After defending my PhD dissertation “Digitizing Ethiopic: Encoding for Linguistic Continuity in the Face of Digital Extinction” at American University’s School of Communication in June 2017, I began a two-year Mellon-Sawyer Postdoctoral Fellowship in “Global Language Justice” at Columbia University’s Institute for Comparative Literature and Society. I was then appointed as a Postdoctoral Research Scientist at Columbia’s Data Science Institute, a position I have held since 2019.
The Mellon-Sawyer Seminar in Global Language Justice (GLJ) was designed with the following aims: “This new initiative takes language justice as the humanistic equivalent of environmental justice and responds with a sense of urgency to the simultaneity of the rapid dwindling of linguistic diversity and endangered biodiversity. The seminar addresses a range of issues including: the social effects of English monolingualism, the relationship of language and technology, the problem of translation across disciplinary divides, and new possibilities for revivifying language communities at the interface of arts activism, legal redress, and digital technologies. The two-year grant will thus enable ICLS to develop a cutting-edge program of research and pedagogical innovation at the interface of science, humanities, and big data.” The program began in Fall 2017 and continued through Spring 2019. It was led by Lydia H. Liu (EALAC) and Anupama Rao (History), among many other essential contributors.
As the Mellon-Sawyer Postdoctoral Fellow in GLJ, I designed and taught a course in Spring 2018 and Spring 2019 entitled “Global Language Justice in the Digital Sphere: Theory and Practice.” My fantastic students responded productively to the challenges digitally-disadvantaged language communities face. One brilliant example was my student Madeleine Leddy’s call to font designers and enthusiasts to support digitally-disadvantaged scripts by designing much-needed fonts, an effort she dubbed “decolonizing typography.” She followed this call with praxis, designing a font for the Tifinagh script of Morocco. My second cohort of students’ work is documented on the Explorations in Global Language Justice Blog, which I help to manage as a faculty mentor, and includes Chelsy Wu’s beautiful design of the first font for the Nushu script.
I also presented my research on the impact of digital supports on language survival at the GLJ kickoff event in September 2018, “Poetry as Pluriverse: Thinking Global Language Justice.” It was an honor to present with Daniel Kaufman of New York City’s Endangered Language Alliance, and responses to our work included these blog posts written by GLJ Graduate Research Fellow Chloe Estep and Columbia students Anish Gawande and Josue Chavez.
I was also honored to help coordinate and (in the first two cases) host lectures from such renowned scholars and practitioners as:
- Suzanne Romaine “Linguistic diversity and sustainability: Global language justice inside the doughnut” (see blogs by GLJ Graduate Research Fellows Maria L. Bo and Chloe Estep)
- Deborah Anderson of the Script Encoding Initiative’s “Preserving the World’s Languages and Cultures (through character encoding)” (see blog by GLJ Graduate Research Fellow Atefeh Akbari Shahmirzadi)
- Moria Paz “The Tower of Babel: Human Rights and the Paradox of Language,” (see video of lecture and blogs by Chloe Estep and Levi Cohen)
- Moira Inghilleri “Translating migration: art, ethics and uncertainty” (see video of lecture)
A highlight of 2018 was “Global Justice for Indigenous Languages: A Symposium.” This was a collaboration between the GLJ Sawyer-Seminar and Elsa Stamatopoulou, Director of the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Program at the Institute for the Study of Human Rights (Columbia University). You can view video of the panels, read multiple blog posts on the proceedings (I, II, III), or read the Recommendations to come out of the symposium here. It was a particular honor to be the moderator for the Indigenous Languages in Education panel.
In June 2018 a team including ICLS Director Lydia H. Liu, Dr. Smaranda Muresan of the Computer Science Department and the Data Science Institute, and myself were awarded a Collaboratory Fellows Fund grant to develop a team-taught course entitled “Multilingual Technologies and Language Diversity.” The three-year award from Columbia University’s Data Science Institute supported the development of this 4000-level cross-disciplinary course that addresses the challenge of scaling natural language processing technologies, developed mostly for English, to the rich diversity of human languages. This project grew out of the Mellon-Sawyer Seminar on Global Language Justice and brings data and computational literacy about multilingual technologies to humanities students, while also exposing computer science and data science students to ethical, cultural, and policy issues within the context of multilingual technologies. The course meets the goals of the Collaboratory Fellows Fund by establishing an interdisciplinary teaching team and mixed cohort of students for maximum cross-fertilization and engagement. The grant covered development and integration of the class into the recurrent course offerings of both ICLS and the Computer Science Department.
Smaranda Muresan and I taught the first round of the course in Spring 2020, and will teach it again in Spring 2021. A number of my students’ research and reflections on the issue of language justice within technology have been featured on the Explorations in Global Language Justice Blog:
- Kyra Ann Dawkins, “Multilingual Reimagination: Diversifying the Digital Sphere Community“
- Greta Schatz, “Delineated Digital Space“
- Pallavi Krishnamurthy, “Why We Should Interrogate the Agenda of Indifference Surrounding Language Loss“
- Jennifer Lee, “The Incommensurability of Digitization and Language Justice“
- Erica Veltman, “The Importance of Language Representation in Technology“
- Janill Lema, “The Need for Language Diversity“
- Anjali Krishnan, “Language Justice and Technology” and video about Social Media and Indigenous Languages
- Brennan Xavier McManus, “English and the Software Development Lingua Franca“
- Sophie Lanier, “Viewing Digital Language as Intertwined with Spoken Language“
In Fall 2019 I began a two year appointment as a Postdoctoral Research Scientist at Columbia’s Data Science Institute. I am conducting research on the Collaboratory@Columbia program, identifying best practices and outcomes of cutting-edge data science curricula that bridges disciplines throughout the arts, humanities, sciences, and professional and medical fields. I am also working on data science education best practices for embedding ethics and justice concerns within cross-disciplinary training. I am also a member of the Data Science Institute’s Education Working Group Committee.