May 10, 2005: Headlines: COS - Senegal: Linguistics: Patriot Ledger Quincy, Ma: RPCV Rebecca Cover returns to Senegal to record endangered language of Badiaranke

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Library: Peace Corps: Language and Linguistics: Peace Corp: Langauge and Linguistics: Newest Stories : May 10, 2005: Headlines: COS - Senegal: Linguistics: Patriot Ledger Quincy, Ma: RPCV Rebecca Cover returns to Senegal to record endangered language of Badiaranke

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RPCV Rebecca Cover returns to Senegal to record endangered language of Badiaranke

RPCV Rebecca Cover returns to Senegal to record endangered language of Badiaranke

RPCV Rebecca Cover returns to Senegal to record endangered language of Badiaranke


WATCHING THEIR LANGUAGE; Sharon High graduate is off to Africa

May 10, 2005

The Patriot Ledger

When Rebecca Cover graduated from Sharon High School nine years ago, she was like a lot of students: not quite sure what she would end up doing or where she would do it. Today, as she readies for another trip to the remote village of Paroumba in southern Senegal to study and document the Badiaranke language, she marvels at how her life has played out. After Sharon High, she was the valedictorian of her class at Williams College, graduating with a degree in astrophysics. "If you had told me that I would major in astrophysics, then head to Africa to study a language nobody has ever heard of, I would never have believed you," Cover said.
"I never, ever imagined that I would be doing something like this."

Cover, 26, is a graduate student in linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. She recently received a grant of more than $17,000 to go to Paroumba in western Africa where Badiaranke is spoken.

The grant came through a 'Documenting Endangered Languages' partnership between the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Science Foundation.

Cover's award was among 13 fellowships and 26 grants given by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Science Foundation in a $4.4 million effort to document 70 languages believed to be on the verge of extinction.

Of the more than 6,000 languages now in use, experts estimate that 3,000 are endangered. Cover and other researchers will document little-known languages spoken from the Artic Circle (Eskimo and Tlingit) to southernmost Africa (N|u) and such far-flung places in between as the jungles of the Amazon, the Philippines, Easter Island and Taiwan.

The language Cover is studying easily qualifies as endangered.

Badiaranke is spoken by a few more than 10,000 people, mainly in a small region where the countries of Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Senegal come together.

Cover will live in the tiny village, interacting with the people and trying to gain more of an understanding of their culture and language. Her documentation of the language will help make sure that there will always be a record of both Badiaranke and the people who speak it.

"It's been said that in the next century, half of the languages in the world will die out," Cover said. "When you lose a language, more than just the language is lost. You are losing the culture, much of which is imbedded in the language." The people of Paroumba deserve to be remembered, Cover said. Last summer, she spent about six weeks there beginning her research.

"The people there are just incredibly welcoming, friendly and encouraging. I had a hut and a family to live with, within 15 minutes of getting there," she said. Getting there from Sharon, career-wise, has been quite a trip.

After college, Cover joined the Peace Corps and was sent to northern Senegal as a health education volunteer.

During her two years there, she developed a love for the people and an interest in the local language, Pullar.

That interest led to the career switch to linguistics. She entered the doctoral program at the University of California at Berkeley.

Cover isn't certain when she will leave for Africa but she knows that once she is there, she will be doing without the modern conveniences of a hot shower or even running water and electricity. But she is sure she'll be happy pursuing her studies in a classroom other linguistic students can only dream about.

Don Conkey may be reached at

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Story Source: Patriot Ledger Quincy, Ma

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Senegal; Linguistics



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