UCLA Language Materials Project Wins Prestigious MLA Prize
The LMP team (from left): Thomas Hinnebusch, Barbara Blankenship and Arturo Díaz. (Photo: Armani Rosiles/ UCLA.)

UCLA Language Materials Project Wins Prestigious MLA Prize

The UCLA Language Materials Project has won the Modern Language Association's eighth annual prize for a bibliography, archive or digital project.

By Peggy McInerny, Director of Communications

UCLA International Institute, December 18, 2014 — The Modern Language Association (MLA) has awarded the UCLA Language Materials Project (LMP) its eighth annual prize for a bibliography, archive or digital project. The prize is one of two awarded for the 2012–13 period.

The MLA will present the award to LMP Director Thomas Hinnebusch, linguist Barbara Blankenship and researcher Arturo Díaz in Vancouver on January 10, 2015, as part of its 130th annual convention.

LMP is an online scholarly bibliography of materials and pedagogical methods for teaching over 150 less commonly taught languages. It is one of the many projects of the UCLA Center for World Languages. The director of that center, UCLA Professor of Russian Olga Kagan, will receive an award for distinguished service to the language teaching profession at the same ceremony.

“The UCLA Language Materials Project is a digital resource of breadth, originality, and utility,” reads the MLA press release on the award. “This user-friendly, open-access tool assembles an impressive array of materials on 151 modern languages that are less commonly taught in the United States [and]. . . includes full bibliographic information and useful abstracts for all entries. Particularly significant, too, is its focus on pedagogy.

“Since its creation, the UCLA Language Materials Project has continued to grow rapidly, and it will undoubtedly be of continuing service to teachers and scholars of languages that are a crucial, if too often neglected, cultural resource.”

Ironically, LMP is currently searching for new sources of support, as its long-time funder — the U.S. Department of Education's International Education and Research Program — recently lost its funding for online databases.

Project history and the LMP team

Created in 1992 by UCLA Professor of Political Science Mike Lofchie, the comprehensive LMP bibliography now comprises over 9,000 citations of quality teaching materials for languages from Albanian to Zulu. These materials span published textbooks, dictionaries, readers, grammars, and course enrichment materials freely available on the Web. LMP focuses on materials and methods that make learning languages fun, particularly those that engage students in communicating in a given language, rather than support rote learning.

In addition to its searchable bibliographic database, the LMP website offers portals for 100 individual languages, a gateway for K–12 language teachers, video training in advanced Internet search techniques, and a guide for using authentic materials to enrich language instruction. The project's database and website have been supported by the professional IT team of the UCLA International Institute since 2001, a year before LMP first debuted on the Web.

UCLA Professor Emeritus of Linguistics Thomas Hinnebusch joined LMP at its inception in 1992 as a language advisor and became principal investigator and project director in 2001. A specialist in Bantu languages, Hinnebusch taught Swahili at UCLA for 32 years. Over the course of his career, he lived for three years in Tanzania and conducted research in Kenya, Rwanda, Swaziland and the Comoros. Hinnebusch received the Walton Award of the National Council of Less Commonly Taught Languages in 2007 for his noteworthy contributions to the field. He is currently working on two projects: documenting endangered Swahili coastal dialects and developing a citation dictionary of Swahili classical poetry.

Linguist Barbara Blankenship, authentic materials and K–12 coordinator at LMP, coordinates research and content creation for the LMP website. A former opera singer, she earned a PhD in acoustic phonetics from the UCLA Linguistics Department. Prior to joining LMP, she served as co-principal investigator of a National Science Foundation–funded project to digitize rare fieldwork tape recordings of endangered languages. Those recordings are now offered online through the UCLA Library Digital Collections. More recently, she worked as a language specialist for Language Weaver, a company that creates automated translation software for unusual languages.

Researcher Arturo Díaz, LMP pedagogical materials coordinator, identifies new materials to cite in the bibliography by maintaining contacts with a network of academic and professional developers of language teaching resources. A language enthusiast and writer, he also supports Los Angeles community programs that target heritage speakers of various language groups as part of his work at the UCLA Center for World Languages.

 

​Updated January 28, 2015:

 

January 10, 2015. Vancouver. The LMP's Barbara Blakenship accepts the award from MLA President
Margaret Ferguson. distinguished professor of English at University of California, Davis..