According to National Geographic's Enduring Voices: Saving Disappearing Languages, Oklahoma is one of the linguistic hotspots in the world: a place with high language diversity but where the languages are severely endangered and have very little documentation. Although Oklahoma has the highest Native language diversity in the US, all of the thirty-nine languages are endangered. A successful pilot Breath of Life: Silent No More Workshop (BOL) was held at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History at the University of Oklahoma in 2010. BOL workshops pair participants from communities that no longer have any fluent speakers with a linguist who mentors them in linguistic analysis and methodology. The curriculum is an ideal introduction to the use of archival materials and to the nature of linguistic investigation and documentation. The workshops also foster long-term interaction between linguists and community members, and for the natural development and progression of language skills and documentary work for both the linguists and the community members.

This collaborative proposal has three main goals. First, it seeks to plan and conduct a six-day, two-tiered (beginner and second year levels) Oklahoma Breath of Life in May 2012. This will reinforce the original mentor-mentee partnerships with three communities (Osage, Otoe, and Natchez) and provide for seven more. Partnerships like these lead to the production of grammars, dictionaries, teaching materials, and documented new speakers. Secondly, the OKBOL Workshop will develop language databases for these ten languages from existing archived materials. There is so much more data in linguistic archives than the original collectors were ever able to analyze or publish. This grant will make dormant texts, grammatical elicitations, and word lists usable and accessible to heritage communities and researchers. Third, the unique introduction of databasing in early stages of linguistics and language renewal teaching will be used to solidify and test the connection between language revitalization efforts and the creation of new linguistic documentation. By drawing on the strength of linguistics as an empirical science and using the latest digital tools, this project has the potential to transform the science of documenting languages, as well as how linguists are trained.

The activities supported by this grant will provide a testing ground for the hypothesis that language revitalization training does result in new language documentation of understudied, supposedly lost languages, as well as the hypothesis that both humanistic and scientific goals can be met in a language revitalization project. Finally, Native American language reclamation projects like this one help to provide an important part of the historical documentation of the United States for all its citizens.

Project Report

" was a collaborative endeavor between the University of Oklahoma and the University of Texas at Arlington. The grant was to produce 1week-long workshop targeting indigenous people who have no fluent first language speakers, or very few elderly speakers, in how to find archived language materials, how to read the materials through training in linguistics, how to manage what they have found through basic databasing, and how to begin using their knowledge in language learning and teaching. The participants from indigenous communities were partnered with linguistics students from UTA and OU in order to mentor future linguists in collaborative language research methodology and to aid in forming long-term collaborative relationships between scholars and communities. This project funded 2 one-week Oklahoma Breath of Life Workshops, the 2012 and another one in 2014. These workshops trained 30 indigenous people from 10 distinct indigenous languages. They also trained 2 undergraduates, 17 graduate students, and 1 community member as linguistic partners. A supplement to UT Arlington's an NSF grant funded a mobile laptop lab; the UTA team ultimately developed database shells for 30 languages total (26 Oklahoma languages plus 4 other Native American languages), This project included a transformative component where 15 additional training workshops and follow-up occurred throughout the granting period. The databases were starter kits specific to a particular language, with a small dictionary, a few paradigms, and at least one text entry in the language, constructed using Fieldworks Language Explorer (FLEx) software. Fifth, these ancillary workshops enabled more workshop sites, benefitting a broader audience in Oklahoma (6 workshops), Texas (4 workshops), Louisiana (2 workshops), and Arizona (3 workshops). Broader audiences at the Arizona workshops, held at the American Indian Language Development Institute (AILDI), included significant number of Mexican indigenous participants), and in Texas included the domestic and international participants at CoLang 2014, the Institute on Collaborative Language Research. The ancillary workshops trained additional tribal citizens representing another 34 languages, not including the CoLang participants. This project is innovative in the follow-up components with attendees and potential recruits through the ancillary workshops, recording and additional heritage materials finding at the Sam Noble Museum, and through a dedicated Facebook page to keep participants connected and informed. Bearing on the advancement of knowledge and innovative concepts in both Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts, there are 6 related additional outcomes. First, the project was innovative in the use of databasing both as method to teach linguistics and to generate new linguistic research on a given language. Second, the Oklahoma Breath of Life Workshops themselves opened up archival materials to new audiences. Third, all the workshops included a component that trained citizen scientists since participants came from tribal communities. Fourth, the Oklahoma Breath of Life Workshops in 2012 and 2014 created new documentary materials via the final projects produced for each language. Fifth, the research team tested the idea of using databases in very entry-level linguistic training. Preliminary findings suggest that this approach was comfortable for younger participants and enhanced their language /linguistic learning, but for older participants this was less so. Receptive participants came from Delaware Nation and Ft. Sill Apache in the OKBOL 2014 workshop, and in other workshops, included Muskogee Creek, Seminole, Cheyenne and Arapaho language program participants, and participants from the Arizona tribes (including Gila River Indian Community, Yaqui, Mohave and Tohono O'odham). The goal was to assess whether the databasing component would help them with linguistic concepts, but time did not permit sufficient evaluation of this. Finally, the OKBOL 2012 and 2014 workshops were innovative in doing levels of coursework, with 2014 extending levels into a module approach that allowed participant choice in several content areas. With the original Breath of Life Model in California, and related BOL workshops in other regions, the OKBOL workshop appears to be the first to innovate in introducing levels of coursework. From the grant, the PIs had the following research products: 1 co-authored peer-reviewed paper; 9 academic conference talks (6 co-authored, including 1 international conference; 3 Fitzgerald); 8 public outreach talks (1 co-authored, 4 Fitzgerald, 3 Linn). In all of these, funding from NSF DEL was prominently displayed and verbally acknowledged. In addition, of the students participating in workshops as mentors or assistants, two earned PhDs and four earned Master's degrees influenced by their participation in OKBOL.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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Colleen M. Fitzgerald
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University of Oklahoma
United States
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