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Last modified: Thursday, October 27, 2011

IU departments co-sponsoring symposium on teaching and learning indigenous languages of Latin America

Every two weeks, a language is lost

Oct. 27, 2011

BLOOMINGTON, Ind.--For the second time, two units at Indiana University are co-sponsoring the Symposium on Teaching and Learning Indigenous Languages of Latin America, or STLILLA, focusing on the preservation and promotion of indigenous languages of Latin America.

The symposium, which will be held Sunday through Wednesday (Oct. 30-Nov. 2) at the University of Notre Dame, is the second STLILLA co-sponsored by the Department of Literacy, Culture and Language Education in the IU School of Education and the IU Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, and hosted by Notre Dame's Kellogg Institute for International Studies.

Serafin Coronel-Molina

Serafin Coronel-Molina

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"There are 7,000 languages around the world and every two weeks, a language is lost," said Serafin Coronel-Molina, one of the coordinators of the conference and the president of the Association for Teaching and Learning Indigenous Languages of Latin America (ATLILLA), as well as assistant professor of language education at the IU School of Education. "The culture, the knowledge, the literacy practices and oral part of the language and the diversity will be gone."

This conference follows up on the first STLILLA held at IU in 2008 as a unique event focused on examining specifically endangered languages of Latin America.

"It's basically about teaching and learning indigenous languages, from multiple perspectives and diverse fields," Coronel-Molina said. "This is the only really focused conference on teaching and learning that we have right now for the indigenous languages of Latin America."

Coronel-Molina said he and other organizers expect as many as 500 to attend, focusing on a wide range of indigenous languages, including Quechua, a language Coronel-Molina spoke growing up in Peru. Quechua is spoken by about 13 million people in six South American countries. Other sessions will discuss languages such as Nahuatl, spoken in Central Mexico and the language of the Aztecs; Mapuche, which is estimated to have fewer than 200,000 fully fluent speakers remaining in Chile; and Chuj, a Mayan language now spoken only by an estimated 40,000 in Guatemala and 10,000 in Mexico.

Sessions will focus on a variety of disciplines, including education, language policy and planning, theoretical linguistics, Latin American studies, applied linguistics, linguistic anthropology, sociolinguistics, informatics and folklore.

The STLILLA 2011 conference builds upon the first one held at IU three years ago, with many more sessions by scholars from across the country and the world. Coronel-Molina said the second conference has grown with the formation of ATLILLA, begun at the 2008 event. Aside from the departments at IU, several partners are collaborating to hold the conference, including the National Science Foundation's Documenting Endangered Languages Program and the Ford Foundation's Latin American Studies Association Special Projects unit. The event builds on the plan of organizers who hope to hold the conference on a regular basis, rotating sites among the partner institutions.

"I think it's fundamental to pay close attention to the endangered situation of languages in Latin America," Coronel-Molina said. "They are disappearing quickly every year, and I think this hemispheric conference in a way at least will help to focus on those indigenous languages and promote the exchange of information and knowledge about the situation and those languages."

More information is available on the conference home page,