Christopher Cox

Scholars
2009
Mentor(s): 
Current affiliation:
Linguist, Department of Education, Yukon
Localisation:

Christopher is providing support for Indigenous language education and revitalization efforts in schools and communities throughout the territory of Yukon.

''Onse Sproak'' (Our Language): Corpus-based, Community-partnered Documentation of Mennonite Plautdietsch

Christopher Cox’s doctoral research proposes a community-partnered approach to the documentation and description of endangered languages, concentrating upon the construction of shared collections of language materials ('corpora') as the foundation of long-term documentation usable by communities and those conducting linguistic research. This methodology is put into practice in the documentation and description of the lexical-syntactic patterns of Mennonite Plautdietsch, an endangered language of Canada, Western Europe, and parts of Asia and South America.

In recent years, responses to language endangerment have assumed both increasing prominence and urgency, given estimates of unprecedented rates of global language extinction throughout the present century and growing recognition of the ultimate cost of language loss.  As both the cradle and the capstone of culture, the cumulative product of generations of conventional and creative thought, language stands among the crowning achievements of society, at once uniquely human and inherently fragile in its transmission across generations – and its loss thus an immeasurable diminishment of our collective human diversity.

This threat to linguistic diversity informs Christopher's doctoral research at the University of Alberta, where applied his backgrounds in computational science and linguistics to the task of language documentation through community-partnered corpus construction.  The creation of corpora as permanent, digital records of disappearing linguistic practices aims to provide common ground for collaboration between academic and speaker communities; to promote such permanent records for use in both community language programs and linguistic research; and to serve as a tacit act of language activism, affirming the fundamental worth of the language being documented, and thus presenting an opportunity for communities to reclaim respect for their linguistic heritage.

Christopher is currently engaged in such corpus construction for Plautdietsch, the traditional language of the Russian Mennonites.  His experiences as a student of Plautdietsch in the Mennonite communities of central Saskatchewan for the past twelve years have encouraged him in his work with archives, researchers, and Plautdietsch-speaking communities on three continents; in maintaining Plautdietsch-L, the first discussion forum on the Internet dedicated to Plautdietsch, since its founding in 1998; in adapting and developing computational tools to assist in collaborative corpus development; and, most recently, in participating in the documentation of Tsuut'ina, a highly endangered Athapaskan language of southern Alberta.

Ever committed to bringing research to bear on pressing policy issues, Simon hopes his findings will help craft more effective diplomatic strategies to anticipate and address violations of international law. Furthermore, he anticipates the findings of his research to help design more robust arms control agreements.