Mesoamerican conference discusses endangered languages

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Updated at 3:50 p.m. on February 27, 2013.

The International Conference on Mesoamerican Linguistics focused on culture contact in Mesoamerica along with revitalization of the endangered Mesoamerican and Spanish languages.

Mesoamerica is a cultural region that stretches from central Mexico to Central America.

The site was home to many ancient civilizations during the 15th and 16th centuries, including the Aztecs, Mayans, Zapotecs, Olmecs and Teotihuacan.

The conference was held Friday and Saturday in Steven G. Mihaylo Hall by Natalie Operstein, a Cal State Fullerton linguistics professor, and Aaron Sonnenschein, a linguistics professor at Cal State Los Angeles.

The event was hosted by Cal State Fullerton’s English, Comparative Literature and Linguistics Department.

Panels held at the conference pertaining to Mesoamerican linguistics included language planning, semantics (the study of meaning) and morphology (the study of word formation).

Bernard Comrie, director of the linguistics department at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany and distinguished professor of linguistics at the UC Santa Barbara, was one of the keynote speakers at the conference.

Comrie’s discussed voice alternations and verb marking in his address. He uses evidence from different disciplines in order to solve problems related to prehistoric human migration and contact.

Robey Callahan, a CSUF anthropology professor, looked forward to the panels on Mayan linguistics.

Callahan, who has worked in the Mexican village of Cobal since 2001, said he was interested in the conference because of the work he has completed in that region.

Callahan worked with Yucatec-Mayan speakers in the village who are bilingual. He said that most of the people there are bilingual.

“Yucatec-Maya is a Mesoamerican language,” said Callahan. “It’s one of the many indigenous languages.”

President Mildred García, who serves on President Obama’s White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans, also spoke at the conference.

García was pleased that the conference was held at Cal State Fullerton.

“I’m really excited that this conference is adding to that wonderful research knowledge that we need here at Cal State,” said García.

According to García, in seven years Latinos will become the majority population in Orange County.
She added that there is not an ethnic majority at CSUF, but a combination of different ethnicities, the largest being Pacific Islander and Latino.

“Our students become part of an educational laboratory, who come to work, live, study and learn how to live in a multicultural world,” García said.

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