Skip to main content
Skip to main menu Skip to spotlight region Skip to secondary region Skip to UGA region Skip to Tertiary region Skip to Quaternary region Skip to unit footer


Professor studies endangered languages and their variations

Alan Flurry

Awareness about languages, the differences in how individuals speak, and how these create local identities may come as no great surprise to American Southerners.

When speakers of certain linguistic varieties decline, though, their languages become endangered. Keith Langston’s scholarship addresses questions of linguistic structure and the relationship of language and identity, with a focus on the country of Croatia.

“We always have this idea that languages are discrete entities that just exist naturally, like English, French, Spanish and Italian, and that they’re all clearly separate from one another,” said Langston, jointly appointed professor in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences departments of Germanic & Slavic studies and linguistics.

“But in reality, on the ground, you very often have situations where you have a continuum of dialects, where they get gradually more and more different with increasing geographical distance, and where you draw the line between one language and another language is ultimately something that’s decided more on the basis of political, social and cultural factors, rather than purely linguistic criteria,” he said.

On the ground for Langston’s current research means the linguistically diverse border region of the Istrian peninsula and the Kvarner Gulf of coastal Croatia, home to speakers of three Romance languages (Istriot, Istro-Romanian, Istro-Venetian) and four different subgroups of Slavic Čakavian varieties. These Romance and Slavic varieties have developed in contact with one another for hundreds of years and are all now threatened by standard Croatian and Italian, which are official languages in this region.

Langston is lead investigator on a $450,00 National Science Foundation grant to document and study the endangered languages of the northern Adriatic Sea. Along with co-principal investigators from the department of linguistics, John Hale and Margaret Renwick, the team is working 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.

“I started working on Croatian in graduate school and did my dissertation on the Čakavian dialect group,” Langston said. “I was interested in the accentuation of these dialects, where the place of stress, the rising or falling pitch on the accented vowel and the quantity of vowels are all distinctive and can make a difference in the meaning of words.”

Continue reading...

Image: Keith Langston teaches his linguistics class in Caldwell Hall. (Photo by Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA)

Support Franklin College

We appreciate your financial support. Your gift is important to us and helps support critical opportunities for students and faculty alike, including lectures, travel support, and any number of educational events that augment the classroom experience. Click here to learn more about giving.