Documenting Endangered Langs 2007 Awards

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sat Oct 20 14:59:27 UTC 2007

Documenting Endangered Langs 2007 Awards

Please note: The original message found at
contained an error in the text, listing Carol Genetti's affiliation
incorrectly as the University of Washington. Dr. Genetti is at the
University of California at Santa Barbara. The text below contains
corrected information.

On October 12, The US National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the
National Science Foundation (NSF) announced the award of 18 institutional
grants and nine fellowships in their Documenting Endangered Languages (DEL)
partnership. A workshop on language recording techniques also will be
supported. This is the third round of their multiyear campaign to preserve
records of languages threatened with extinction. Experts estimate that more
than half of the approximately 7,000 currently used human languages will
stop being spoken in this century. These new DEL awards, totaling more than
$4 million, will support direct documentation work on more than 30 such
languages and improvements in computer use that will help all language work.

Further recognition came to awardee Sven Haakanson last month in the form
of a MacArthur Fellowship. Combining language work, funded by NSF, with
revival of cultural traditions, ''Haakanson is preserving and reviving
ancient traditions and heritage, celebrating the rich past of Alutiiq
communities, and providing the larger world with a valuable window into a
little-known culture,'' according to the MacArthur Web site. The
interaction of communities and their environment via language is a common
theme in DEL grants. It is particularly relevant in the Arctic region
during the current International Polar Year (IPY).

Work by indigenous groups continues to play a prominent role in
documentation. Native groups have an automatic interest in preserving their
languages, often after decades of neglect and active suppression. Projects
funded at the Salish Kootenai College in Montana, the Choctaw Nation in
Oklahoma, the Navajo Language Academy in Arizona, the Koasati Tribe in
Louisiana (together with McNeese State University), the Alutiiq Museum in
Alaska (discussed above) and the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin demonstrate an
active and successful surge in preservation of Native American languages by
the speakers and their descendants.

As part of the U. S. IPY research agenda, NSF is supporting the
documentation and preservation of endangered Arctic languages. Most Arctic
indigenous languages are highly endangered. One project headed by Sharon
Hargus of the University of Washington will focus on obtaining personal
narratives of climate change in three Native communities in Alaska and
Canada. Not only will the narratives provide important linguistic material,
they will provide a Native perspective on changes to an environment that,
while harsh, is extremely sensitive to change. Other Arctic languages to be
recorded are Alutiiq, Klallam, Deg Xinag and Tlingit. A grant supplement
will extend the work in Siberia under the direction of Alexander
Nakhimovsky of Colgate University.

Several DEL grants extend work in the realm of computer support, allowing a
more efficient processing of language data and greater access for a wide
range of users. Andrew Garrett, at the University of California, Berkeley,
will begin the enormous task of making the extensive holdings in the
Berkeley Indigenous Language Archive available electronically. Jason
Baldridge, at the University of Texas, Austin, will work on an automatic
annotation technique that, if successful, will save countless hours on the
part of transcribers of endangered language material. And Susan Penfield,
at the University of Arizona, will explore the ways in which a community as
a whole can work collaboratively on language projects. An innovative
workshop strategy, led by Carol Genetti at the University of California at
Santa Barbara, will train a cadre of linguists and Native community members
in the techniques of digital archiving. The workshop will allow for an
increased use of hands-on experience with the opportunity for the attendees
to take away a suite of open-source products to continue their language work
their home institutions.

Work in the Pacific will involve Cemaun Arapesh, Rotokas, and Bahinemo
(Papua New Guinea), Kimaragang (Malaysia), and Bardi (Australia). Africa
will be represented by Bikya, Bishuo, and Busuu (Cameroon), Krim and Bom
(Sierra Leone), and Nyangbo (Ghana). Further afield are studies of Albanian
and Razihi (Yemen). Central America is represented by work on Mayan:
Chorti, Yocotán and Tumbalá Chol in one project and Tojolabal in another.

For a complete listing of the awards, see (NSF Press Release

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