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Department of Linguistics faculty receive NSF grant to support research on endangered languages

Alan Flurry

Keith Langston, Professor of Linguistics, was recently awarded a three-year, $450,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study endangered languages on the Istrian peninsula of Croatia and the Kvarner Bay in the northern Adriatic Sea. The project, supported by the NSF Dynamic Language Infrastructure–NEH Documenting Endangered Languages program, seeks to document and analyze endangered language varieties in the Istria and Kvarner regions of Croatia and to create a searchable online collection of annotated speech recordings that can be used to study language variation and code-switching practices by multilingual speakers. 

The research team includes UGA Co-Principal Investigators John Hale and Margaret Renwick, both of the department of linguistics, working with other researchers from the US and Croatia. 

The collection will include recordings and annotated transcriptions of interviews with speakers of Romance (Istriot, Istro-Venetian, Istro-Romanian) and Slavic (Čakavian) varieties that have developed in contact with one another over hundreds of years and that are all now threatened by standard Croatian and Italian, which are official languages in this region.

“The documentation of understudied and endangered languages is important for the preservation of cultural knowledge and for the advancement of scientific theories about human language,” Langston said. 

The project will also contribute to the development of tools for the processing and annotation of multilingual data from low-resource varieties, which is a leading-edge area of research in Natural Language Processing. The online corpus will become part of the UGA Corpus Server project, an initiative by Department of Linguistics faculty members Chad Howe, Renwick, and Hale to make large amounts of natural language data available to members of the university community for teaching and research. The Istria-Kvarner corpus will also be available to other researchers outside UGA and to members of the local language communities in Croatia. 

Image: from left: John Hale, Margaret Renwick, and Keith Langston.

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