Linguistics; Sarah was Chair of the Linguistics Department 2010-2013. She has worked with elders at the Salish & Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee in St. Ignatius, Montana, since 1981, compiling a dictionary and other materials for the tribes’ Salish-Pend d’Oreille language program.

Her current research focuses on contact- induced language change, endangered languages, and Salishan linguistics, but she also has a continuing interest in debunking linguistic pseudoscience. A few of her publications are Language contact, creolization, and genetic linguistics (with Terrence Kaufman, University of California Press, 1988, 1991), Language contact: an introduction (Edinburgh University Press & Georgetown University Press, 2001), Endangered languages: an introduction (Cam- bridge University Press, 2015), ‘Chinook Jargon in areal and historical context’ (Language, 1983), ‘Genetic relationship and the case of Ma’a (Mbugu)’ (Studies in African Linguis- tics, 1983), ‘Before the Lingua Franca: Pidgin Arabic in the eleventh century A.D.’ (with Alaa Elgibali, Lingua, 1986), ‘Truncation in Montana Salish’ (with Lucy Thomason, 2004), ‘Language contact and deliberate change’ (Journal of Language Contact, 2007), ‘The Pacific Northwest linguistic area: historical perspectives’ (2015), ‘Do you remember your previous life’s language in your present incarnation?’ (American Speech, 1984), and ‘At a loss for words’ (Natural History magazine, December 2007/January 2008).

Sarah Thomason was editor of Language 1988-1994. In 2000 Sarah was President of the Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas, and in 2009 she was President of the Linguistic Society of America. Prof. Sarah Thomason was Chair of the Linguistics & Language Sciences section of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1996 and Secretary of the section 2001-2005. She has served on various Linguistic Society of America committees (as an elected member of the Executive Committee 2001-2003) and taught at five summer LSA Linguistic Institutes (as the Hermann and Klara H. Collitz Professor in 1999); the 2013 Linguistic Institute, at the University of Michigan, was dedicated to her.

She’s a Fellow of the Linguistic Society of America and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In October 2012 Yale University’s Graduate School Alumni Association awarded her the Wilbur Lucius Cross Medal, which is presented annually to “a small number of outstanding alumni” in recognition of “distinguished achievements”.