About the LSA Member Spotlight

Originally created in 2011 and now making its debut on the new LSA website, the LSA Member Spotlight highlights the interests and accomplishments of a different LSA member each month.  If you would like to be featured in a Member Spotlight, or would like to recommend someone else to be featured, please contact David Robinson, the LSA's Director of Membership and Meetings.

Click here to see previous Member Spotlights. 

Ruth Rouvier (Recovering Voices Program, Smithsonian Institution)

Ruth Rouvier is Program Manager for the Smithsonian Institution's Recovering Voices Program. She holds a BA and an MA in Linguistics from UC Berkeley and has conducted language documentation and revitalization research in collaboration with indigenous communities in the US and Nicaragua. Ruth previously worked as Language Program Coordinator for the Karuk Tribe, and is a founding board member of the Pro-Moskitia Foundation of Nicaragua.

Q:  When did you first join the LSA?

I’m not sure; I believe it was around 2001.  I know that the first LSA Annual Meeting I attended was in San Francisco in 2002.  I was an undergraduate at Berkeley at the time.  I was excited but quite humbled and overwhelmed by the experience.

Q:  Can you briefly describe your involvement with the LSA during the time you’ve been a member?

I’ve been a member on and off since I first joined.  I’ve attended and presented at a number of annual meetings and at SSILA meetings.  I’ve also attended a couple of Institutes.  I also joined CELP [the LSA’s Committee on Endangered Languages and Their Preservation] in Boston [at the January 2013 Annual Meeting].   That marked the beginning of my more active involvement.

Q:  What motivated you to join the Society and to continue or expand your involvement with it?

When I first joined as an undergraduate I just wanted to learn as much as possible about the field, and joining the LSA seemed the best way to do that.  I had access to topics I had studied but also to ones  I didn’t have access to at Berkeley.  I would go to the Annual  Meeting and attend as many presentations as I could absorb – probably even a few more than that!  As my interests began to crystallize around comparative and historical linguistics and then, eventually, language documentation and revitalization, I started to become more interested   in how these subfields were represented within the LSA.  Initially, I felt that they were not well represented,  but recently  I’ve been very encouraged to see that  language documentation and revitalization have become more prominent at the Annual Meeting and especially in the continuing higher-level conversations at the Society about ethics, directions for the field, and so forth.  I first noticed this in Baltimore [at the 2010 Annual Meeting], where there was a special tutorial on mediating the demands of communities and institutional sponsors when producing language documentation and a pair of symposia on documentary linguistics. It was really nice to see those events, and the discussions they sparked during and after the meeting. Since then I think language documentation and especially revitalization have gained visibility and legitimacy within the field.

Q: What in your opinion is the most important service the LSA provides to its members?  To the field?

I feel like there’s a cluster of services that are important.  First, the opportunity for people to share their work, their questions, their concerns -- about their own work and about the discipline, within and across the subfields.   But I think that also it provides – because it convenes people who are working on the periphery and in the core of the discipline -- a forum for exploring the limits of the discipline and how it interfaces with other fields.  That’s critical in moving the discipline forward, making it relevant, making it fundable, and attracting new practitioners.   The advocacy the LSA provides around issues that members have identified as key  -- funding, education and social policy, language and cultural diversity --  is incredibly important.  So is the general outreach and public education the LSA does about what linguistics is and why it is relevant to science and to society.

Q:  What is your current research?  What got you interested in it?

Currently, I’m the program manager of Recovering Voices.  I don’t do a lot of research in my current position, but I do a lot of work in programming support for documentation and revitalization of endangered languages, and cultural practices and knowledge systems associated with those languages, both at the Smithsonian and with our partners around the world.  Until recently I have been working for a tribe in California, doing community-based documentation and revitalization.  That type of work has continued in my new role, though it's a little less hands-on.   At Recovering Voices we’re doing some exploration of methodologies around collaborative documentation and revitalization.

My own work, which I haven’t been able to do for a while, is documentation of Miskitu, a language spoken on the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua and Honduras.   I first got involved with Miskitu communities through a college internship, and ended up living in a Miskitu village for several months in 1995. A few years later, as an undergraduate student at Berkeley I decided to write a course paper on Miskitu and was fortunate to get in touch with Ken Hale, who shared some of his work on the language with me. Later I received a Fulbright grant to do research in Nicaragua, and lived in the same village I'd visited in 1995. I mostly work on aspects of the morphology of the language and a bit of the comparative and historical morphology between Miskitu and the other languages that it’s related do.   I'm also very involved with a non-profit organization, the Pro-Mosquitia Foundation, that supports community development and educational initiatives in the Mosquitia and with Miskitu communities in the US.  I go back to Nicaragua as often as I can to visit and work with people there.