University of North Dakota Faculty/Staff Newsletter

SIL colloquium will feature Cathy Marlett July 12

Cathy Marlett will present “A Seri Ethnography of Mollusks” at 8 p.m. Thursday, July12, in 300 Merrifield Hall. Through ethnography, Marlett explores the linguistic issues of naming and classification.

While working on a simple list of shell names in the Seri language (Mexico), Marlett was allowed to enter into a fascinating linguistic and cultural world that is quickly vanishing. As she began documenting the Seri people’s extensive knowledge of mollusks in the Gulf of California, she also began grappling with linguistic issues such as What makes a name a name? When is the item just a spontaneous description? How do the Seris classify their biological world? And there were cultural questions as well, including Why are certain mollusks avoided? and Why shouldn’t you eat the gills of mussels?

Cathy Marlett works with SIL International as a graphic artist and as a trainer in both art and linguistics. She has contributed extensively to illustrations for literacy publications used by indigenous peoples in several countries, including Mexico and Pakistan. Her biological and ethnographic illustrations have appeared in numerous scientific publications as well.

Marlett grew up in the Seri community of northern Mexico, where she learned to speak the language of that community along with Spanish and her native English. She received her bachelor's degree from Wheaton College in Illinois in Biology and Art, later studying linguistics at UND. Her background in these fields has been key in her ethnographic work on the Seri knowledge and use of mollusks, which will be published as a book by the University of Arizona Press.

-- Douglas Fraiser, 352-215-2697,

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