Designated Emphasis in Indigenous Language Revitalization

Graduate students in any Berkeley PhD program may apply to join the Designated Emphasis in Indigenous Language Revitalization, which is supervised by a Graduate Group in Indigenous Language Revitalization (and housed administratively in the Department of Linguistics). A Designated Emphasis is like a graduate minor.


Around the world, indigenous languages are endangered and facing extinction or dormancy. UNESCO estimates that at least 43 percent of the world’s 6,000 languages are endangered. In January 2016, the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues convened a three-day summit to discuss the future of indigenous languages. Its recommendations urge member states to support educational initiatives that focus on indigenous language revitalization; recognize and address disparities in political and social power that subjugate indigenous knowledge and languages; and establish effective channels for community members and heritage language speakers to collaborate with educational institutions to preserve and revitalize languages, among other strategies.

The DE in Indigenous Language Revitalization creates an interdisciplinary course of study, drawing together an intellectual cohort that will equip graduate students from various departments with knowledge of the methods, histories, and goals of indigenous language revitalization and reclamation. The DE emphasizes interdisciplinary coursework and hands-on experience (through practicum or fieldwork credits) that center on the critical methods and histories of the attempted eradication, the persistence, and the revitalization of indigenous languages in the context of colonization. While the content of the DE primarily focuses on indigenous contexts in the Americas, it is relevant to indigenous settings elsewhere.

The DE draws upon and extends resources uniquely available at Berkeley. The Linguistics Department has long been a leader in the study of indigenous languages, also supporting resources such as the Survey of California and Other Indian Languages and the California Language Archive. It was at Berkeley that the Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival (an indigenous nonprofit organization) collaborated with Prof. Leanne Hinton to create the Breath of Life Archival Institute; now in its third decade, this program helps revive dormant languages by recovering archival material for California Indian languages with no or few living first-language speakers. Indigenous communities and speakers collaborate with Berkeley researchers, and increasingly interface with and are themselves members of the University community. This rich intellectual heritage is the cornerstone of a DE that specifically trains and signals expertise in the area of indigenous language revitalization. In Native American Studies and Education, courses and faculty research have long addressed the historical and cultural contexts of language loss; educational policies related to language; and the epistemological and cultural values of indigenous languages. A critical mass of faculty and graduate students with shared interests in indigenous language revitalization working in linguistics, education, Native American studies, and anthropology made the establishment of this DE possible.


The following Berkeley faculty are currently members of the Graduate Group in Indigenous Language Revitalization:


Graduate students are invited to apply to the DE in Indigenous Language Revitalization after completion of their first year at Berkeley; students must enter the DE before taking the PhD Qualifying Exam. An application consists of the following:

  1. A DE application form
  2. A short statement (up 500 words) describing the applicant's interest in the DE and how it fits into their graduate studies and research goals.
  3. An up-to-date cv and an unofficial transcript of coursework at Berkeley.
  4. A brief letter from the applicant's faculty advisor endorsing their participation in the DE, sent under separate cover.
All materials should be sent as email attachments to Belén Flores ( Applications are due each year on November 2; the Executive Committee meets to review applications and make admissions decisions shortly thereafter.

Program Requirements

Core course​. All DE students are required to take Linguistics 251, “Indigenous Language Revitalization: Contexts, Methods, Outcomes”. This course draws components from each of the three core departments, focusing on historical contexts for language loss and challenges for revitalization; specific methods and theories for working with linguistic materials and collaborating with indigenous communities and speakers; and examining the results of language revitalization in cultural, linguistic, political and aesthetic terms. (Another course can replace Linguistics 251 only in special circumstances approved by the DE Head Graduate Adviser.)

Elective course. Each student in the DE must take one elective course that is not in the student’s home department, chosen from the following list of courses:

  • Anthropology 122A. Archaeology of the Americas: Archaeology of North America
  • Anthropology 122F. Archaeology of the Americas: California Archaeology
  • Anthropology 124A. Pacific Cultures: Archaeology of the South Pacific
  • Anthropology 149. Psychological Anthropology
  • Anthropology 174AC. California Historical Anthropology
  • Anthropology 179. Ethnography of the Maya
  • Anthropology 240AB. Fundamentals of Anthropological Theory
  • Anthropology 270B. Fundamentals of Language in Context
  • Education 146A. Education and Migration: Indigeneity in Yucatan and its Diaspora
  • Education 188B. Native American Education: Critical Issues and Possibilities
  • Education 188F: Language, Race, and Power in Education
  • Education 240A. Language Study for Educators
  • Education 240B. Theoretical Issues in the Study of Literacy
  • Education 240C. Issues in First and Second Language Acquisition
  • Education 241B. Language Socialization
  • Ethnic Studies 250. Native American Texts and Archives
  • Linguistics 100. Introduction to Linguistic Science
  • Linguistics 154. Language Revitalization: Theory and Practice
  • Linguistics 175. American Indian Languages
  • Linguistics 240AB. Linguistic Field Methods
  • Linguistics 245. Anthropological Linguistics
  • Linguistics 255. Introduction to Sociocultural Linguistics
  • Native American Studies 190. Indigenous Intertexts (seminar)

With approval from the DE Head Graduate Adviser, a student may fulfill this requirement through another course (including courses at Stanford or UC Davis as appropriate) or through a 298 or 299 research or individual or group study course. Students should note that some of the courses above have prerequisites which would also have to be satisfied.

Practicum​. Each student in the DE must complete a field project ("practicum") related to language revitalization, a hands-on project, under the supervision of a DE faculty member. This may be carried out through a structured program such as the American Indian Language Development Institute, the Breath of Life Institute (in Berkeley or Washington, D.C.), or the Northwest Indian Languages Institute. A field project can also be organized directly in collaboration with speakers, teachers, or language activists; tribal language programs; other governmental language programs; or other entities. The practicum should involve work equivalent to 2-4 semester units (45-90 hours) as approved by the DE Head Graduate Adviser.

Qualifying Exam and Dissertation. The student’s PhD Qualifying Exam Committee and Dissertation Committee must include at least one member of the Indigenous Language Revitalization Graduate Group. The dissertation project must address or engage with issues or methods in language revitalization in some substantive manner, from some academic perspective. The representative DE committee member will evaluate the substance of the material.