Mark Turin

My research interests can be grouped into four main clusters.

First, as a linguist and anthropologist, I have spent many years studying issues of language and cultural practice across the Himalayan region. My work is informed by a background in ethnographic methods, anthropological theory and field linguistics. In addition to Nepal, where I have worked since 1992, my interest in the Himalayan region has taken me to Bhutan (where I am part of a 5-year collaborative research project to document the endangered oral traditions of the nation); the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China, where I researched contemporary Nepali wage labour migrants; and also to Sikkim, where I directed the first modern linguistic survey of this small Indian state in partnership with the local government and a Sikkimese research institute. I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to work in collaborative partnership with members of the Thangmi-speaking communities of eastern Nepal and Darjeeling district in India since 1996, and since 2014 with members of the Heiltsuk First Nation through a Híɫzaqv Language Mobilization Partnership in which UBC is a member.

Second, through my experience of long-term fieldwork, I have become increasingly interested in how insights derived from academic research can inform policy and practice. Since 2003, I have worked as an occasional consultant for the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and various UN agencies. Projects have included drafting the first inclusive multilingual education policy for Nepal, advising the Government of Nepal on the linguistic rights of its citizens and assessing the impact of sustainable ecotourism in Tibet. In 2007, I was asked to create and direct the Translation and Interpretation Unit in the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN), a special political mission mandated by the UN Security Council to support Nepal’s peace process.

Third, I am committed to innovation in teaching methods and to developing research partnerships with students. In my teaching, I seek to create a rich instructional experience for students at all levels, often supported by digital tools and instructional technology. In recognition of this, I was nominated as the Anthropology Associate for academic year 2009-2010 by C-SAP, the national subject network for Sociology, Anthropology and Politics funded by the UK Funding Councils for Higher Education. While at Yale, I taught an award-winning, hands-on, collaborative class that used technology to explore the links between the university’s exceptional collections from and about the Himalayan region. Here at UBC, I hold a grant from the Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund entitled ‘Uncovering Indigenous Stories through Digital Tools’.

The final component of my life as a scholar is designing and directing larger research projects and initiatives. I co-founded the Digital Himalaya Project in 2000, which has since then developed from its origins as an academic research project into an integrated, open scholarly portal for connecting knowledge about the Himalayan region. I have worked as a fieldwork coordinator and anthropologist on a large, international and multi-disciplinary research project funded by the Volkswagen Foundation, jointly based at Leipzig University and Tribhuvan University in Nepal. From 2009, I have directed the World Oral Literature Project, tying together my enthusiasm for fundamental research at the intersection of anthropology and linguistics, a commitment to building a wider scholarly community through supporting the research of others, and a passion for engaged anthropology that reaches an audience beyond the academy.

First Nations and Endangered Languages Program

The FNEL program was initiated in 1997 as part of UBC’s commitment to community-based collaboration with First Nations peoples, in recognition of the profound importance of these languages and of the cultural traditions they represent.

Digital Himalaya Project Current
December, 2000

A project to develop digital collection, storage and distribution strategies for multimedia anthropological information from the Himalayan region

World Oral Literature Project Current
January, 2009

An urgent global initiative to document and make accessible endangered oral literatures before they disappear without record

Mark Turin (PhD, Linguistics, Leiden University, 2006) is an anthropologist, linguist and occasional radio presenter; and an Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. From 2014-2018, he served as Chair of the First Nations and Endangered Languages Program and from 2016-2018, as Acting Co-Director of the University’s new Institute for Critical Indigenous Studies. He is a founding member of the Steering Committee of the UBC Himalaya Program, an Associate Member of the Department of Asian Studiesand Affiliated Faculty at the Institute of Asian Research. He also hold an appointment as Visiting Associate Professor at the Yale School Forestry & Environmental Studies and served as the Founding Program Director of the Yale Himalaya Initiative from 2011-2014.

Mark directs both the World Oral Literature Project, an urgent global initiative to document and make accessible endangered oral literatures before they disappear without record, and the Digital Himalaya Project which he co-founded in 2000 as a platform to make multi-media resources from the Himalayan region widely available online. For over twenty years, Mark’s regional focus has been the Himalayan region (particularly Nepal, northern India and Bhutan), and more recently, the Pacific Northwest. Mark is very privileged to have had the opportunity to work in collaborative partnership with members of the Thangmi-speaking communities of eastern Nepal and Darjeeling district in India since 1996, and since 2014 with members of the Heiltsuk First Nation through a Haíɫzaqv Language Mobilization Partnership in which UBC is a member.

Mark has held research appointments at Cornell and Leipzig universities, as well as the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology in Sikkim, India. From 2007 to 2008, he served as Chief of Translation and Interpretation at the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN).

Mark Turin writes and teaches on ethnolinguistics, language endangerment, visual anthropology, digital archives and fieldwork methodology. He is the author or co-author of four books, three travel guides, the editor of eight volumes, and he edits a series on oral literature. From 2013-2017, Mark co-edited the journal Himalaya. Mark is a regular BBC presenter on issues of linguistic diversity and language endangerment. He also serves as Advisor to the Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project  He is one of three principal investigators on a major five-year collaborative research project supported by the Arcadia Fund to document and protect Bhutan’s oral traditions and a Co-Investigator on Partnership Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada entitled First Nations Languages in the 21st Century: Looking Back, Looking Forward. Mark is honoured to serve on the Advisory Board of SAPIENS and as a Steering Committee Member of UBC Language Sciences.

Office Hours: by appointment

Please visit the following page for my publications organized by category:

ASTU 402 Living Language: Science and Society

Cross-listed as APSC 402, ASTU 402, FRST 402, LFS 402, LLED 402, and PHAR 402, it will be co-taught by Professors Janet Werker (Psychology) and Mark Turin (Anthropology, First Nations and Endangered Languages).

The first University-wide course in Language Sciences, Living Language: Science and Society, will be offered in September, 2018. In this interdisciplinary 3-credit ‘transition-out’ course, 3rd and 4th-year students examine, integrate and apply their subject-specific knowledge through the lens of language and the framework of the language sciences, with a focus on themes of real-world importance. 3 credits

Urban growth, land-use change, and growing vulnerability in the Greater Himalaya mountain range across India, Nepal and Bhutan, PI: Karen Seto (Yale University); Co-I: Alark Saxena (Yale University) & Mark Turin (UBC); Collaborators: Sara Shneiderman (UBC), Prakash Tiwari (Kumaun University) and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development in Nepal (ICIMOD) (2017-2010).

Ethnoscape: Digital heritage access for language and culture in First Nations communities. SSHRC Knowledge Synthesis Grant (2016-2017)

Voices of the Himalaya: Language, Culture, and Belonging in Immigrant New York. Office of the Provost
, Dartmouth College
, Global Exploratory Development Grant, PI: Sienna Craig (2016-2017)

Green College Leading Scholar (2014-2016)

UBC-VPRI Knowledge Mobilization Grant (2014-2015)

UBC Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund (TLEF): Uncovering Indigenous Stories through Digital Tools at this “Place of Mind” (2015-2016)

Preserving Bhutan’s Cultural Heritage, USD $1.4 million (2013-2018)