Linguistics grad student receives award for indigenous language presentation

Doctoral student Carol-Rose Little and collaborator Morelia Vázquez Martínez (Instituto Tecnológico Superior de Macuspana) received a special distinction award in the best student presentation category from the Society for the Study of Indigenous Languages of the Americas during the society's winter meeting in January in New Orleans, La.

They presented “Dimensions of definiteness in Ch’ol: A dialectal comparison” at the SSILA Winter 2020 Meeting. Vázquez Martínez presented the talk entirely in Ch’ol, with slides in English. This is the first time a talk at SSILA has ever been given in an indigenous language.

In a December 2018 interview, Little explained that she has “had an interest in languages since I knew other languages existed in the world.

“During my undergraduate time [at McGill University, I started working with a community out in Eastern Canada and that’s what really opened my eyes to how my love of language can be beneficial to communities that are trying to preserve their language,” Little said. 

Little’s research at Cornell has focused on Ch’ol, a Mayan language spoken by around 220,000 people in Southern Mexico. Her focus is on the structure of Ch’ol grammar and the importance of context in the interpretation of sentences. 

Little attributed her success to Cornell’s linguistics department, citing Professor Sarah Murray as a mentor. 

“One of my advisors here, Sarah Murray, does fieldwork on Cheyenne, an Algonquian language in Montana, so she has helped with many fieldwork aspects of my work,” Little said. 

Vázquez is an undergraduate student at the Instituto Tecnológico Superior de Macuspana in Tabasco, Mexico. She is a native speaker of Ch’ol and is from one of the communities where Little’s research is focused. 

In their research, Vázquez uses ELAN, a linguistics software that records and transcribes language. 

“I am a Ch'ol speaker, it is my native language," Vázquez said. “Personally, I would very much like for people to know the great importance that it has and that it is not lost. Today, many people do not value Ch'ol. This is why doing linguistic projects is really important."

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 Carol-Rose Little and Morelia Vázquez Martínez presenting their research.