U-M linguistics expert to speak on the world's disappearing languages

Sarah Thomason to deliver Distinguished University Professor lecture Nov. 7

By Meredith Bruckner - Community News Producer
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Sarah Thomason will discuss the impact losing a language has on a community

ANN ARBOR - According to University of Michigan linguistics professor Sarah Thomason, only 700 of the world's 7,000 current languages will disappear by the year 2100.

She will be presenting the issue on Tuesday at 4 p.m. at the Rackham Amphitheatre as her Distinguished University Professorship lecture titled, "Most of the World's Languages Are Vanishing. Why Should We Care?"

Thomason will explain how communities are impacted when their spoken language is lost, and the implications it has on broader human culture.

In an article for the University of Michigan Record, Megan Rubiner Zinn writes:

With this loss of languages, we not only lose the intellectual and cultural wealth of the speakers, we also lose crucial knowledge of pre-history, history, human cognition and expression. In her talk, Thomason also will discuss how a few languages — like Hebrew — have avoided extinction.

A Distinguished University Professorship is the highest honor bestowed upon faculty at University of Michigan. In 2015, Thomason was named as the Bernard Bloch Distinguished University Professor of Linguistics.


Sarah Thomason (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

She chose to name her professorship for renowned linguist of the '50s and '60s Bernard Bloch, who was also her professor. 

She has been teaching at U-M since 1999, and has spent more than 30 years working with elders of Native American tribes in Montana to preserve their language.

On her accomplishments, Rubiner Zinn continues:

Thomason has been president of the Linguistic Society of America and editor of its flagship journal Language, president of the Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas, and chair of the American Association for the Advancement of Science section on linguistics and language sciences. In 2012, she was awarded the Wilbur Lucius Cross Medal by Yale University's Graduate School Alumni Association.

This is a free event and is open to the public.

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