With National Science Foundation support, Drs. Theodore B. Fernald and Ellvina Tsosie Perkins will conduct three years of linguistic research on Navajo, an endangered Athabaskan language spoken in northeastern Arizona and neighboring regions. They will create a reference grammar drawing on previous studies of Navajo sentence structure and supplementing these materials with original analyses of its syntax and semantics to fill in gaps in the earlier research. While high quality reference materials are available for the internal structure of Navajo verbs, a systematic description of Navajo sentence structure is absent in the literature. The proposed reference grammar will cover the structure, meaning, and use of all known Navajo sentence types. Among these will be the inverse construction, direct and indirect discourse constructions, existential and equative sentences, questions, commands, and conditionals. Entries in the grammar will be streamlined, with generalizations stated early and with complications and exceptions added later. A wide range of examples and additional notes that can be ignored by readers seeking a quick overview will appear at the end of each section.
With roughly 80,000 to 100,000 native speakers, Navajo is the largest native speech community in North America. But the language is generally not being passed on to the youngest generation. The reference grammar to be produced by this project will be accessible to educators and curriculum planners, in addition to linguists interested in the language. It will thus aid community efforts to strengthen the use of Navajo and maintain its rich linguistic and literary tradition. The reference grammar will also be a resource for linguists to test analyses of grammatical phenomena and to further describe how Navajo fits into the spectrum of human languages.