The Endangered Language Fund of Yale Names Recipients of 2003 Grants

Recording the last epic singer in Western Siberia, teaching a Michif native of Manitoba to speak the Michif language and rescuing two languages of Kenya are among the 10 projects that will receive support this year from the Endangered Language Fund (ELF) of Yale University.

Dedicated to the scientific study of languages at risk of extinction, and supporting native efforts to maintain and disseminate them, ELF is a nonprofit organization affiliated with the linguistics department of Yale University.

Since it began in 1995, the fund has provided grants to native communities and scholars for a variety of proposals to preserve languages that are spoken and understood by fewer and fewer individuals. Projects include building text lexicons, preparing videotaped instruction in the language and supporting “generation skipping” language lessons between community elders and the generation of their grandchildren.

More than 70 languages have benefited from the program. Recipients represent indigenous people of every inhabited continent and many islands scattered throughout the world. The Ban Khor Sign Language, used in remote pockets of northeastern Thailand, and Domari, an Indic language spoken by formerly itinerant artisans living in Jerusalem, are among the languages-sometimes spoken by fewer than a handful of people-that ELF has helped to revive or preserve for future generations.

Last year an Eskimo-Aleut language still spoken by American Yupiks but not by their Siberian relatives was among the 12 recipients of ELF support.

This year 68 proposals were submitted to ELF. A full list of the recipients with a brief description of their projects follows.

Cora McKenna and Brenda McKenna (Nambe Pueblo, NM): Tewa Dictionary and Curriculum, Nambe Dialect. Nambe Pueblo is north of Santa Fe. Current Nambe classes serve learners from age 4 to 60, so the curriculum has to be specially designed. The ELF grant will help collect material for the classroom and a better dictionary.

Lisa Conathan and Belle Anne Matheson (UC Berkeley): Arapaho Description and Revitalization. The Northern Arapaho community feels a need for an audio dictionary. Pitch accents are not necessary for fluent speakers to write, but they are difficult for learners to remember. Conathan and Matheson will work on this dictionary along with a better description of the rules of the sound system.

Nadezhda Shalamova (Tomsk Polytechnic U.), Andrei Filtchenko (Rice U.) and Olga Potanina (Tomsk State Pedagogical U.): Documentation of Vasyugan Khanty. This project documents the endangered language and cultural heritage of an Eastern Khanty group native of Western Siberia. Texts will serve the community and linguistic science.

Dmitri Funk (Russian Academy of Sciences): The Last Epic Singer in Shors (Western Siberia). The heroic epics of Shors are performed by one last singer, who still remembers more than 60 of them. Funk will record as many as possible for future generations.

Arthur Schmidt, Rita Flamand and Grace Zoldy (Metis): The Camperville Michif Master-Apprentice Program. Michif is a mixed language from Cree and French. Schmidt, a native Michif, but not a speaker, will apprentice himself to Flamand and Zoldy. The ELF grant will allow Schmidt to spend time in Camperville in Manitoba, Canada.

Cheruiyot Kiplangat (Centre for Endangered Languages, Kenya): Working to Save Ogiek and Sengwer of Kenya. The present project works with two languages of the Rift Valley. Language material will be recorded and made available. Information from elders on cultural practices will be the most valuable.

Claire Bowern (Harvard): Bardi Language Documentation-The Laves Material. Bardi is an Australian language of the Nyulnyulan family. The numerous cultural texts collected by Gerhardt Laves in 1929 are easy to decipher for speakers of the language but difficult for those who are not. Bowern will check them with the remaining fluent speakers.

Francis Egbokhare (U. Ibadan, Nigeria): Documenting Akuku Oral Traditions. Akuku is an endangered language spoken in the Edo state of Nigeria. Egbokhare will record oral narratives for the younger generation and for linguists. Results will allow a better placement of the language within the Edoid family.

Rosemary Beam de Azcona (UC Berkeley): Southern Zapotec Language Materials. It appears that there are only two remaining speakers of San Agust’n Mixtepec Zapotec, a southern Zapotec language of Mexico. Coatl‡n-Loxicha Zapotec is declining, though it has about 170 speakers. De Azcona will record as much as possible.

Rick Thoman and Gary Holton (U Alaska Fairbanks): The Tanacross Athabascan Sound System. This project will produce a CD-ROM illustrating the sound system of Tanacross. Speakers will pronounce selected words and phrases with the rich array of ejectives, affricates and fricatives as well as contrastive tone.

For more information about ELF, visit their homepage:

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