To date, more than 7,000 languages are spoken around the world. As Gabriela Pérez Báez explains, languages hold critical knowledge about the history of survival of the communities of speakers, their ecological perspectives and their well-being.
Pérez Báez is an assistant professor in the University of Oregon’s linguistics department and serves as the director of its new Language Revitalization Lab. She also serves as co-director for the National Breath of Life Archival Institute for Indigenous Languages and works with the UO’s Northwest Indian Language Institute, known as NILI.
Of the more than 300 languages spoken at the time of contact with Europeans in what is now the United States, more than half stopped being spoken as a result of colonization and state-building policies. These languages are considered to be dormant or sleeping. Many more are highly endangered today.
“The language communities recognize how critical the languages are and as a result have engaged in the arduous work of researching the languages in historical archives in order to reconstruct them and bring them back to use,” Pérez Báez said.
The Northwest Indian Language Institute provides training to Native American teachers working to revitalize many of these languages. Institute staff also partner with tribes to carry out on-site trainings and develop curriculum to teach highly endangered or sleeping languages in the classroom.
The institute’s efforts are being recognized with the announcement earlier in the fall that the National Breath of Life, of which the institute is a partner, has received support through a $311,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The grant was awarded to Daryl Baldwin, director of the Myaamia Center at Miami University, and Pérez Báez.