News | 22 September 2014

Linguists Receive $260,000 Grant to Study Endangered Irish Language


“Although we all have tongues, we are surprisingly bad at knowing precisely what they’re doing or conveying that to others,” says UC Santa Cruz professor of linguistics Jaye Padgett.

Tongue motion, it turns out, is crucial to the documentation of endangered languages.

Who knew?

And we haven’t even got to the ultrasound part yet.

Let me explain.

UC Santa Cruz researchers are working hard to document the Irish language. Even though it is an official language of Ireland and has considerable government support, it is highly endangered. Only 1.5% to 3% of the population regularly use it in their community, and its future is in doubt.

But one unusual feature of the Irish language is that every consonant comes in two varieties–one where the tongue is raised and pushed forward, and one where it is raised and retracted. So, one important goal of the researchers is to document this contrast–using real-time tongue imaging.

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Related Article: Irish Times