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Safeguarding Our Threatened Linguistic Heritage

  Stephanie HasselbacherAbout 7,000 languages are spoken worldwide today, but many of these are expected to slip into disuse during this century as small groups find themselves overwhelmed by their more numerous and culturally dominant neighbors.  Anthropology PhD candidate Stephanie Hasselbacher is now working in the forefront of efforts to document and preserve one of these endangered languages.

Stephanie has just received a nearly $44,000.00 grant from the Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project, funded by Arcadia and housed at the School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London, UK).  Hasselbacher will use the grant, as well as training and other support from the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme and the Endangered Languages Archive, to help document the Koasati language spoken by the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana.  Dr. Jack Martin, of the English department here at the College, and who has worked with the Coushatta for many years, was instrumental in introducing Stephanie to the tribe and its threatened linguistic heritage. 

Ms.  Hasselbacher’s research will address efforts by the Coushatta themselves to revitalize and preserve their language, particularly with respect to their innovative writing system.  Going beyond a passive ‘recordation’ approach, Stephanie will investigate if and how participation in Koasati language and literacy practices contributes to self-identification as a member of the Coushatta community, and how language revitalization efforts articulate with expressions of Coushatta community “groupness”.  Stephanie's project is two-fold.  It will include an anthropological dissertation, advised by Dr. Kathleen Bragdon, addressing the social aspects of novel literacies and the Koasati language revitalization, as well as many hours of carefully annotated, multimedia Koasati language materials to be archived with the tribe and the Endangered Languages Archive.

       This research is carried out in a collaborative context, with tribal members and language speakers participating in establishing research goals and cooperative research methods.   In the best anthropological tradition, Stephanie Hasselbacher’s work will advance several causes, including language documentation, revitalization, and a more general understanding of the social roles played by quick language change. The Anthropology department is proud of Stephanie’s achievement in winning this grant award and wishes her the best as she carries out this research.

For more information on the Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project, please visit http://www.hrelp.org.