Technology has created the potential for 'talking' dictionaries which have become very valuable resources to the study of indigenous languages. The Lenape (Delaware) talking dictionary was first presented online in 2006. There are currently over 14,000 words of which 5,525 have single word sound files. There are over 1,400 sentence sound filed. The current project extends work on this database by increasing the entries, specifically incorporating text files, which include stories and conversations with detailed morpheme-by-morpheme glosses, and improving the display and functionality of the existing language database funded initially under NSF #0214422.

Since the death of the last native speaker in 2002, the website with its database and talking dictionary is the only link connecting Lenape people to their ancestral language. Moreover, given the significance of Lenape (Delaware) in the Algonquian language family, the linguistic analyses presented by the website constitute a useful reference and model for the scholarly community.

Project Report

The Lenape Talking Dictionary Work began on the project in 2002, and it first went online in October 2005, and was officially online in February 2006. The Lenape language is also known as the Delaware language. It was originally spoken in all of New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, northern Delaware, and southeastern New York state. In 2010 we applied for a grant to make improvements and upgrades to our database and website – The Lenape Talking Dictionary []. The grant was awarded and the upgrades began in April 2011. One new feature for the Dictionary was the ability to look up the words using the Lenape language as well as English. We also specified that dictionary to search for words using Lenape it was not necessary to use accented letters to do the search. Another feature added was the use of wildcards [ ? * ] to do lookups in both the English and Lenape. It is also not necessary to enter entire words to do a search. Another important function added was a section that would show text files, stories, conversations, and songs in Lenape, presented in a line-by-line format with the Lenape and the English translation. That allows the user/learner to play the Lenape one line at a time or, by clicking one speaker icon after another, to play the story in its entirety. The first story, The Man and His Dog, went online in June, 2011. At the present time, there are 24 Stories, 3 Hymns, 1 Christmas Carol, and 2 Fun Songs to listen to and learn from. The stories are written in short phrases or sentences in Lenape with a free English translation accompanying it. There are a series of speaker icons to click to play the Lenape. To go directly to the stories go here: We will add more Stories as time permits. The two most recent additions are some of the earliest recordings of the language: "The Language of the Delawares," by James Webber in 1928, and, "That Is Money," by Willie Longbone in 1939. Two entries are hymns: "Our Creator in Heaven" [to the tune of "How Firm a Foundation"], in Lenape, sung by Cornelius Wilson in 1954, and, "Amazing Grace," as reworked by Lucy Parks Blalock in 1992. The most recent addition is "Silent Night" (the Christmas Carol), as translated by Lucy Blalock also in 1992 working with the project director. The Talking Dictionary is a work in progress. At the end of 2013 the number of Lenape words in the Dictionary is 15,250, and of these words over 6,300 have sound files, and over 1,660 have sample sentences. We continue to convert audiotapes of Lenape speakers to digital format, which are then edited to extract the Lenape words. These are then entered into the Dictionary database and become immediately available on the Internet. In December 2011 we obtained permission from the Delaware Nation (formerly The Delaware Tribe of Western Oklahoma) located at Anadarko, Oklahoma, to use their tapes to create additional sound files for the Lenape Talking Dictionary. Although the two Delaware groups in Oklahoma have been separated for over two hundred years they use the same Lenape dialect. Sound files made from the Delaware Nation tapes are marked with a {DN} following the Lenape word. Another function that we improved is the display of the plural form on the same page as the singular. The way the database was originally set up was with the plural on a different page because the plural had a separate sound file. One problem came to light during our grant period. We found that the red speaker icons which play the sound files would not display on mobile devices. We contacted our webhost and they found the issue with those devices is that they do not use Flash to display the speaker icons used in the Dictionary to play the sounds. Fortunately, our computer programmers found a solution for this problem. It would actually be beneficial to have the entire database rewritten in a more up-to-date computer programming language, but the expense for such a thing at this time is beyond our resources. We are grateful for the funding as it has helped guarantee the future availability and access to not only a dictionary of the Lenape language, but one where native speakers can be heard speaking the language. Since the death of the last fluent native speaker in 2002, the website, with its database and talking dictionary, is the only link connecting Lenape people to their ancestral language. Given the significance of Lenape (Delaware) in the Algonquian language family, the linguistic information presented by the website constitutes a useful reference and model for the scholarly community as well.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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Shobhana Chelliah
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The Delaware Tribe
United States
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