Decolonizing language

Three guest speakers share their projects and personal experiences with language maintenance, decolonization and reclamation in SPA-LIN-LAS 233

By Catalina Méndez Vallejo

During the fall of 2021, three renowned scholars visited SPA-LIN-LAS 233 (Languages of the Americas), a course taught by Prof. Catalina Méndez Vallejo. On September 22, we welcomed Prof. Mario López Gopar from the Universidad Autónoma Benito Juárez de Oaxaca. Prof. López Gopar’s research focuses on intercultural and multilingual education of Indigenous peoples in Mexico. In his virtual visit, Prof. López Gopar discussed his ethnographic project with Oaxacan multilingual children. He highlighted the importance of recognizing indigenous languages and their relation to global languages, like Spanish and English, as part of the process of decolonizing language teaching. On November 22, we had Dr. Richard Grounds, (Ph.D., Princeton Theological Seminary). Dr. Grounds is of Yuchi and Seminole heritage. He is executive director of the Yuchi Language Project based in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, working with Yuchi Elders in creating new fluent speakers using immersion language methods. Dr. Grounds is Chair of the Global Indigenous Languages Caucus and head organizer for the 2019 United Nations International Year of Indigenous Languages. During the visit, Dr. Grounds emphasized the importance of decolonizing language, especially in our current academic practices, and the relevance of working closely with native communities to reclaim their language. Finally, on November 27, we concluded with Prof. Wesley Leonard’s visit (Ph.D., UC Berkeley). Dr. Leonard is a citizen of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma. His research focuses on Native American language reclamation and he works to build capacity for Native American language communities in ways that support tribal sovereignty and survival. He is currently Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies at UC Riverside. During our conversation, Prof. Leonard talked about his experiences as a native scholar and his efforts with language reclamation projects in the U.S. SPA-LIN-LAS 233 students were happy to have this unique opportunity to listen to the speakers and interact with them in a more personal setting. They were particularly interested to hear them share their personal experiences with multilingualism and how they have dealt with local language policies and ideologies.

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