The Academic Minute: Democratizing access to digital tools in the documentation of the Innu language

Published: Oct 27, 2023

An adult wearing a black blazer and gold blouse stands outside in front of pine trees Academic Minute
Renée Lambert-Brétière. (Marlayna Demond '11/UMBC)

For centuries, books have been the primary method of documenting spoken and written languages. This method has given us insights into the formal and informal uses of language within communities and those outside the community. However, books and even tape recordings haven’t always captured the intricacies and uniqueness of a language. Advances in technology have broadened the scope and quality of language documentation and preservation, but these digital tools have also created a skills gap between researchers and communities.

UMBC’s Renée Lambert-Brétière, associate professor of modern languages, linguistics, and intercultural communication, is working on bridging this gap through a collaborative and community-engaged research project with Innu-speaking communities in Quebec, Canada, that seeks to democratize access to digital tools involved in the documentation of their language. 

“Mobilizing methodologies of linguistics, digital and public humanities, this research makes an important contribution to current developments in language documentation research and constitutes a major step in broadening the tools for language preservation within the Innu speech communities,” Lambert-Brétière explains to Lynn Pasquerella, president of the American Association of Colleges and Universities and host of The Academic Minute, a daily show featuring faculty from colleges and universities worldwide speaking about their cutting-edge research. 

UMBC’s Academic Minute takeover week

Lambert-Brétière joined five UMBC scholars this fall in UMBC’s first Academic Minute Takeover Week, featuring the latest research in media and communication studies; philosophy; language, literacy, and culture; and history. This series is republished on NPR podcasts and Inside Higher Ed.

Learn more about Renee Lambert-Brétière’s research

Lambert-Brétière’s book, À la recherche d’un signe perdu: Jean-Baptiste de La Brosse, S.J., Éléments de langue montagnaise (1768) (Chemins de tr@verse, 2018), is the first edition of the grammar of the Innu language written in Latin in 1768 by the Jesuit Jean-Baptiste de La Brosse. It offers a unique testimony on the state of this nomadic language in the middle of the eighteenth century. Her research has appeared in peer-reviewed outlets that include the Journal of Language Diversity, Anthropological Linguistics, Journal de la société des océanistes, and Annual Review of Cognitive Linguistics.

Learn more about UMBC’s modern languages, linguistics, and intercultural communication program.

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