UWashington to open linguistic treasures to tribes

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Thu Sep 18 15:47:30 UTC 2003

Forwarded from University Week, the faculty and staff newspaper of the
University of Washington.

UW to open linguistic treasures to tribes

Thursday, August 21, 2003
Vol. 20, No. 32

Thirty-six participants from 13 Pacific Northwest Indian tribes will
gather at the UW in early September for a workshop designed to open the
linguistic riches of the UW campus and assist in tribal efforts to
revitalize indigenous languages. Members of the Nooksack, Chehalis,
Cowlitz, Lummi, Tulalip, Colville, Yakama, Samish, Skokomish, Muckleshoot,
Squaxin Island, Lower Rogue and Unangax tribes and nations will
participate in the weeklong Breath of Life workshop Sept. 812. They will
work with a dozen linguists, primarily UW linguistics Ph.Ds. and graduate
students, and library archivists, to learn the basics of linguistics and
explore material in their languages that is stored at the UW.

All of the participants are working to revitalize imperiled languages, and
some of these languages have no fluent speakers today, said Alice Taff, a
research associate in the UWs linguistics department who is coordinating
the workshop. We call these sleeping languages when there are no speakers.
But you can wake up a language. For example Hebrew, in the context of
daily conversation, was sleeping and is now quite awake.

During the workshop, participants will go to class in the mornings to
learn linguistic skills that will aid them in their work in the archives.
In the afternoons, archivists will help them explore and sort through the
material in their language. To focus their archives search, each
participant will work on a project related to revitalizing his or her
language. The UW archives and the Burke Museum of Natural History and
Culture contain a number of collections with material devoted to the
languages of native peoples of Washington and the Pacific Northwest.

The largest is the Melville Jacobs Collection. Jacobs was chairman of the
UWs anthropology department for nearly 30 years, and from 1926 to 1939 did
extensive field research documenting Indian language and music in
Washington. The Jacobs collection includes numerous field recordings, many
originally made on wax cylinders, as well as his notebooks and cards and
material collected by some of his students. The collection fills about 150

The Northwest Linguistics Collection contains miscellaneous material that
includes more than 800 audiotapes and countless microfilm copies of
linguistics field notes. The Ethnomusicology Collection, housed in the
School of Music, is one of the largest in the country and contains
material related to the songs of Washington and Pacific Northwest Indians.
The Metcalf Collection, stored in the Burke Museum, contains 76 one-hour
tapes, primarily of songs and music collected around Puget Sound in the
1950s. Many academics built their careers on the backs of linguistic data
that Indian people gave them, so it behooves the UW to turn around and
open the archives to their descendents who are working to revitalize their
language, said Taff.

She hopes the workshop will continue in future years. But even if it
doesnt, she thinks the weeklong program will show participants how to use
the archives, know the University and feel comfortable enough to come back
at their convenience and continue their work. What we are going to be
doing and teaching is secondary, and going through this material will be
absolute detective work to help sleeping languages awaken, she said.

The UW workshop is modeled and named after a similar program that has been
held every other year since 1996 at the University of California,
Berkeley, to revitalize Indian languages in California.

Joel Schwarz

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