Yale University to co-sponsor collaborative training and research on African linguistics Updated for 2021

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Updated: March 6, 2021

This article was written by Sheila McCreven and first published on Yale University Website

Speaking in Lagos, Nigeria, on January 17, Yale University President Peter Salovey announced that Yale will co-sponsor two upcoming meetings of the African Linguistics School, which is devoted to collaborative training and research on generative linguistics in Africa. The first of these Yale-sponsored meetings will take place in Benin Republic in July 2021.

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The co-sponsorship both allows Yale to contribute to the study and preservation of African languages and fosters a deeper understanding of the shared features of all human languages.

Speaking at the press briefing, President Salovey said, “Language is a central aspect of human life and plays a unique role in sharing knowledge, ideas, beliefs, and hopes and in building relationships. As African nations expand their global roles, Yale is committed to advancing the study of African languages, to integrating such study into contemporary scholarship, and to expanding the community of African scholars in this area of inquiry. Yale’s support of teaching and research efforts like those achieved by the African Linguistics School will be central in achieving these goals.”

Generative linguists study the principles that underlie all natural languages and reflect the capacity for communication that uniquely identifies the human species. The African Linguistics School (ALS) exposes young linguists in Africa to cutting edge research in linguistics with the aim of enriching linguistic theory with their insights into the languages and dialects spoken on the continent.

“The Generative Linguistics approach has great intrinsic value in the development of linguistic theory,” according to Yale’s Veneeta Dayal, the Dorothy R. Diebold Professor of Linguistics, who along with her colleagues Professor Robert Frank and Professor Raffaella Zanuttini, initiated Yale’s collaboration with ALS. 

“We know a lot about languages of Western Europe but to get a holistic understanding of the human language faculty, the base has to be broadened. African languages are a rich source of information about possible grammars,” said Professor Dayal.

“As we work to unlock the secrets of human language and study how children acquire language, we will gain insights that can be applied in the development of artificial intelligence and speech recognition systems. Such developments will allow the benefits of these burgeoning technological advances to be shared with speakers of a broader slice of the world’s languages, including the great many spoken in Africa,” said Professor Frank.

The co-sponsorship announcement comes as President Salovey is in Nigeria this week to meet with the university’s partners, friends, and colleagues to further collaborations that deliver on the promise of the Yale Africa Initiative, an ongoing effort by Yale to prioritize and expand partnerships on the continent.

“This initiative is part of a broad commitment across the university to build on our longstanding relationships in Africa,” said President Salovey. “In partnership, African institutions and Yale are opening up avenues of discovery that could be transformative for millions of people around the world.”

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Yale University to co-sponsor collaborative training and research on African linguistics
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