Jorge Emilio Rosés Labrada is an Assistant Professor of Indigenous Language Sustainability in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Alberta. He earned his BA in Foreign Languages at the Universidad de Holguín (Cuba) and has a joint PhD in French Studies (Linguistics) from The University of Western Ontario (Canada) and Language Sciences from the Université Lumière-Lyon 2 (France). After completing his PhD in 2015, he joined the First Nations and Endangered Languages Program at The University of British Columbia as a Banting and honorary Killam post-doctoral fellow (2015-2017). His research centers on language documentation and revitalization of Native American languages with a special focus on the languages of the Amazon and Pacific Northwest Coast of North America. He has done primary fieldwork on five languages of the Guiana Shield region of South America (Mako, Piaroa, Sáliba, Arutani and Sapé) as well as on Kwak̓wala, a Wakashan language spoken in British Columbia, Canada. He co-edited Language Documentation and Revitalization in Latin American Contexts (Mouton, 2015) and is currently Junior Co-Chair of the LSA’s Committee on Endangered Languages and their Preservation (CELP).

The LSA Member Spotlight highlights the interests and accomplishments of a different LSA member each month. Click here to see previous Member Spotlights.

When did you first join the LSA and how have you been involved with the LSA since you joined? 

I joined the LSA in 2011, ahead of the Linguistic Institute being held at the University of Colorado, Boulder, that summer. I was really interested in attending as I was preparing for my first field trip to Venezuela and I thought the Institute would prepare me better for that trip (and it did!). Since joining, my involvement with the LSA has been mostly as a member of the Committee on Endangered Languages and their Preservation (CELP). I have been a member of CELP since I joined in 2011 and I helped organize a CELP-sponsored special session on language documentation and revitalization in South America for the 2013 Annual Meeting. This year I am CELP’s Junior Co-Chair and I will be Senior Co-Chair next year; in my role as CELP’s Co-Chair, I have had the incredible opportunity of helping with planning the celebration of the UN Year of Indigenous Languages in 2019 as part of a joint initiative between the LSA and the Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas that will involve events all year round (Stay tuned!). I am also in the process of helping the LSA with a series of webinars for early career linguists.

What are you currently researching/working on? 

Currently, my focus of attention is on the documentation of Piaroa, a Sáliban language spoken in Venezuela and Colombia, with the Piaroa community of Babel near Puerto Ayacucho, Venezuela. This research, funded by the Endangered Languages Documentation Program, seeks to create an audio-visual corpus of the language that can be mobilized for linguistic research and also for the creation of materials for the community. Since Piaroa is seriously under-described, there is no shortage of things to study. At the moment, I am looking at nominal classification. Piaroa has two distinct gender systems, a nominal classifier system, and a possessive classifier system, which co-exist and interact in the grammar of the language in really interesting ways. I am also continuing work on some of my other documentation projects as well as on the reconstruction of Proto-Sáliban and Proto-Jodï-Sáliban.

What is your personal favorite linguistic article or study?

My favourite linguistic article is “Talking to Pets in Arara” (Souza and Parker, 2012) because it documents the genius and creativity of speakers and reminds me that language is inherently social and human. It also underscores the importance of documenting naturally-occurring speech, especially in indigenous languages.

What advice would you give to students interested in pursuing a career in linguistics?

If you are interested in topic X or language Y, read broadly (yes, even research outside linguistics) and read deeply (yes, even things that were written long ago using now hard-to-understand conventions like tagmemic grammars). There are three main reasons behind this advice: first, as social scientists working on language, it is crucial to understand language users (i.e. people) and that involves reading anthropology, sociology, history, etc.; second, if we are committed to moving our own field forward, we should strive to understand how it formed and how it has changed over the years; and third, reading in general will help you discover which questions have been asked and which still need to be asked and at the same time help you find your own voice as a writer.

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

This is a difficult question to answer because I have truly benefited from many LSA services (e.g. the Summer Institute, mentoring, the graduate student mixers at the Annual Meeting, webinars, etc.) over the years, but if I have to pick one thing, it’d be “a sense of community”. After being at the Institute and seeing what a fantastic community of linguists LSA members are, I have attended every LSA Annual Meeting since then and every time I go, I’m reminded that we are a community that not only shares a passion for languages but one which is also committed to social issues and extremely supportive of young scholars.