April 12, 2011

SCA Family Stories: Lydia Green

IML Graduate Named Fulbright Scholar for Work in Linguistics

Lydia Green graduated from the SCA Institute for Multimedia Literacy’s Honors in Multimedia Scholarship program in 2009 with a B.A. in Linguistics. While still a student, she traveled to remote areas of Alaska to study and document a native language spoken by roughly 10,000 people. She recently caught up with SCA Family Stories via email to tell us about how technology is bringing academic disciplines to the public sphere.

Lydia Green in Alaska

First of all, congrats on being named a Fulbright scholar. Has it sunk in yet? Thank you. No, it hasn't entirely sunk in. I moved to Australia this past March to start a Ph. D in Linguistics and I found out about receiving the Fulbright, which provides funding for me to do an MA in Language Documentation and Description at the University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies, the day after I arrived in the country. I was a little overwhelmed with trying to find housing, get a phone and get settled in, so I haven't actually celebrated yet. But I am hoping to do so soon. In the meantime I'm working out the details of undertaking an MA in the middle of my Ph. D. It's odd, but doable!

When most people think about the School of Cinematic Arts, they don’t think about the work you did with linguistics but your training with IML informed your work quite a bit. What at SCA helped you the most with your work? Having the support of the faculty, staff and the other students at the IML was definitely one of the most helpful aspects of being a part of the Honors program there. It was a great environment to do research, because there was always somebody to help, either by giving feedback and suggestions or helping with the technical aspects of the project. Because everyone there comes from such diverse backgrounds, even if you aren't an expert in one particular area you can easily find someone else who is or who knows someone who is.

When you first flew to Alaska to study the native language, what was the biggest surprise? I had actually been to Alaska several times before to work on a commercial, drift-net salmon fishing vessel, but every time I go I am amazed by just how beautiful it is there. I tried to convey some of my appreciation for the natural beauty of Alaska in the project, but it's difficult to capture. Even with the wonders of multimedia, it’s something to be experienced.

Your work is a very interesting combination of linguistics, cultural studies and cinematic arts. Talk a little bit about how the three disciplines come together. When I first came to USC I met with Steve Anderson (Director of the Ph. D in Media Arts & Practice and Assistant Professor of Multimedia Scholarship) at an information session for the IML and we spoke about how my interest in endangered language research could fit in with the Honors in Multimedia Scholarship program at the IML. He was really encouraging and the potential there seemed huge! Throughout my time as an undergraduate at USC and as an honors student in the IML, others consistently believed it was possible to create original research spanning multiple disciplines. For my project, I flew to Alaska and recorded elders sharing stories and songs in Yup'ik, then worked with the IML to create a website showcasing those recordings and also bringing attention to language loss as a significant global issue. People believed in me and I hope that my research will encourage others to believe in their own ability to do interdisciplinary multimedia projects, even if they are unconventional.

What do you see as the future of media in linguistics? I think that media has a huge future in

Lydia Green '09

linguistics. Within endangered language research multimedia technology continues to play an increasingly important role as a tool for language documentation, raising awareness about the world's fascinating linguistic diversity, and supporting language revitalization efforts.

Technology has greatly increased the ability of linguists to document languages. While we continue to rely on the most basic tools (e.g. pen and paper), we've advanced from using wax cylinders for audio recordings to being able to use high definition video cameras and high quality audio recorders to create very detailed documentation.

Also, media is bringing what has previously been an exclusively academic discipline to the public sphere. There are blogs, feature length films, and documentaries about endangered languages which are easily accessible and often interesting, even to a general audience.

Possibly the most exciting combination of these things is the way technology is being used in revitalization efforts. There are endangered language communities using software to assist with language learning (Link) in the classroom; youth are texting in endangered languages (Link), sometimes with predictive texting and unique writing systems; and even Twitter has users sending tweets in endangered languages! (Link)

What’s next for you personally? I just moved to Australia to join the Endangered Language Documentation, Theory and Application research group at the University of Newcastle, but I am making arrangements to head to London this September to do a one-year MA there. After that, I am planning to start the fieldwork portion of my PhD by returning to Ghana, where I’ve been invited to continue my research with speakers of a language called Ikpána.

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