Teacher using NEH summer stipend for language study

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By Edwin B. Smith

University of Mississippi

Stephen Fafulas, a professor at the University of Mississippi, is continuing his study of Spanish dialects in the Loreto region of the Peruvian Amazon this summer, thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. He uses data he collected during a 2011 visit to the region. Photo submitted

A University of Mississippi professor is spending his summer translating Spanish transcripts of his interviews with members of indigenous communities in the Peruvian Amazon into English, thanks to a summer stipend from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Stephen Fafulas, Associate Professor of Spanish and Linguistics, uses data he collected during fieldwork in 2011 to complete “Documenting Linguistic Practices, Cultures, and Ideologies Among Indigenous Communities in the Amazon Peruvian”. The data comes from interviews within communities of three distinct indigenous languages ​​of the Peruvian Amazon.

Many indigenous languages ​​coexist with Spanish, the national language of Peru. Fafulas hopes to use what he learns to publish his research and then identify funding to continue his investigation.

“Peru’s indigenous languages ​​are gradually losing status and power to Spanish as speakers seek to increase their upward social mobility and access the country’s health, education and economic sectors. “, did he declare. “My project documents the linguistic, cultural and social aspects of language-changing indigenous communities in the Peruvian Amazon.

“The linguistic structures of indigenous languages ​​are of great scientific interest for a host of theoretical and typological reasons.

Moreover, the same goes for the cultural practices of local communities, given their place in the rich biodiversity of the Amazon region, he said.

“It is timely to document the linguistic and cultural practices of Amazonian communities, including language samples from indigenous languages ​​and their emerging Spanish dialects before they disappeared,” Fafulas said. “By valuing indigenous languages ​​and recognizing community needs, these communities may be able to reverse the loss of their cultural heritage.

Her project empirically documents the linguistic, ideological and cultural legacies of the indigenous populations of the Peruvian Amazon to show:

  • How these legacies can be used in efforts to revitalize, value and better understand the indigenous peoples and languages ​​of the Peruvian Amazon.
  • What ethnolinguistic Spanish varieties emerging in the Peruvian Amazon can add to current theoretical and empirical research in various subfields of linguistics.

Fafulas was one of only two UM faculty nominations allowed for this highly competitive annual competition. Following a four-tier review process, only about 11% of nominations nationwide are selected by the NEH for an award each year.

Its success reflects the quality of Fafulas’ research and the department’s overall level of excellence, said Donald Dyer, associate dean for faculty and academic affairs at the College of Liberal Arts and a distinguished professor of modern languages.

“Dr. Fafulas was chosen from a large number of applicants nationwide for this award after being selected as one of only two entrants from the University of Mississippi in the competition,” Dyer said.

“Dr. Fafulas’ work in the indigenous languages ​​of the Peruvian Amazon has tremendously important implications for the field and brings significant recognition to the Department of Modern Languages ​​in particular and to the College of Liberal Arts and the University of Mississippi in a broader sense.

To supplement the NEH stipend, all UM applicants and recipients also receive an additional humanities stipend from the University’s Office of Research and Sponsored Programs and the College of Liberal Arts.

“Generous funding through the NEH Summer Stipend and Supplementary Award allows me to spend the summer months writing a peer-reviewed journal article to publish the results of an ongoing analysis of the emergence of Spanish in these indigenous communities in the northern Peruvian Amazon. region where Bora, Ocaina and Yagua are spoken, three endangered indigenous languages,” said Fafulas.

“Importantly, this study offers an assessment of the linguistic vitality of Bora, Ocaina and Yagua, based on self-reported skills and intergenerational transmission data, as well as a comparative view of community ideologies and cultural practices across generations based on interviews with participants.

Fafulas first traveled to the region in 2003 with Project Amazonas, a nonprofit humanitarian, conservation and educational organization. He stayed in contact with the organization, local community members and researchers working to document the indigenous languages ​​of the area.

In 2011, he returned with funding from a pre-thesis research travel grant from Indiana University and joined the Amazonas Project to conduct sociolinguistic fieldwork.

In 2020, Fafulas published “Amazon Spanish: Language Contact and Evolution” (John Benjamins Publishing). This is the first comprehensive volume – written in English – to document the spread of Spanish and the linguistic, social and historical characteristics of indigenous linguistic communities undergoing language change and acculturation in the Amazon region.

Daniel O’Sullivan, director of the department of modern languages ​​and professor of French, declared that Fafulas greatly deserved this award.

“Dr. Fafulas is one of the strongest scholars we have in modern languages ​​and, I would say, the College of Liberal Arts,” he said. “He has established himself as one of the leading authorities on Spanish varieties worldwide and in particular on the languages ​​of the Peruvian Amazon.

“It is an honor to chair a department with such strong researchers among its faculty. This greatly facilitates the recruitment and retention of faculty and graduate students. »


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