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International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women throughout history, and to raise awareness about women’s equality.

Different countries observe today in various ways, from giving flowers and gifts to women, hosting parties for women only, feminist demonstrations and more. Women have become prominent in all fields, so today, let us honour the exceptional women who claimed their spot in language access, interpreting, translation and linguistics that helped change history and advance knowledge.

#1: Tsvia Walden

Tsvia Walden is an Israeli psycholinguist and is currently a very well respected professor at the Ben Gurion University of the Negev. She is known for her research in social studies and how language, gender, and other factors influence the way people communicate.

She continues to study how language influences social meaning even today. As a professor, she is focused on finding better ways of teaching languages, showing a preference for the Whole Language method. She is also the creator and presenter of a filmed lecture series about language instruction and language acquisition.

In addition to her professional work, she is involved in promoting active listening and dialogue through social issues such as promoting human rights, the Middle East peace process and feminist action.

#2: Sarah Winnemucca

Sarah Winnemucca was a member of Nevada’s Paiute tribe. Born Thocmetony, meaning Shell Flower, she was an active peacemaker, teacher, and defender of the rights of Native Americans. She was sent to study at a Catholic school in Santa Clara, California, where she learned English. She was one of the few members of her tribe to write and read in English.

Sarah acted as the interpreter to Indian Agent Samuel B. Parrish, who encouraged the Paiute to plant crops and establish an agricultural program to support the community. When the Bannock War broke out in 1878, Sarah acted as the translator, messenger and scout for the General with the U.S. Army, causing the Bannock tribe and the army to be on good terms and minimise the casualties.

She was allowed to live outside the Yakima Indian Reservation and gave lectures in Nevada and California about the harsh conditions the Paiute tribe had to endure. She later became an activist, advocating the mistreatment Native Americans received from people inside and outside the reservations.

#3: Lydia Callis

American Sign Language interpreter Lydia Callis was first put in the spotlight when she signed during the press conference regarding Hurricane Sandy with Mayor Bloomberg of New York in 2012. Although the press conference dealt with a sombre subject, her signing was full of emotions that provoked feelings of positivity, raising the flagging spirits of the citizens amid the natural disaster. Some people regard her signing as the best sign language moment in history due to her facial expressions and body language to accurately communicate the message to the deaf and hard of hearing.

Callis used her newfound fame to bring more awareness to the community of the hearing impaired. She hopes to educate people about Deaf culture and help change the current view society holds for the Deaf community.

#4: Carol Chomsky

Carol focused on children’s language acquisition. Through her work, she established that the earlier researches up until that point was a gross underestimation of the complex processes that take place in a child’s brain when learning syntax, reading, and speaking.

She identified some issues in previous language learning and she created the technique of reading repeatedly to help children who struggled with it, become more fluent in reading. She helped education technology as well by developing a computer program with the same purpose – to help improve reading and comprehension skills.

Carol’s 1969 book, “The Acquisition of Syntax in Children From 5 to 10” detailed her study on how children understood their native language’s grammatical structure. Her studies determined that children continued to improve their skills in acquisition of syntax beyond age five.

#5: Mary Haas

The work of American linguist Mary Haas focused on the languages of the North American Indians. She was able to keep recordings and written documents about several native languages that have become extinct. Her research work specifically focused on Alabama, Creek, Natchez and Tunica languages. Most of her notes remain unpublished today, but her work is being used by contemporary linguists.

In addition to this, she was a linguistics professor and taught several American linguists, supervising over 100 doctoral students throughout her career. Mary Haas is also a specialist in Southeast Asian languages and taught Thai at the University of California at Berkeley’s Army Specialised Training Program.

Bonus: Famous Female Polyglots

Many high-class ladies were taught several foreign languages from an early age as communication is one of the fundamental elements for a good relationship. These lessons were only designed to create proper wives for the powerful men of the times, but there are a few who understood the power that comes with being multilingual.

Take for example, the rulers of two empires: Cleopatra and Queen Elizabeth I. Both were polyglots – Cleopatra was believed to speak 9 languages and Queen Elizabeth I around 10.

Of course, famous female polyglots is not limited to heads of state. Other examples include Audrey Hepburn, who spoke six languages, Sandra Oh, who speaks four languages, and Shakira, who speaks five languages.

We are very grateful to the countless other female linguists who have made their mark in the world and continue their invaluable contributions to society and the field of linguistic studies.