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Scholars Gather for African Linguistics Workshop

South African Education Program

Left to Right: Loyiso Mletshe, professor at the University of Western Cape in South Africa; Claire Halpert, recent doctoral graduate of MIT; and Vicki Carstens, chair of the interdepartmental linguistics program at MU.


Since 1986, the South African Education Program has sponsored an exchange program with the University of the Western Cape and the University of Missouri.  The formal agreement, signed in June 1986, was the first ever between a U.S. university and a historically black South African university. The UM/UWC Faculty Exchange Program has sponsored more than 365 exchange visits between the two institutions since 1986.

UM System's South African Education Program sparks international workshop.

In June 2012, the University of Missouri hosted its first African Linguistics Workshop.  Organized by Vicki Carstens, chair of the interdepartmental linguistics program at MU, the workshop coincided with the visit of Xhosa language scholar Loyiso Mletshe, professor at the University of Western Cape in South Africa.

The UM System’s South African Education Program (SAEP) and MU’s Global Scholars Program supported the collaboration between Carstens and Mletshe to analyze aspects of the linguistic structure of the Xhosa language.

Carstens attended a 2011 Global Scholars Program trip to Cape Town where she first met Mletshe.  The SAEP funded two return trips allowing Carstens to collaborate with Mletshe and the Xhosa Language Department. 

Workshop presentations focused on the unique syntax and phonology of several African languages including Zulu and Xhosa.

“My concept was to host something big enough to be lively but small enough to foster and strengthen collegial ties and scholarly exchange,” says Carstens.

Xhosa is one of South Africa’s eleven official languages and is spoken by approximately 8 million people. The language, which is marked by a number of tongue-clicking sounds, falls in the Bantu language group. 

The workshop drew numerous presenters and attendees including faculty from MIT, Ohio State University, California State University, Indiana University and University of Minnesota to name a few. 

Conference participant Dr. Schneider-Zioga felt that the “event provided a wonderful forum for linguists working on African linguistics.”

Carstens is planning a follow up workshop for summer 2013 to be held at the University of Michigan where she will be teaching at the Linguistic Society of America's summer institute.

The teaching of African languages in educational institutions in the United States began with the enactment of the National Defense Education Act of 1958. According to scholars, researching and studying less commonly taught languages remains vital to America’s capacity to handle challenges of the 21st century.

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