This project uses language documentation methodology to explore effective communication of COVID-19 health-related information to linguistically underserved populations in the US. Such communities may not have access to reliable health information in their native languages. Researchers can translate information from English into other languages, but translation alone cannot ensure information is presented in ways that are culturally appropriate and therefore maximally effective. The future path and possible resurgence of this pandemic remains unknown, so it is critical to learn about group health perceptions and behaviors in order to create best practices for developing critical informational materials for these underserved populations. Scientific investigation of languages for these populations provides the bridge between health information and cultural context.

Linguists and health information experts will work with a linguistically underserved community to collect personal and group reflections, eliciting highly emotive connected speech on topics rarely collected in language documentation projects. The collected speech samples will potentially include rare vocabulary, idioms, ritual language, songs, and remembered practices that underlie beliefs and motivate health behavior. In-language interviews will be conducted by first-generation native speakers who are undergraduate students and community members. The project will create: (1) video-conferencing technology protocols for language documentation fieldwork; (2) a unique corpus of interlinear glossed texts (personal accounts, interviews, conversations) on health and wellness which can be used in future linguistic research; and (3) increased understanding of health literacy in the community. We aim to contribute to the development of broader best practices for health communication message design to underserved communities, especially during time-sensitive scenarios, as is the case with the current rapidly-changing pandemic. The documentary methods and resulting informational materials can be replicated for other non-English speaking groups within the US and internationally. All materials, including a corpus of interlinear glossed texts, will be archived and publicly-accessible at the University of North Texas Digital Library.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

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University of North Texas
United States
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