Under the direction of Dr. Anthony C. Woodbury, Ms. Christina M. Willis will collect and analyze data for her doctoral dissertation. Her research concerns Darma, an unwritten and little documented Tibeto-Burman language spoken by about 1,750 people in the Indian Himalayas near Nepal. Two main methods will be used to collect linguistic data: direct elicitation of words and sentences through interviews with native speakers, and audio- and video-recording of naturally occurring language use, including formal storytelling, ceremonial speech, and informal conversation. The data will be compiled into a grammar describing the language's phonology (sound system), morphology (word structure), and syntax (sentence structure). While reflecting recent advances in linguistic theory, the grammar will emphasize a descriptive approach. It will be aimed at a scientific audience, including sociolinguists and anthropologists. But it will be accessible to teachers developing pedagogical materials. The recordings will constitute a sound and video archive that will provide a documentary record of the Darma language and its use.
This research will be significant for linguistics and anthropology. The Darma grammar will aid in the reconstruction of linguistic prehistory in the Tibeto-Burman language family. The genetic subgrouping of Tibeto-Burman languages is unclear. For example, scholars do not yet know how languages in the Himalaya region acquired features typical of Austro-Asiatic, a language family found further south. The Darma grammar resulting from this research will also help linguists and anthropologists evaluate and extend theories of linguistic systems. The sound and video archive will support the study of Darma language and society. Finally, copies of both the grammar and the archive will be left with the Darma community and are expected to contribute to plans by community leaders to develop a script and produce materials to teach their language to future generations.