The Kellogg Institute for International Studies will host the Symposium on Teaching and Learning Indigenous Languages of Latin America (STLILLA) at the University of Notre Dame from October 30 - November 2, 2011. STLILLA will be a major gathering of scholars from the United States and Latin America to disseminate research on diverse aspects of Latin American indigenous languages and cultures.

Within this general framework, of particular importance is interdisciplinary research on Latin American indigenous languages that leads to the documentation and preservation of those that are most endangered. Documentation is critical to the preservation of indigenous languages in the Americas. Approximately half of the 6,000-7,000 human languages currently spoken worldwide are in imminent danger of extinction. Furthermore, the fact that fewer than 5% of the world's languages are even written. Sharing research and understanding the challenges faced by those who work to document, preserve, and revitalize Latin America's most endangered languages is critical to the preservation of indigenous languages in the region.

STLILLA will promote a global dialogue by creating a forum where US academics can engage with Latin American and indigenous scholars. An important hallmark will be the significant presence of Latin American and especially indigenous scholars, a rare occurrence in US academic settings. Therefore, the conference will open new avenues of cooperation between native speakers and non-native speakers of Latin American indigenous languages. By convening such a broad spectrum of participants, STLILLA will allow people who often work in isolation from each other to compare their approaches to documenting and revitalizing endangered languages. By way of giving this research some permanence and impact, the conference will also focus on the creation of pedagogical materials from language documentation. This conference will, therefore, be making a significant contribution to preserving the languages and cultures of various indigenous groups, who are among the most underrepresented peoples in our hemisphere.

Project Report

Kellogg Institute for International Studies, University of Notre Dame Sabine G. MacCormack and Sharon Schierling, Conference Co-Organizers The 2011 Symposium on Teaching and Learning Indigenous Languages of Latin America (STLILLA), held October 30–November 2, engaged participants in a hemispheric dialogue while serving as a forum for networking and exchanging ideas, experiences, and research on documenting indigenous languages from cross-disciplinary perspectives. With over 150 participants, a hallmark of this major research conference was the significant presence of Latin American and especially indigenous scholars, a rare occurrence in US academic settings. By bringing scholars of underrepresented and endangered languages and cultures to the conference to present research focusing on and benefitting their own communities, the conference made an important contribution to indigenous peoples by documenting their endangered languages and working to make their voices heard in the international academic community. Ultimately the organizers hoped to contribute to maintaining the vitality of these cultures and ways of life, and improving the well being of speakers of these endangered languages. "The conference was a one-of-a-kind event, mixing indigenous language advocates from Mexico, Central America and the Andes, scholars from across the Americas, and émigré cultural representatives based in the United States," said leading linguistic anthropologist Bruce Mannheim, one of the event’s keynoters. "Many participants were first-language speakers of Native Latin American languages. It was exactly the kind of mix—the clang of perspectives—that produces new ideas." Conference keynoters included distinguished US and Latin American academics as well as Demetrio Cojtí Cuxil, a Maya intellectual and activist who served as Guatemalan deputy vice minister of education, and Graciela Huinao, a renowned Mapuche poet from Chile whose prophetic voice has raised awareness of poverty and oppression among the Mapuche. According to Mayan scholar Ajb’ee Jiménez of Guatemala, the conference served a unique function in "opening spaces for indigenous scholars from Ab’ya Yala—the Americas—to share their knowledge and analysis on their languages." "It made a significant contribution in the construction of a different society where we can all live together and where all indigenous peoples’ languages can be preserved and respected," he said. Many participants—including experts in linguistics, anthropology, history and sociology—placed special emphasis on documentation as an essential component towards the preservation and revitalization of some of the most severely endangered Latin American languages and indigenous cultures. It was these participants who received NSF funding; most came from Latin American institutions and would not otherwise have been able to attend. Other participants—including prominent indigenous political figures and community leaders—discussed policy issues related to documenting and preserving native languages in Latin America. By convening scholars from diverse disciplinary perspectives and providing a venue to exchange fieldwork, research and education methodologies, STLILLA has made a fundamental contribution to preserving the linguistic and cultural patrimony of the most underrepresented communities in our hemisphere. To organize STLILLA 2011, the Kellogg Institute partnered with the Association for Teaching and Learning Indigenous Languages of Latin America (ATLILLA), the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs (CLASP), and centers for Latin American studies at nine US universities, as well as seven units within the University of Notre Dame. "STLILLA 2011 built on the accomplishments of the 2008 Symposium on Teaching Indigenous Languages of Latin America, the first initiative of this scope in the world," said Serafin Coronel-Molina, president of ATLILLA. More than 30 indigenous languages were represented in diverse sessions at this hemispheric conference." Proceedings of the symposium, including papers by more than 50 scholars and public figures who participated in STLILLA-2011, have been published on the conference website at The proceedings are dedicated to the memory of Sabine G. MacCormack (1941–2012) who organized the conference. STLILLA-2011 was a labor of love for Sabine, who passed away unexpectedly not long after realizing her dream of a gathering of scholars and experts, indigenous and not, from across the Americas. Sabine was a brilliant scholar, a passionate teacher, an inspirational mentor, an infinitely generous colleague, and an extraordinary human being with a great love for indigenous cultures and languages. Touching many lives in many places, she will be sorely missed. A public announcement of conference proceedings was widely distributed to Latin American studies Title VI National Resource Centers and programs across the nation; to linguistic, anthropological, and Latin American and indigenous studies professional societies; to conference participants, conference cosponsors and partner institutions; and also via social networking. In addition, a session was held at the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) congress in San Francisco in May 2012 as a way to disseminate some of the exemplary work from the conference. Finally, an edited volume of the best conference papers is also in preparation for publication in the Kellogg Institute book series with the University of Notre Dame Press.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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Shobhana Chelliah
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University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame
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