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Workshop educates students on diversity in Texas’ and Oklahoma’s language

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Posted: Wednesday, October 5, 2011 12:00 am

Texas is "y’all" country, and "y’all" shows a cultural and linguistic identity unique to Texas and Oklahoma, Colleen Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald, Department of Linguistics and Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages chairwoman, spoke about the diversity of language in Texas and Oklahoma as part of a Maversity Workshop organized by Multicultural Affairs. The lecture was in the University Center Guadalupe from 12:30-1:30 p.m.

The Maversity workshops seek to educate students about diversity and different cultures and groups. This was the second of six workshops this semester.

Fitzgerald works with documenting, recording and teaching Native American languages from Oklahoma.

She said she keeps languages alive by converting tapes to WAVE files to allow more people to listen to the languages.

Texas and Oklahoma are multilingual, Fitzgerald said. Texas has a Southern, Southwestern and multicultural identity.

Oklahoma is a language “hot spot,” meaning there is high language diversity and language endangerment with 39 indigenous Native American groups, she said.

Oklahoma has the highest language diversity in the U.S., because tribes were forced to relocate there, Fitzgerald said.

All languages, standard or not, have grammar, structure and rules, Fitzgerald said. "Y’all," for example, is plural.

“I want students to know there is incredible linguistic diversity in Texas and Oklahoma and to realize how rule-governed language is,” Fitzgerald said.

Mary Barron, Multicultural Affairs’ Leaders Educating About Diversity team member, said between 35 and 40 people attended the lecture. Space is usually limited to about 25 people, she said.

Oklahoma Language Fast Facts

  • Fewer than 80 people speak Chickasaw fluently. The youngest speaker of Chickasaw is 58.
  • Oklahoma has more than 39 indigenous Native American groups.
  • Oklahoma is a language “hot spot” with the highest language diversity in the U.S. and a high language endangerment.
  • Native American languages are not only different languages, but come

    from different language families. The Indo-European language family, on

    the other hand, includes hundreds of languages, including Spanish and


    Source: Colleen Fitzgerald

Barron said Fitzgerald’s lecture brought the highest crowd in years.

“We hope [students] are more aware of other cultures and more open-minded,” she said.

Business junior Harry Trujillo said he learned to pay attention to how he words things from Fitzgerald’s lecture.

Trujillo said he also learned to have more respect for other languages.

English and Spanish are the most well-known immigrant languages, Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald asked the audience members what languages they spoke. Answers included Chinese, Vietnamese, Creole and Urdu.

Fitzgerald said languages die out easily because immigrants shift to the dominant language in their new country. She said grandchildren of immigrants have usually completely shifted languages.

Business freshman Yu Cheng attended the event and said her family speaks Chinese and Taiwanese at home.

“I learned different languages have different rules,” Cheng said.

Fitzgerald said bilingual students often have a dominant language, which can be dictated by location or domain. For example, many people speak Spanish at home and English at school.

Cities, such as Arlington and Los Angeles in particular, allow a lot of exposure to English and Spanish, she said.

Code-switching, or one person speaking two languages in a single sentence or phrase, is common, Fitzgerald said.

Code-switching is used when there’s not an appropriate translation or the speaker isn’t familiar with a word in another language, she said.

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