Faculty News

Macaulay Post Doctoral Fellow Joseph Pentangelo tells us about his language revitalization program.

WHAT DO YOU DO?  I am a documentary linguist, someone who works within the subdiscipline called language documentation. Documentary linguists strive to create as cohesive a record of human language as possible. Many of the languages indigenous to the western hemisphere are endangered, so many documentary linguists focus on working with Indigenous communities to document their languages, often with the goal of creating materials that can be used for language revitalization.

WHAT GROUP DO YOU WORK WITH?  Kanien’kéha, also known by the exonym Mohawk, is an Iroquoian language spoken by the Kanien’kehá:ka people indigenous to what is now New York state. The language has approximately 3,800 speakers today.

It is crucial that any scholarly work done in Indigenous communities not be extractive, but instead be done in concert with, and be driven by, local aims and interests.

IS THIS WORK PART OF A BROADER EFFORT? CUNY has a strong community of documentary linguists, including my dissertation advisor, Juliette Blevins, and my dissertation committee members, Daniel Kaufman and Jason Kandybowicz. Daniel is also the founding co-director of the Endangered Language Alliance, which is a wonderful organization. Their “Indigenous Languages of Latin America Project” is particularly relevant to Indigenous Peoples Day.

HOW DO YOU CONDUCT YOUR RESEARCH?  For my dissertation, I recorded a 360º-video corpus of conversational Kanien’kéha as spoken in Akwesasne, working alongside educators in the community’s ongoing language revitalization program. Once all of the videos have been given final approval by the participants – something that’s temporarily on hold due to Covid – the videos will be made publicly available, and the raw files will be shared with the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe in Akwesasne. These videos can be used for pedagogical purposes, while also being useful for researchers, including linguists, anthropologists, and folklorists. My research was conducted with the help and guidance of several people in Akwesasne, including Dorothy Lazore and Carole Ross, and the support of a great community here at CUNY, including Juliette Blevins, Daniel Kaufman, and Jason Kandybowicz.

Students who are interested in this field should know that many endangered Indigenous languages are spoken right here in NYC, and I encourage them to check out the work of the ELA. They might also like to check out two open-access journals in this space, Language Documentation and Description and Language Documentation and Conservation.

+ 360º Video and Language Documentation: Towards a Corpus of Kanien’kéha (Mohawk) – my dissertation
+ Kanien’kéha (Mohawk) (United States and Canada) – Language Snapshot (Pentangelo’s article on Kanien’kéha)
+ Endangered Language Alliance
+ Language Documentation and Description
+ Language Documentation and Conservation