With National Science Foundation support, Drs. Shobhana Chelliah and Willem de Reuse will conduct three years of linguistic research on Western Apache, a Native American language spoken by approximately 13,000 people in central and eastern Arizona. Tribal members, educators, and linguists have been concerned about the loss of Western Apache, a language that has played a major role in the culture and history of the American Southwest. At present, less than 3% of Apache children are acquiring Western Apache as a first language, and thus the language may no longer be spoken by the end of this century. This project will result in the first comprehensive dictionary of the language. This dictionary will provide reliable and consistent spellings, attestations of words no longer used, grammatical analyses, full conjugations for the verbs, and example sentences for each word.
This project is significant for several reasons. The Western Apache Dictionary will be used for the design and implementation of language revitalization and teaching programs. It will be made available in paper and electronic format, allowing for the generation of supplementary children's and learners' dictionaries. The dictionary will also be a reference for linguists interested in the structure of non-western languages or in comparing Apache with related languages such as Navajo. Anthropologists and ethnohistorians may also use these materials.