"This award is funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Public Law 111-5)."

The Athapascan or, as speakers prefer, Dene languages constitute the largest and most geographically widespread language family of native North America. Five separate sub-groupings have been identified: Alaskan, Northern Interior (BC/Yukon), Mackenzie Basin, and the non-continuous Pacific Coastal and Apachean groups. All of the Dene speech communities are endangered through the enormous economic and social pressures that weight on tribal people throughout North America. Fluency is rapidly disappearing. However, the Dene communities are aware of their fragility and many are actively working with linguists to document their languages. This proposal seeks funding for the development of a online interactive speech atlas of the Dene speaking communities in the Mackenzie Basin by team of tribal and academic linguists and educators. The Speech Atlas will have clickable links to the Dene speaking communities listed on the map. The links to information about the properties of speech that underlie structure of the sound system in that community. These will include a list of the inventory of speech sounds for that community, written in two orthographies, the International Phonetic Alphabet and in the orthography developed for use in that community. Sound files of words exemplifying the consonant and vowel speech sounds will be given. Information on tone and prosody will be collected and presented. The Atlas will make available baseline information on intonation patterns in questions and statements, demonstrating basic discourse patterns. A desirable feature of this approach is the ability to localize Dene language data to a specific community, reflecting the way the Dene identify themselves (linguistic identity is strongly community-based) and highlighting points of variation and stability across the languages of the characteristically small and often isolated Dene communities in this area. The Dene Speech Atlas project will foster integration of research and education through the teams' ongoing associations to CILLDI (Canadian Indigenous Language and Literacy Development Institute), held at University of Alberta, Edmonton every summer. The Institute is devoted to training speakers of indigenous languages in linguistic analysis and language documentation, drawing speakers from indigenous communities all over northern Canada.

The Dene Speech Atlas will serve the indigenous Dene communities and others, who wish to compare sound patterns and orthographic conventions across the sister languages. The map-based approach allows linguistic material to be the organized in a new way highly suitable to the Dene communities. The information will be geo-tagged, permitting it to be associated to internet map systems such as Google Earth through KML links. It will also allow other suitable types of material, such as lexicons and older texts, to be associated to the community. The Atlas will allow speech phenomena such as rhythm and meter, prosody and sound in these communities to be examined as primary sources. Finally, the inherently oral nature of language, highlighted by our increased ability to collect and build spoken word corpora, has led to an enhanced awareness of the importance of understanding the systematic patterns that underlie speech. Such phonetic documentation is exceptionally essential in oral cultures, where the knowledge base of these communities necessarily lies in oral performance and where such documentation is sparse, if it is found at all.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
Standard Grant (Standard)
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Shobhana Chelliah
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University of Rochester
United States
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