We believe that language is a vital ingredient in human flourishing, but language communities on the margins of the dominant society often do not experience this. In pursuing scholarship that builds capacity for language development, we direct our research to issues that are relevant to developing new functions for a language or to restoring lost functions.
What blocks flourishing
We have identified four conditions that are essential for a language to be an instrument of flourishing for its users. When any one of these is lacking, it blocks the people of a society from being able to use their own language to improve their lives. (For a full discussion, see a recent book by two of our Fellows.)
Skills of Users
Members of the community need to be proficient in using the language and the media in which its literature is captured.
Resources of Language
A community should be able to use its own language to communicate knowledge that is crucial to its well-being and to capture it in literature transmitted via appropriate media.
Status of Language
The dominant society must recognize the language in such a way that its use and development is supported.
Outlook of Users
Members of the community need to perceive the benefits of using their own language and its literature.
The mother tongue of 60% of the world’s population is one of 103 languages that is an official language in their country (Source: Ethnologue); the above conditions are thus in place to support their language and their flourishing.
For the other 40% who use one of nearly 7,000 other languages, one or more of the above conditions typically does not adequately support use of that language and language development activities can be pursued to address them.
What we work on
We do research that helps to understand the conditions keeping languages from being instruments of flourishing and to develop better ways of addressing those conditions. This involves research on language as it functions in the life of a community. Working toward more resources in these languages also involves research on the structure of the language itself as a system for human communication.
Language in life
For the 40% of the world’s population whose first language is a language other than the national language of the country, daily reality involves multiple languages that have different functions in life. Flourishing for these people means being able to address their needs using the language that is best suited for that purpose.
Education and Development
We study the role of language in formal education (and in development more broadly) and methods of using the mother tongue in education and development.
Well-being and Faith
We study the role of language in helping people to flourish in body, mind, and spirit and in their relationships with each other, with other communities, with nature and with God.
Identity and heritage
We study the role of language in forming identity (both personal and group) and methods of preserving heritage through language.
Migration and change
We study the effects of migration on language use and how unprecedented levels of diaspora are changing languages, including the emergence of new urban languages.
Language as system
Addressing the absence of resources in a particular language may involve developing a writing system, elaborating new vocabulary, developing new kinds of literature, and translating content from another language. Underlying such activities is research on the structure of language itself as a system for human communication.
Words and dictionaries
We study the words of languages and how to best capture them for users in dictionaries and thesauri.
Meaning and translation
We study the meaning of language in context and how it can be expressed in another language through translation.
Sounds and alphabets
We study the sound systems of languages and how to best represent them in writing systems.
Grammar and style
We study the grammars of languages and how they relate to good style in oral and written literature.