University of Delaware
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UD a leader in documenting endangered languages

Prof. Irene Vogel's quest to document and preserve the endangered language of the Batwa people of Uganda is only one example of research conducted by the Department of Linguistics and Cognitive Science at the University of Delaware.

One of the few linguistics departments with an emphasis on fieldwork and the study and documentation of endangered languages, UD's program has made such study a focus since the late 1990s. A 2010 report by the National Research Council ranked its doctoral program among the top 20 linguistics graduate programs in the United States.

In August, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced the award of 10 fellowships and 24 institutional grants in the agencies' ongoing Documenting Endangered Languages program to preserve records of languages threatened with extinction. Peter Cole, UD professor of linguistics and cognitive science, was awarded a $219,983 institutional NSF grant as part of that program.

Cole studies endangered Malayic languages of Sumatra, where his former graduate student, Timothy McKinnon, who earned his doctorate in May, is working with the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

Top 20 Linguistics Graduate Programs

"The description of endangered languages is a strength of the linguistics and cognitive science department at UD," said McKinnon, who won the 2011 Sypherd Prize for best dissertation in the humanities at UD.

About 7,000 languages currently are spoken worldwide, linguists say, and more than half of them are expected to be extinct by the end of the century. In awarding the latest grants, the NEH and NSF noted that "the window of opportunity for high-quality language field documentation ... narrows with each passing year."