Email Print Share

News Release 07-142

National Science Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities Award New Grants to Document Endangered Languages

Focus on Arctic languages reflects International Polar Year research agenda

The NEH and the NSF awarded fellowships and grants to document endangered languages.

Eighteen institutional grants and nine fellowships were awarded to document endangered languages.

October 12, 2007

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 Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) today 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 Washington, 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 at 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.

A complete listing of this year's awards follows. Note that ISO-639 language codes, the new international standard for referring to any of the world's languages, are typically included in the title in parentheses after the language name.


The 2007 Documenting Endangered Language awards. Note that ISO-639 language codes, the new international standard for referring to any of the world's languages, are typically included in the title in parentheses after the language name.

Institutional Grants

  • Jason Baldridge (University of Texas at Austin) Reducing Annotation Effort in the Documentation of Languages using Machine Learning and Active Learning, $79,106 (NSF)
  • Claire Bowern (Rice University) The Language of Bardi (bcj) Precontact Narratives, $75,893 (NSF)
  • Joshua Brown (Salish Kootenai College) Speaking To the Future: Salish (fla) Language Preservation, $100,000 (NSF)
  • G. Tucker Childs (Portland State University) Documenting Krim (krm) and Bom (bmf), two endangered languages of Sierra Leone, $99,991 (NSF)
  • Carol Cornelius (Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin) Documenting and Archiving the Oneida (one) Language of Wisconsin, $100,000 (NSF)
  • Richard Dauenhauer (University of Alaska Southeast, Juneau) Documenting and archiving Deg Xinag (ing), Tlingit (tli), and other Northern languages, $352,231 (NSF)
  • James Essegbey University of Florida Documentation of Nyangbo (nyb), $79,908 (NSF)
  • Theordore Fernald (Navajo Language Academy) Navajo (nav) Language Academy Workshop and Research, $77,092 (NSF)
  • Louanna Furbee (University of Missouri Columbia) Tojolabal (toj) (Maya) Language Documentation Project, $240,844 (NSF)
  • Andrew Garrett (University of California, Berkeley) Berkeley Indigenous Language Resources: Access, Archiving, and Documentation, $340,000 (NEH)
  • Carol Genetti (University of California, Santa Barbara ) Workshop on field linguistics and language documentation. $103,690 (NSF)
  • Jeffrey Good (University of Buffalo) Documentation of moribund languages of Furu Awa, Cameroon (Bikya (byb), Bishuo (bwh), Busuu (bju)), $14,498 (NEH).
  • Sven Haakanson (Alutiiq Museum) Alutiiq (ems)Living Words Project, $445,929 (NSF)
  • Sharon Hargus (University of Washington) Athabaskan Personal Histories of Climate Change in Alaska and Canada, $250,000 (NSF)
  • Linda Langley (McNeese State University) Kowasa:ton il:halas -- Let Us Hear Koasati (cku): A Filmic Documentation Project of Koasati, $448,646 (NSF)
  • Martha Macri (University of California-Davis) J. P. Harrington Database Project: Transcription, Coding, and Indices, $240,000 (NSF)
  • Timothy Montler (University of North Texas) Klallam (clm) Dictionary and Electronic Text Archive, $317,502 (NEH)
  • Terry Ragan (Choctaw Nation) Choctaw (cho) Language Preservation Project, $80,000 (NSF)


  • Lise Dobrin A Reference Grammar of Cemaun Arapesh (aon, ape, aoj)
  • Thurlow W. Dye Documenting the Bahinemo language and culture for future study
  • John Fought Archiving a Linguistic Corpus of Chorti (caa), Yocotán (chf) and Tumbalá Chol (ctu) Mayan: Audio Recordings, Field Notes and Photographs, and Related Materials
  • Jeffrey Good (University of Buffalo) Documentation of moribund languages of Furu Awa, Cameroon (Bikya (byb), Bishuo (bwh), Busuu (bju))
  • Paul Kroeger (GIAL) Kimaragang (kqr) grammar outline and digital recordings
  • Kelly L. Maynard Describing an Endangered Dialect of Albanian (aln) Spoken in Samsun, Turkey
  • Susan Penfield (University of Arizona) Community-Based Language Documentation: Mohave (mov) and Beyond
  • Ellavina Perkins Navajo (nav) Language Investigations
  • Stuart Robinson Documenting the Dialects of Rotokas (roo)
  • Bonnie Stalls Razihi Grammar, Lexicon, Texts, and Recordings

Media Contacts
Peter West, NSF, (703) 292-7761, email:
Bobbie Mixon, NSF, (703) 292-8485, email:

Program Contacts
Douglas Whalen, NSF, (703) 292-7321, 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 2023 budget of $9.5 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.

mail icon Get News Updates by Email 

Connect with us online
NSF website:
NSF News:
For News Media:
Awards database:

Follow us on social