Inspired like never before

How a linguistics student became passionate about preserving endangered languages

Lauren Bannon - 17 June 2022

Convocating BA student Adam Hundert is enthusiastic about the revitalization of Indigenous languages of the Americas. His enthusiasm shines through when he speaks of research he’s conducted under the mentorship of University of Alberta professor Dr. Jorge Rosés Labrada as a research assistant.

“Honestly, I’m proud of all the research I’ve had the opportunity to do,” said Hundert. “I hope the research I’ve done will benefit the communities in question and allow further work on these endangered languages.”

One highlight from his undergraduate research includes documenting an extremely endangered language formerly spoken in Venezuela called Sapé.

Hundert took long audio files of the historic language collected by Dr. Rosés Labrada and others and modified the files into smaller segments, making them easier to work with. He then took these smaller files and transcribed them, eventually creating a glossary (which will eventually become a Sapé dictionary).

Hundert also had the opportunity to work with a transcription software called Transkribus to create a searchable copy of a manuscript written in the language.

“Some work was done on the Sapé language over the last hundred years or so,” said Hundert. ”My goal was to consolidate some of that work to lay the groundwork for continued study, documentation and – hopefully – revitalization of the language.”

“I can best describe Adam as an incredibly self-motivated young researcher with an inquisitive mind and a caring personality,” said Dr. Rosés Labrada of his time working with Hundert. “Adam has seized every opportunity to grow as a linguistics researcher and to develop language materials that are useful to Indigenous communities.”

Inspired like never before

After learning about Hundert’s prolific research, it’s hard to imagine he was once unenthusiastic regarding his post-secondary education.

Hundert initially enrolled in a kinesiology degree program at MacEwan University, intending to become a personal trainer.

After one semester he realized he couldn’t commit four years to this program, and instead enrolled in a kinesiology fast track program at NAIT and immediately began personal training. Not long after this move, he realized he did not enjoy personal training.

“I quickly realized I was not as passionate about it as I had previously thought and left the program,” he reflected.

While working odd jobs, Hundert next enrolled in a business management degree program at MacEwan. However, he soon switched to a business management diploma program instead.

“I grew up in a family that stressed the importance of education, though I did not readily embrace that stance myself,” he said. “Early in my post-secondary journey, I would sometimes achieve high marks, but I was never particularly invested.”

All that changed in 2019 when his brother and wife – who both knew he had a knack for languages – encouraged him to enroll in the University of Alberta’s linguistics program.

“Once I started taking courses in linguistics, it was almost like a switch flipped in my brain,” he said. “I was suddenly inspired in a way I had never been before. My studies mattered to me, my grades mattered to me and I was extremely invested in my academic success.”

“This inspiration continues today in the work that I do with endangered languages.”

Looking toward the future

Though he’s proud of his degree, Hundert will miss his convocation ceremony due to a linguistics conference he's attending in Montana. After the conference, he plans to take a well-deserved break before picking up where he left off and moving forward with his research.

When asked what advice he has for anyone who, like him, is having a hard time finding an academic passion, here’s what he had to say:

“If someone is reading this that is unsure whether they should take a chance on themself, I’m begging them to take that chance – they may be surprised what they’re capable of.”