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News Release 05-072

Federal Agencies Partner to Document Endangered Languages

NSF, NEH launch effort to digitally archive dying languages

Globalization and other factors speed language loss

Globalization and other factors speed language loss.

May 5, 2005

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

Today, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) announced the recipients of 13 fellowships and 26 institutional grants as part of the agencies' joint Documenting Endangered Languages (DEL) project—a new, multi-year effort to digitally archive at-risk languages before they become extinct. Experts estimate that almost half of the world's 6000-7000 existing languages are endangered. The DEL awards, totaling $4.4 million, will support the digital documentation of more than 70 of them.

"Endangered languages are an irreplaceable source of linguistic and cognitive information," according to NSF Director Arden L. Bement, Jr. "Modern cyberinfrastructure tools enable us to investigate these phenomena more exactly and more comprehensively."

The DEL grants support a variety of researchers and reflect efforts to document dying languages around the globe. For example, the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee, N.C. was awarded a grant to translate and digitize 19th-century Cherokee language materials from the Smithsonian Institution. Scientists at Cornell and Northern Arizona Universities will gather ultrasound and airflow data to determine just how the "click" sounds of South Africa's N/u language are produced.  Only 13 fluent N/u speakers remain.  Kristine Stenzel from the University of Colorado will document and analyze Piratapuyo--an Amazon language that uses an extremely rare word order: Object-Verb-Subject.

Researchers at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks will digitize 1,000 Yup'ik audio recordings for storage at the Arctic Region Supercomputing Center and assess the feasibility of creating a Northern Indigenous Languages Archive for the region's 200 endangered languages. Three DEL fellowship awardees will independently document several endangered Austronesian languages--including ones spoken in Taiwan, the Philippines and on Easter Island. On Easter Island, use of Rapa Nui declined from 77 percent to 7.5 percent among elementary school children over a 20-year period.

"This is a rescue mission to save endangered languages," says NEH Chairman Bruce Cole of the DEL program. "Language is the DNA of a culture, and it is the vehicle for the traditions, customs, stories, history, and beliefs of a people. A lost language is a lost culture. Fortunately, with the aid of modern technology and these federal funds, linguistic scholars can document and record these languages before they become extinct."

A complete listing of this year's awards follows.

Institutional grants:
Jonathan Amith, Gettysburg College, Guerrero Nahuatl Language Documentation and Lexicon Enrichment Project $299,917 (NSF)

Melissa Axelrod, University of New Mexico, Nambe Tewa Language Revitalization Project: Production of an Electronic Archive, $203,840 (NSF)

Lyle Campbell, University of Utah, Xinkan, Pipil and Mocho': Bringing Three Endangered Language Documentation Projects to Completion, $374,932 (NSF)

Peter Cole, University of Delaware, Traditional Jambi Malay, $185,585 (NSF)

Lise Dobrin, University of Virginia, Arapesh Grammar and Digital Language Archive, $225,000 (NEH)

Barbara Duncan, Cherokee Museum, Smithsonian Cherokee Language Materials and Language revitalization, $166,274 (NEH)

Keri Edwards, Sealaska Heritage, Continuing Tlingit Language Documentation, $266,224 (NSF)

Zygmunt Frajzyngier, University of Colorado, Grammars of Mandara and Giziga, $239,999 (NSF)

Jule Garcia, California State University, San Marcos, Multimedia Database of Ixil Mayan Narratives, $160,000 (NSF)

John Goldsmith, University of Chicago, Digital Preservation of Meso-American Linguistic Archives, $141,516 (NEH)

Heidi Harley, University of Arizona, The Morphosyntax of Verbs in Arizona Yaqui, $159,992 (NSF)

Charles Hofling, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Comparative and Historical Yukatekan Maya, $101,971 (NSF)

Gary Holton, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Developing a Northern Indigenous Languages Archive: Yup'ik Pilot Project, $39,186 (NSF)

Thomas Hudak, Arizona State University, Documentation and Archival-Digitization of Tai Linguistic Data, $69,456 (NSF)

Larry Hyman, University of California Berkeley, Documentation and Description of the Badiaranke Language, $17,767 (NEH)

Richard Littlebear, Dull Knife Memorial College, Northern Cheyenne Endangered Language Project, $100,000 (NSF)

Daniel Miller, Ironbound Films, Inc., Vanishing Voices, $502,730 (NSF)

Amanda Miller-Ockhuizen, Cornell University, Collaborative Research: Descriptive and Theoretical Studies of N|u, $14,452 (NSF)

Susan Penfield, University of Arizona, Mohave and Chemehuevi Language Documentation Project, $200,000 (NSF)

Margaret Reynolds, Linguistic Society of America, Archiving Endangered Languages: Communication Among Competing Approaches and Education in Best Practices, $25,000 (NSF)

Bonny Sands, Northern Arizona University, Collaborative Research: Descriptive and Theoretical Studies of N|u  $6,970

Joel Sherzer, University of Texas at Austin, DELAMAN 3: The Third Annual Meeting of the Digital Endangered Languages and Musics Archive Network, $15,950

Kathy Sikorski, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Pedagogical Grammar of Gwich'in, $103,947 (NSF)

Siri Tuttle, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Lower Tanana Dictionary and Literacy, $109,772 (NSF)

Gregory Ward, Linguistic Society of America, Challenge Grant: Ensuring the Teaching of Research Skills for the Documentation and Revitalization of Endangered Languages (Kenneth Hale Memorial Chair), $40,000 (NEH, NSF)

Natasha Warner, University of Arizona, Database of Mutsun, an Extinct California American-Indian Language, $168,261 (NEH)

Luis Barragan, Documenting Mountain Pima Traditional Narratives

Phillip Cash Cash, A Filmic Language Documentation of Nez Perce and Sahaptin

Erin Debenport, Documenting Southern Tiwa at Sandia Pueblo, New Mexico

Arienne Dwyer, University of Kansas, Language Contact and Variation: A Discourse-based Grammar of Monguor

Andrei Filtchenko, Rice University, Documentation of the Endangered Eastern Khanty Dialects

Nicholas Hopkins, Digitizing and Archiving of Mesoamerican Language Data,

Miki Makihara, CUNY Queens College, Easter Island Linguistic Heritage Project: Creating a Digital Archive for Rapa Nui Oral and Video Histories

Anthony Mattina, Colville-Okanagan Dictionary, Reference Grammar, Texts

Justin McBride, Kaw Nation, Kaw Language Documentation Project

Robert L. Rankin, University of Kansas, Kaw Language Documentation Project

Laura Robinson, Linguistic Documentation of Eastern Cagayan Agta

Paula Rogers, The Documentation of Saaroa

Kristine Stenzel, Documentation of Piratapuyo (Eastern Tukanoan)


Media Contacts
Nicole Mahoney, NSF, (703) 292-5321, email:
Noel Milan, National Endowment for the Humanities, (202) 606-8439, email:

Program Contacts
James Herbert, NSF, (703) 292-8600, email:

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2021 budget of $8.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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