Postdoc at Columbia University (2017-2019)

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 one-year Mellon-Sawyer Postdoctoral Fellowship in “Global Language Justice” at Columbia University’s Institute for Comparative Literature and Society.

“This 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 continues through Spring 2019.  It is led by Lydia H. Liu (EALAC) and Anupama Rao (History), among other contributors.

As part of the GLJ initiative I designed and taught a course in Spring 2018 entitled “Global Language Justice in the Digital Sphere:  Theory and Practice.”  I had a wonderful cohort of students who 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.  I look forward to reteaching this course at Columbia during the spring semester, 2019.

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 also helped to coordinate and (in the first two cases) host lectures from such renowned scholars and practitioners as:

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 supports 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 grows out of the Mellon-Sawyer Seminar on Global Language Justice and will bring 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 will cover development and integration of the class into the recurrent course offerings of both ICLS and the Computer Science Department.  The course will first be offered in the 2019-2020 academic year.