WWU's Ed Vajda to Discuss the Ancient Language Link Between Siberia and North America Nov. 8 at City Hall

  • Pavel Sutlin, one of the last remaining Ket speakers. He taught Vajda Ket names for plants, birds and fish while Vajda did his research in Siberia.
    Pavel Sutlin, one of the last remaining Ket speakers. He taught Vajda Ket names for plants, birds and fish while Vajda did his research in Siberia.

Western Washington University Professor of Modern & Classical Languages Edward Vajda will give a talk titled “Firelight on the River: Siberia’s Ket People and Ancient North America” from 7-8 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 8 in the Bellingham City Council Chambers, 210 Lottie Street. 

The free, public talk is an installment of the WWU College of Humanities and Social Sciences Dean’s Lecture Series and is co-sponsored by the City of Bellingham.

The talk will describe Vajda’s original fieldwork with Ket elders during six different trips to Siberia over the past two decades and includes stunning photos of traditional and modern Ket lifeways as a backdrop to historical, linguistic and anthropological discoveries. The Kets are proving to be the oldest inhabitants of northern Asia, and their language, with its unique word tones and complicated verb prefix system, appears related to languages spoken in North America by the Tlingit and Dene (Athabaskan) peoples.

Vajda has been a professor in Western Washington University's Department of Modern and Classical Languages since 1987. He teaches courses in introductory linguistics, morphological theory, historical linguistics, Russian language, folklore and culture, and Eurasia's nomadic peoples. His research focuses on the languages of Northern Asia and includes original fieldwork with Ket, a severely endangered language spoken today only by a few dozen elders in the remote Yenisei River basin.

From 2005 to 2015 he was affiliated with the Linguistics Department of Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Leipzig, Germany), where he proposed evidence that Ket is related to the Na-Dene languages of North America, the first widely accepted linguistic link between an Old World and a New World language family. He received Western Washington University's Excellence of Teaching Award in 1992 and Paul J. Olscamp Distinguished Research Award in 2011.

Audience questions at the Nov. 8 talk will be welcomed.  The lecture will be recorded and shown on Bellingham TV Channel 10.

For more information on this lecture and for disability accommodations, please contact Susanna Glatz, WWU College of Humanities & Social Sciences, (360) 650-3763, or Susanna.Glatz@wwu.edu

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Wednesday, October 23, 2019 - 11:30am

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