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Awards Made in Agency Partnership for Documenting Endangered Languages

NEH, NSF boost efforts to make digital records of dying languages

WASHINGTON (July 10, 2006)--The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) today announced the awarding of 12 fellowships and 22 institutional grants in the two agencies' collaborative partnership for Documenting Endangered Languages (DEL). This is the second round of their multi-year campaign to preserve records of languages threatened with extinction. Experts estimate that more than half of the approximately 7,000 currently used human languages are headed for oblivion in this century. These new DEL awards, totaling $5 million, will support digital documentation work on more than 60 such languages.

No more than 20 speakers of Washo, a Native American language, remain, for example. They are elderly and scattered in several townships near the Nevada-California border. There is little by way of a dictionary or grammar for the language. A new DEL grant will enable field workers from the University of Chicago and the Washo community itself to carry out comprehensive multimedia documentation of interviews with these last speakers. Seventeen endangered languages of Africa, recently highlighted by UNESCO as having the highest concentration of disappearing languages, will be documented under six other DEL awards.

"Not only is this a time of great potential loss," said NEH Chairman Bruce L. Cole, "it is also a moment for enormous potential gain. In this modern age of computers and our growing technological capabilities, we can preserve, assemble, analyze, and understand unprecedented riches of linguistic and cultural information."

"The immense diversity of linguistic data presents a unique opportunity to understand many aspects of human cognition," noted NSF Director Arden L. Bement, Jr. "I am pleased that researchers are responding with urgency, as well as with precision and thoroughness."

As part of the International Polar Year initiative, NSF is investing in the documentation and preservation of endangered languages in the Arctic, where approximately 70% of the spoken indigenous languages are highly endangered. Three projects covering six languages in Russia and Alaska will receive over $800,000 in DEL grants. Sealaska Heritage Institute will videotape 30 hours of narrative in Northern Haida, a language of Alaska and British Columbia that has only 14 remaining speakers. The first writing systems will be devised for two of the five endangered Eurasian languages to be documented by a new DEL project directed by Alexander Nakhimovsky of Colgate University.

One new DEL grant to the University of Texas at Austin will enable the Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America (AILLA) to digitize and archive eight major collections of materials from prominent researchers on indigenous languages of Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, Venezuela and Brazil. A DEL fellowship will support Jeffrey Davis of the University of Tennessee in digitizing, translating, and assessing 19th century materials in the once widely used Plains Indian Sign Language that are housed at the Smithsonian Institution.

Already in June, 2006, a DEL grant to the University of Arizona enabled Ofelia Zepeda and Susan Penfield to offer an intensive four-week course in language documentation and grant proposal preparation at the 27th American Indian Language Development Institute (AILDI). The goal is to increase the participation of tribal members in language documentation efforts. A DEL fellowship will allow Ellavina Perkins, a native speaker of Navajo, to complete a reference grammar of Navajo sentence structure; her project will involve teachers and community members in the summer workshops of the Navajo Language Academy. Another DEL grant will support a project directed by Jimm G. Goodtracks, one of only a half-dozen remaining semi-fluent speakers, to preserve and document the Baxoje Jiwere Nyut'chi dialects of the indigenous language of the Ioway ~ Otoe-Missouria. Two DEL fellowships will allow Anton and David Treuer, members of the Leech Lake Band of Chippewa, to document four different variants of the southwestern dialect of Chippewa (Ojibwe) in Wisconsin and Minnesota; the language is still spoken only by elders, and some communities have fewer than five remaining speakers.

A complete listing of this year's awards follows. (The number of awards and the amounts shown could still change slightly.)

Fellowships (of $40,000 each, unless otherwise noted, awarded by NEH, with the fellow's affiliation and project title):

  • Linda Cumberland, independent scholar, Bloomington, Ind., "Assiniboine Texts";
  • Jeffrey Davis, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, "Preservation of Plains Indian Sign Language: Developing a Digital Archive at the Smithsonian";
  • Willem de Reuse, University of North Texas, Denton, "A Searchable Digital Archive of Western Apache Language Texts";
  • Scott Farrar, independent scholar, Tucson, Ariz., "The Documentation and Preservation of Western Beboid languages of Cameroon";
  • Jeff Good, independent scholar, Leipzig, Germany, ($24,000), "The Documentation and Preservation of Western Beboid Languages of Cameroon";
  • Gary Holton, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, "Documentation of Western Pantar, an Endangered Language of Pantar Island, Indonesia";
  • Steve Marlett, independent scholar, Tucson, Ariz., "Seri Reference Grammar and Workshops";
  • Todd McDaniels, independent scholar, Williamsville, N.Y., "Linguistic Characteristics of the Comanche Language";
  • Deogratias Ngonyani, Michigan State University, East Lansing, "Documenting Kikisi";
  • Ellavina Perkins, independent scholar, Flagstaff, Ariz., "Navajo Language Investigations";
  • Anton Treuer, Bemidji State University, Bemidji, Minn., "Chippewa Grammar Project for Southwestern Chippewa Dialect"; and
  • David Treuer, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, "Chippewa Grammar Project for Southwestern Chippewa Dialect."

Institutional Grants (with principal investigator, project title, and preliminary grant amount provided by NSF, unless otherwise indicated):

  • Megan Biesele, independent investigator, "Documenting the =Khomani and Ju/hoan Languages," $40,000;
  • Colgate University, Alexander Nakhimovsky, "Five Languages of Eurasia: Field Work, Analysis and Digital Archiving," $402,126;
  • Eastern Michigan University, Veronica Grondona, "Wichí: Documentation, Transcription and Training," $226,000 (NEH);
  • Iowa Tribe, Jimm Goodtracks, "Ioway Otoe-Missouria Dictionary Project," $225,000;
  • John Keegan, independent investigator, "MBay CD Project," $34,973;
  • New York University, Christopher Collins, "Grammar of N|u," $13,229;
  • Northeast Historic Film, Donna Ellithorpe, "Audio Visual Documentation of Passamaquoddy," $350,000;
  • Rutgers University, Akinbiyi Akinlabi, "Documenting Defaka and Nkoroo," $300,000;
  • Sealaska Heritage, Jordan Lachler, "Narratives and Conversations in Tlingit, Northern Haida and Tsimshian," $240,000;
  • Southern Illinois University, Ronald Schaefer, "Documenting Edo North Languages and Oral Narratives," $175,000 (NEH);
  • SUNY Buffalo, Jürgen Bohnemeyer & Carolyn O'Meara, "Doctoral dissertation: Seri Landscape Classification," $11,702;
  • UCLA, Russell Schuh, "Lexicon, Linguistic Structure, and Verbal Arts in Chadic Languages of Northeastern Nigeria," $125,003;
  • University of Alaska Fairbanks, Siri Tuttle, "Ahtna Texts," $147,000;
  • University of Arizona, Ofelia Zepeda, "Increasing Competitive Research among Tribal Communities for Documenting Endangered Languages," $142,504;
  • University of Chicago, Alan Yu, "Documentation of the Washo Language," $159,336;
  • University of Colorado, David Rood, "Documenting Lakota Conversation," $350,000;
  • University of Kansas, Clifton Pye, "Documenting Mayan Language Acquisition," $314,999;
  • University of Michigan, Jeffrey Heath, "Dogon languages of Mali," $209,961;
  • University of Minnesota, John Nichols, "Chippewa Dictionary and Archive," $300,000;
  • University of Oregon, Scott Delancey, "Tsafiki Documentation Project: Descriptive Grammar and Electronic Database," $207,890;
  • University of Texas at Austin, Joel Sherzer, "Archiving Significant Collections of Endangered Languages," $350,000 (NEH); and
  • University of Wisconsin, Monica Macaulay, "Completion of Three Menominee Dictionaries," $300,000.

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