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Research Scientist Awarded Excellence in Community Linguistics award by Linguistic Society of America

From Left to Right: Andrew Carnie, Dean of the Graduate College and Professor of Linguistics; Heidi Harley, Professor of Linguistics and representative of the Linguistic Society of America; Muriel Fisher; Simin Karimi, Professor of Linguistics and Linguistics department head. Muriel Fisher, a Research Scientist Sr. in the department of Linguistics at the University of Arizona was awarded the Excellence in Community Linguistics Award from the Linguistic Society of America at a ceremony last night at the Arizona Inn in Tucson Arizona.

Ms. Fisher is a native speaker of Scottish Gaelic from the Isle of Skye in Scotland, but now lives in Tucson Arizona. She has spent a life time promoting her native tongue, sharing it with others, and helping develop tools and resources to preserve and promote it.

Ms. Fisher holds the position of Research Scientist Sr. in the Linguistics Department at the University of Arizona, where she has collaborated with a team of faculty and students lead by Dr Andrew Carnie. Funded by grants from the National Science Foundation, this team has been investigating the grammatical properties of Gaelic, through traditional fieldwork and modern experimental methods.  In addition, Ms. Fisher works as the Gaelic language instructor in the Critical Languages program at UA and at her own Tucson Gaelic Institute.

Andrew Carnie, Dean of the Graduate College and Professor of Linguistics says the following about the collaboration of his team with Muriel Fisher:

Once we started working with Muriel in traditional elicitation it became clear that she had an innate talent as a linguist. Although she doesn’t have the technical vocabulary to describe her observations, she often stunned us with her metalinguistic insights about the language. A number of times she figured out what we were looking for and directed us to the right kind of forms without any prompting. She’s patient with the field worker. She helps us understand the cultural context of the materials we’re eliciting. One important aspect of our experience working with her is how she’s helped us train a generation of field-researchers here at University of Arizona – both research assistants and students in our fieldwork class. She has taught them about being respectful and effective in the time they have with speakers, of investigating cultural context and being prepared before elicitation sessions and in dealing with people with little background in linguistics. Working with native speakers of endangered languages is a delicate and difficult task and Muriel has helped our students understand the challenges that lie underneath it.

In a similar vein, Sylvia Reed, Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign, who worked closely with Ms. Fisher in her  dissertation work says of her:

Muriel is the consummate language consultant. She has been teaching the language for many years, and she has an incredible metaknowledge of how Gaelic works because of this. More than that, though, she has an extraordinary intuitive sense of the workings of Gaelic. She has said that working with us (on the documentation grants) has helped her be a better teacher because she’s been able to understand her language in a different way—but I think what we’ve really given her is labels for concepts she’d already formed and thought about herself.

Each summer, Ms. Fisher spends several months at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the Gaelic College on the Isle of Skye where she shares her knowledge of the language with learners and other Native Speakers through the College’s short programs. Boyd Robertson, Principal of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, says:

Muriel has a winning way with students and is a very popular and effective tutor.  Her classes are fun and she has attracted a great deal of repeat business to the summer programme over the years.  There are students who come to Sabhal Mòr specifically for the Muriel Fisher experience. Although not trained in linguistics, she has an aptitude for language teaching and for explaining even the most esoteric of grammatical points.  She has a deep knowledge of island history, heritage and culture which she deploys on bespoke interpretive courses that involve visits to various sites of significance throughout Skye and Lochalsh.

The Excellence in Community Linguistics Award from the Linguistic Society of America  recognizes the outstanding contributions that members of language communities (typically outside the academic sphere of professional linguists) make for the benefit of their community’s language.

More information about the Excellence in Community Linguistics Award:

Official Announcment of the 2015 award:

For more information about Muriel Fisher, The LSA award, or Linguistics at the University of Arizona please contact Andrew Carnie  or at 520 626 8804.

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