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 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.
-NSF-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.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2017, its budget is $7.5 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 48,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards.
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