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Last modified: Thursday, August 14, 2008

Conference at IU focuses on preserving indigenous languages and cultures of Latin America

August 14, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- More than 200 experts who study indigenous languages spoken in Latin America will come to Indiana University's Bloomington campus today (August 14) through Saturday for the first biennial Symposium on Teaching Indigenous Languages of Latin America or STILLA.


Conference organizers in the IU School of Education, the IU Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, and the IU Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies call this the first meeting of its scope in the world. The conference brings together scholars with practitioners, activists, indigenous leaders and others to discuss and study the region's diverse languages and cultures. With such a cross-disciplinary group for presentations, discussions and workshops, the organizers hope to contribute toward preserving some of the languages.

"There are numerous indigenous languages," said Serafin Coronel-Molina, assistant professor of language education at the IU School of Education, "but some of them are in the process of extinction. Some languages are not taught any more, or were never taught in a formal way, so they remain oral languages," he said.

Coronel-Molina is originally from Peru and a native speaker of Quechua, a language he said is widely spoken -- by about 14 million around the Andes mountain range.

Research reveals the peril facing many indigenous languages. The Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America at the University of Texas reports that many of the hundreds of languages still spoken are spoken by fewer than 5,000 people.

Coronel-Molina is the founder and principal convener of STILLA. The co-conveners are John McDowell, director of the IU Minority Languages and Cultures of Latin America Program and professor of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, and Jeffrey Gould, the director of the Central American and Mexican Video Archive Project in the IU Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. The Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology and the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies are all housed within the College of Arts and Sciences.

McDowell said the first discussions about the conference envisioned something small, but the final product has become expansive under the leadership of Coronel-Molina.

"The novelty of this gathering is that it integrates all of the indigenous communities in Latin America," McDowell said. "It brings together the Mesoamerican scene with the scene from the Andes, and really creates a kind of crossroads. We started out thinking that we would just maybe bring professors of Quechua and people who were active in working with Quechuan-speaking communities. Then we started to think, 'Well, why limit it to that?'

More than 60 sessions over three days will focus on the issues surrounding Latin American languages. Experts in fields ranging from anthropology to linguistics to folklore will be in Bloomington from as far away as England and Argentina. On the final day, participants will hold a teleconference with colleagues in Peru. After this year's conference, summaries of presentations will be published. Every two years, STILLA will go to another host campus.

Apart from the organizing IU institutions, this event is being held in partnership and sponsorship with centers, programs and international studies devoted to Latin America and the Caribbean regions of the following academic institutions: University of Michigan, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, University of Notre Dame, Ohio State University, University of Chicago and University of Wisconsin.

STILLA also received monetary contributions from the IU Office of the Vice President for International Affairs, Department of Language Education, Indiana University Foundation, Office of the Provost, departments of History, Anthropology, Folklore and Ethnomusicology, and Spanish and Portuguese.