ARLINGTON - A
University of Texas at Arlington linguist is working to save disappearing
languages in Native American communities in Oklahoma – a state with the highest
Native language diversity in the United States, but very little documentation.
Fitzgerald, associate professor and
chairperson of UT Arlington’s Department of Linguistics and TESOL, has won a $48,000 National Science Foundation grant along
with Mary Linn, an anthropologist at the University of Oklahoma and curator of
Native American language at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.
grant will fund research associated with the Oklahoma Breath of Life workshop
planned for next May in Norman, Okla. The program will reunite linguists with
Native Americans who attended a similar workshop there last year.
project was very successful. Three communities participated: Osage, Otoe, and
Natchez,” Fitzgerald said. The 2012 workshop will reinforce the original linguistic
mentor-mentee partnerships with those three communities and provide for seven
more groups whose languages have no fluent speakers.
project is modeled after the Breath of Life program at the University of
California, Berkley, which opened its archives on Native Americans and made a
tremendous amount of information accessible to linguists. Through phonetics
training, research and second source analysis, participants were able to
access, understand, and do research on materials on their languages, and to use
them for language revitalization.
though it was their heritage, they couldn’t access their ancestors’ language,”
Fitzgerald said, adding: “These are groups that went through genocide in our
country. People were herded to reservations and sent to boarding schools and
beaten for speaking their languages.”
such painful experiences, many Native Americans chose not to teach their
language to their children to prevent future persecution.
course of action had detrimental affects on entire tribes, Fitzgerald said.
Language plays a critical role in grounding children in their culture and fostering
positive self-esteem. Such affirmation also may help fight drug and alcohol
abuse and other concerns such as depression and suicide, Linn said.
has 39 languages that were at one time spoken by tribes throughout Oklahoma,
according to the National Geographic’s Enduring Voices: Saving Disappearing
Languages Project. Seventeen of those languages are no longer spoken by a native
speaker, and only 6 to 7 have a few very elderly speakers, which means they
will no longer have speakers in the next few years.
and Linn said their work may lead to documented new speakers and the production
of grammar guides and dictionaries.
American language reclamation projects such as this new study provide an
important part of the historical documentation of the United States for all its
citizens, the researchers said.
hear words spoken in the Osage language, visit www.osagetribe.com/language/.
linguistic studies are representative of the research under way at The University
of Texas at Arlington, a comprehensive research and teaching institution of
nearly 34,000 students in the heart of North Texas. Visit www.uta.edu to learn more.
The University of Texas at Arlington is an Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action employer.