Naomi Gottschalk received the Undergraduate Summer Research Grant from the Department of Linguistics last year. She used the grant to travel to Spain to study the language isolate Basque.

In this region of Spain, Basque has been spoken since before Spanish and even Latin. While it used to be more widespread, it was pushed into this area by language shifts and the migration of Spanish speakers. It is a language isolate, meaning it is not related to any other known language in the world.

Naomi became interested in Basque through the Linguistics Capstone Seminar, a fields methods course. “It’s a morphologically complex language with an interesting sociolinguistic situation. Because of this, I thought the Basque region would be a great place to do field work,” she said.

For Naomi, the Undergraduate Summer Research Grant application process was relatively simple, requiring only a preliminary budget and a proposal for her research project. It paid for airline tickets, room and board, the purchase of necessary equipment to do the study, and any expenses that came up related to research.

The grant “allowed me to see a sociolinguistics situation in real life. I got to speak with people about how they feel about their language in terms of my study and how that would affect how they speak their language. For example, how they wanted to portray their language in public through street and store signs. Even though the towns I travelled to were completely Basque speaking, there were signs on stores that said ‘I want to sell in Basque,’ or ‘I want to live Basque’ showing the importance of the language to locals. I wouldn't have been able to see that if I hadn't been given the opportunity to travel there,” said Naomi.

Being in the Basque region was vital to Naomi’s research as she was focused on language change in Basque. She spoke with locals about how they felt about language change and how they assigned social meaning to particular grammatical structures. For her, the only way to do this accurately, was to be among those living in this region who speak the language daily.

Naomi was attracted to Linguistics because she views language as one of the defining traits of humanity “it defines us, it defines our culture, it defines our communication, it defines our interactions, and I think that we need to know more about it as humans.”

Naomi Gottschalk is interested in continuing her study of Basque, both as a research interest and a language interest, beyond U-M in graduate school.

Learn more about the Undergraduate Summer Research Grant.