UO Abroad: Linguistics prof Scott DeLancey tracks language in India

DeLancey (second from right) and Boro (center) in Liwa Changning
DeLancey (second from right) and Boro (center) in Liwa Changning

1. Where in the world were you?

I was in northeast India, this trip particularly Assam and Manipur states. The seven states of Northeast India, altogether about the size of Oregon, are home to something like 200 different languages, most of them pretty much, or completely, unknown to linguists.

2. What work were you doing there?

Training local students at Gauhati University in Assam and Manipur University in Manipur in linguistics and language description; carrying out research on the Boro language of Assam and several small languages of Manipur; and consulting with local communities that have or want to begin programs in literacy and language development.

3. What does this work mean for your students, peers and/or the university?

Our department is internationally known for this kind of work, and the reason why we’re known for it is because we keep doing it. Also in my work in northeast India I frequently get requests from communities who want to have a linguist come and write a grammar of their language, and these are wonderful research opportunities for our Ph.D. students. Currently I have two Ph.D. students working in Assam: Linda Konnerth, who is writing a grammar of the Karbi language, and Krishna Boro, who will write his dissertation about a language called Hakhun Tangsa. Now I need to find someone to go to Manipur and write a grammar of Monsang.

4. Tell our readers something they should do if they ever visit this locale.

Kaziranga National Park in Assam. If you go in the winter you can see an amazing array of wildlife – deer, buffalo, elephants, gibbons, langur monkeys, hoopoes, hornbills, kingfishers, owls, eagles, and especially lots (lots!) of rhinoceroses. Be sure and take the elephant ride – there’s nothing quite like bobbing along on the back of an elephant while the cute little rhinos wander around underfoot.

5. What was the most memorable experience on your trip?

Most memorable this trip was a visit of several days to the Monsang community and their neighbors in and around Liwa Changning village in Chandel District of Manipur. The wonderful hospitality these folks showed me was amazing. Also truly memorable was the all-day meeting of the Monsang Literary Society, where representatives of the six Monsang villages in Chandel got together to talk about how to develop a writing system for their language – which is spoken by about 2,000 people altogether.

UO Abroad is a recurring feature in AroundtheO that spotlights UO professors, staff and GTFs whose work takes them overseas. If you or someone you know is traveling abroad, contact Communications Specialist Matt Cooper at mattc@uoregon.edu.