Visiting Linguistics Professor to Speak on Endangered Languages at Boise State 

Advocacy has become a popular pastime in the current political climate, but what Dr. David Harrison, a professor of linguistics at Swarthmore College, strives to protect isn't likely to be covered in national marches or protests.

Harrison has dedicated his career to the preservation of endangered languages, and when he isn't lecturing, he travels the world to meet fellow linguists and indigenous speakers in places as far flung as Siberia, Mongolia, India, Papua New Guinea, Micronesia and Vanuatu. Now's he's returning to Boise, and will bring his experience to bear at Boise State with a public lecture on Friday, Feb. 16, slated for 3 p.m. in the Student Union Building Special Events Center.

Harrison's visit is the result of a collaboration between two colleges and a host of staff and student groups, including the College of Western Idaho Anthropology Department, the Boise State Anthropology Club, the Boise State Archaeological Student Association, the Boise State Linguistics Club and the Boise State Anthropology and English Departments, with funding coming from the Associated Students of Boise State University.

Professor John Ziker, the Boise State Department Chair of Anthropology, said that the idea was originally proposed by CWI, but his connection with Harrison, and the fact that Harrison had visited Boise State in the past, brought Boise State student groups on board.

"I've known David for 20 years," Ziker said, "He worked in Siberia for his dissertation, and I also worked in Siberia for my dissertation...[CWI staff and I] talked to the students, and they said 'Yeah, we'd be interested in trying to support this.'"

Before the lecture, Harrison will also join the Linguistics and Anthropology Club members for a smaller round-table discussion. In a joint email, Boise State Anthropology Club President Sue Roberts and Boise State Archaeological Student Association Officer Julie Julison said they have high hopes for both events.

"The round-table discussions will give club members who are in the fields of anthropology and linguistics the opportunity to have direct interaction with Dr. Harrison," the duo wrote, adding that students will be able ask questions about how Harrison chooses which languages to investigate, and how they can get involved.

Harrison is a heavy hitter in linguistics and anthropology circles, considering his past projects include co-directing the National Geographic Society Enduring Voices Project, and co-starring in the PBS documentary The Linguists, which followed Harrison and fellow linguist and Director of the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages Dr. Gregory Anderson to Bolivia, India and beyond. The film was nominated for an Emmy in 2010, and brought awareness to what Ziker said is an important and under-recognized issue.

"When languages become endangered or go extinct, it's obviously very important for the people that carried those languages, because they lose a lot of their traditions," Ziker said, "It's sort of like the canary in the coal mine, because diversity across human societies is a sign of a healthy system. When you lose diversity, including diversity in how people think about the world and how they talk about the world, then more of the population is committed to a more homogeneous strategy of dealing with the things that we're all challenged by."
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