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Language Matters

CUSE Speaks

Guiding Questions

  • How does the presence of large diverse language groups affect the infrastructure in the community?
  • How does the settling of large groups of speakers of one language contribute to the development of a new variety of that language?
  • How does the bilingual mind respond to deterioration due to trauma, mental/neurological illness and/or aging?

Background:

Languages identify and transform our community. The arrival of 10,000 refugees and 13,050 Latinos (7% and 9% of 145,000 total inhabitants, respectively) has greatly affected Syracuse in the last decades. The faculty in the Department of Languages, Literatures and Linguistics (LLL) conducts research in bilingual language acquisition, language documentation, and language in contact phenomena in Syracuse and beyond and has published on accent discrimination, language acquisition, and language documentation. In addition, LLL’s language service-learning courses have received 3 Chancellor’s CAPE awards and resultant research was presented at the MLA.

Method:

Three pilot projects will expand current departmental research on multilingualism and increase venues for extramural funding:

  1. A language documentation project on the confluences of Spanish varieties in Syracuse as their members negotiate integration into the local Spanish-speaking community and create a new local variety of Spanish.
  2. A cultural and linguistic resource initiative studying cultural aspects of migration to partially address the demand of linguistic and cultural resources and to assist health professionals with incoming Syrian and Iraqi refugees who suffer trauma and need treatment developed within the familiar boundaries of their culture and language.
  3. A collaboration with health communities to explore language regression (loss of the second language) in the Syracuse area via a series of linguistic interviews to cognitively-impaired patients in their native languages.

This study will emphasize the important role of language as a diagnostic tool, given that bilinguals, although delay their neurological decline (Bialystok et al., 2012), are affected by cognitive illnesses and display language regression as one of their first symptoms (McMurtray et al., 2009).

Future goals:

A preliminary linguistic map of the diverse communities and tentative answers to the research questions above will be decisive to obtain extramural funding. Collaboration in these preliminary studies will establish interdisciplinary teams consisting of health professionals, cognitive scientists, and LLL faculty. The enlarged presence of LLL in the different communities surrounding SU will strengthen our pedagogical offerings and benefit the inclusive character of our campus. Long-term outcome: The findings of these studies will provide necessary data to publish peer-reviewed journal articles and pursue large linguistic and cultural documentation grants.

References:

Bialystok, Ellen, Fergus I.M. Craik, and Gigi Luk. "Bilingualism: Consequences for Mind and Brain". Trends Cognitive Science, vol. 16, no. 4, 2012, pp. 240–250, doi:10.1016/j.tics.2012.03.001.

McMurtray, Aaron, Erin Saito, and Beau Nakamoto. "Language Preference and Development of Dementia Among Bilingual Individuals". Hawaii Medical Journal, vol. 68, no. 9, 2009, pp. 223–226.

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