UNT Professors awarded National Science Foundation Grant
to study the link between political conflict and language
From left to right, University of North Texas professors Shobhana Chelliah, Kimi King and James Meernik
Three University of North Texas professors have been awarded a National Science Foundation grant to study the effects of political conflict on language and culture.
The grant will allow Shobhana Chelliah, a professor in the College of Information’s Department of Linguistics who initiated the idea and her co-collaborators James Meernik and Kimi King from the College of Liberal Arts and Social Science’s Department of Political Science to host a conference in the fall of 2018 and research the issues more deeply.
“We can’t tell where this cross-cutting research will take us and that is very exciting,” said Chelliah. “This is a new partnership between linguistics and political science to see how our two disciplines improve understanding of the complex issues around language endangerment and political instability.”
Meernik, coordinator of the division of social sciences and director of UNT’s Castleberry Peace Institute, said the conference will bring together linguists who study endangered languages and political scientists who study conflict to better understand the relationship between the politics of language and civil war.
“This will help develop practices that can address many of the challenges involved in preserving cultures and language amidst the violence of war,” he said.
Chelliah added that they hope to educate people on smaller, localized conflicts.
“When these conflicts arise, there is a loss of language and culture that takes place,” she said. “Displaced people have a higher rate of suicide and alcoholism. The loss of identity feeds into the cycle of instability.”
King, a professor in political science, said the linkages between language and political violence are many.
“One of the first indications of an intent to eliminate a racial or ethnic group within warring societies is to wipe out an enemy’s culture and destroy native language,” King said. “This conference will highlight the important intersections between political science and linguistics to help better understand the causes and consequences of political violence and the integral role that language plays in post-conflict societies.”