UNT faculty member selected for one-year position as National Science Foundation program director

Shobhana Chelliah
Shobhana Chelliah
Wednesday, May 16, 2012

DENTON (UNT), Texas -- Shobhana Chelliah, a professor in the University of North Texas Department of Linguistics and Technical Communication, has been selected as a rotator program director in the National Science Foundation's Documenting Endangered Languages Program. She will be in her position at the NSF office in Arlington, Va., beginning July 15, and will return to UNT in July 2013.

Rotator program director positions, which last one to two years, are open to scientists, engineers and other educators. The rotator directors oversee the NSF's merit review process, make recommendations about which proposals submitted to their areas should be funded, help to define new funding opportunities and mentor junior researchers.

Documenting Endangered Languages is a joint funding program of the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities to develop and advance scientific and scholarly knowledge concerning endangered human languages.

According to the Endangered Languages Fund, a nonprofit organization in New Haven, Conn., more than half of the approximately 7,000 languages currently spoken in the world are unlikely to be learned by future generations and will become extinct. Some languages are disappearing because they are spoken in regions with many other languages, and native speakers are increasingly speaking the region's majority language.

A UNT faculty member since 1992, Chelliah has received more than $385,000 in Documenting Endangered Languages funding in support of her research on Lamkang, which  is spoken primarily in parts of Bangladesh and in one region of Manipur, a state in northeastern India. Lamkang is spoken by an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 people -- far fewer than the nearly 1.5 million people who speak Meithei, Manipur's majority language.

With the funding, Chelliah is creating a searchable computer archive of texts in Lamkang and assisting native speakers to determine a standard writing system for the language. She said Lamkang has several competing writing systems that were developed by missionaries, and dialect differences have also led to words being written differently.

Chelliah is the author of "A Grammar of Meithei" and co-author of "A Handbook of Descriptive Linguistic Fieldwork." In addition to her research on Lamkang, she conducts research on the structure and use of English around the world, with special emphasis on the teaching and use of English in the former British colonies. She is associate editor of the journal "Himalayan Linguistics" and is on the editorial board of the journal "Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area."

A native of India, Chelliah received her bachelor's degree in English literature and master's degree in linguistics from the University of Delhi and doctoral degree in linguistics from the University of Texas at Austin. 

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