Ton Vallen Award 2012
The first Ton Vallen Award attracted seven submissions. The published papers covered a broad range of topics in the field of multilingualism and education, all of outstanding quality, rendering the jury's work quite difficult. A set of criteria applied to all papers yielded a clear winner, however:
Von Humboldt's parrot and the countdown of last speakers in the Colorado Delta
Shaylih Muehlmann, assistant professor of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, submitted an essay entitled Von Humboldt's parrot and the countdown of last speakers in the Colorado Delta (Language & Communication 32: 160-168, 2012 (e-published 2011)). In this essay, which draws on rich fieldwork experiences in the Colorado River Delta of Northern Mexico, Muehlmann discusses the effects of 'language counting' practices on a community of speakers of a minority language, including what she calls the 'enumerative malaise' among elderly (and thus 'soon to die') speakers of an endangered language.
This sweepingly and wittily written paper provides a fresh and critical look at the discourses of language endangerment, and brings these issues 'home' to the shrinking community of speakers, turning a powerful sociolinguistic discourse into a source of annoyance and frustration. The paper is of significant relevance for issues regarding language revitalization and mother-tongue education in contexts of language endangerment.
The jury appreciated the boldness and sharpness of the argument in this essay, as well as the 'smile' with which it is nonetheless presented to the readership. The sensitivity to fieldwork experience, and the solidarity between the researcher and her interlocutors in the field was equally noted. The innovative and creative argument developed by Muehlmann should draw the attention of a broad community of sociolinguists, educational linguists and linguistic anthropologists.
The jury congratulates all candidates on the quality of their work. Several of the other papers submitted for the Ton Vallen Award contained observations and arguments of great importance for the field of multilingualism and education. Judging from the overall quality of the submissions, this field is very much alive and junior scholars are making a difference.
The jury congratulates Shaylih Muehlmann and encourages her to continue and extend the work she is doing. It is more than promising - it is excellent.
Shaylih Muehlmann will receive a book voucher from Multilingual Matters, whose support we gratefully acknowledge.