Wednesday, May 17, 2023
  Research, Faculty Focus

By Amanda A. Taylor-Uchoa

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – MAY 17, 2023 – The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) recently awarded a $349,931 grant to Dr. Katherine Christoffersen, a UTRGV assistant professor in Applied Linguistics, Department of Writing and Language Studies, for her research project entitled “Bilingual Voices in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands: Preserving, Expanding, & Elaborating Sociolinguistic Collections."

Christoffersen, project director and principal investigator for the grant, previously was awarded an NEH grant in 2020, with her team, on research promoting bilingualism on the U.S.-Mexico border.

This new grant continues funding on the multi-site project, which documents language in the Rio Grande Valley and Southern Arizona by expanding development of two website-based collections of interviews with community members, the Corpus Bilingüe del Valle (CoBiVa) and Corpus de Español del Sur de Arizona (CESA).

Co-PIs on the project are Dr. Ana Carvalho from the University of Arizona and Dr. Ryan Bessett from the University of California San Diego. Other team members include UTRGV Librarian Justin White, who will oversee the preservation of CoBiVa, and Carlos Zepeda, from the UTRGV IT Department.

“This project develops two sociolinguistic corpora documenting language practices of Spanish-English bilingual speakers in Texas (CoBiVa) and Arizona (CESA),” Christoffersen said. “The project follows from our previous NEH-funded project from 2020-2021. In this second phase, we will archive the sociolinguistic collections in collaboration with UTRGV and University of Arizona libraries, expand and balance the datasets, and elaborate the websites.”

The funding timeline will start this fall (2023) and run through August 2026.

The project, studying the local bilingual language practices of the RGV community, legitimizes and attributes prestige to bilingual language practices, Christoffersen said. Her goal in seeking funding for the project was to help fund undergraduate and graduate students to work on CoBiVa.

“This provides important research assistantship opportunities for students and involves them in studying the language of their own community. In the past, students have found this experience very meaningful,” she said.

As PI on the project, Christoffersen will oversee and coordinate three main goals:

  • Preservation and archiving of the corpora.
  • Balancing and diversifying the datasets.
  • And elaborating the websites for the sociolinguistic corpora.

She will teach all corpus-related courses, mentor student research assistants and collaborate among teams of researchers, students, librarians and IT on both UTRGV and University of Arizona campuses.

Librarian White, overseeing preservation efforts on the project, said oral histories often suffer from lack of proper preservation.

My role is to plan for the long-term preservation of materials and implement that plan as part of the library’s workflows. Digital files tend to hang around a few years on their own without much issue on local hard drives,” he said.

“But if you want them to last even a mere 50 to 100 years, which is not very long in archival terms, it takes careful planning. If future researchers want to study language change over time, we want to preserve the best quality versions of our materials possible.”

Christoffersen finds any opportunity to mentor students rewarding, and with this continuing project, she hopes students will gain a positive experience, as well.

“These types of grants allow us to carry out high-quality, large research projects. It allows us the funding to develop cross-campus collaborations among multiple teams of highly skilled individuals to advance our understanding on important topics,” she said.

“For instance, this particular grant allows us to understand the bilingual language practices right here in the Valley. We hope this will help students and the community understand that these bilingual practices are highly sophisticated, complex and beautiful expressions of a bilingual, bicultural identity.”

For more information on the grant, visit the website here.


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.