Linguists and Native Americans Team Up on Indigenous Languages

(April 4, 2019)

More than 300 languages were spoken at the time Europeans arrived in what is now the United States. More than half of them have gone silent as US government policies of forced removal and assimilation fractured and dispersed Native American communities.

Today, Native social scientists are actively engaged in the revitalization of their cultures and languages. At the University of Oregon, teams of Native researchers are building digital archives containing historical documentation to make language knowledge available to their communities.

Gabriela Pérez Báez is a new assistant professor in linguistics at Oregon who specializes in the revitalization of indigenous languages. She is codirector of the National Breath of Life Archival Institute for Indigenous Languages, which trains Native American community researchers to navigate massive physical and digital archival repositories such as the National Anthropological Archives. The documents and other resources held in these collections are of great value for cultural and linguistic revitalization.

Pérez Báez and Breath of Life codirector Daryl Baldwin of the Myaamia Center at Miami University recently received $311,641 from the National Endowment for the Humanities to provide training to Native researchers on the use of powerful new archival software—the Indigenous Languages Digital Archive (ILDA). Users of ILDA can instantly search tens of thousands of digital records on a query.