This project aims to strengthen the environment for collaborative research in Indigenous language science created by the Collaborative Language Planning Project (CLPP) funded by an NSF planning grant [BCS-1800820]. Research in Indigenous languages responds to the Native American Languages Act (NALA), passed by the U.S. Congress in 1990, which called for stakeholders including Native American activists to act together to “preserve, protect and promote the rights and freedom of Native Americans to use, practice and develop” these languages. The NALA can be reinforced by ethical and well-planned research conducted by researchers and stakeholders from Native American communities. However, such research is often led by outside researchers. With a community-based research (CBR) approach, this project will broaden participation in language research from underrepresented institutions – specifically, tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) in the state of Montana: Aaniiih Nakoda College, Blackfeet Community College, Chief Dull Knife College, Fort Peck Community College, Salish Kootenai College, and Stone Child College. The activities consist of (i) a national conference for language researchers and language workers from communities and academia, (ii) on-site workshops for TCU scholars, and (iii) a convening among researchers, community stakeholders and TCU scholars about language science. The project will build capacity at the TCUs by providing training venues for TCU scholars to develop research skills in linguistics, language acquisition and related fields in ethno- and health sciences and will lead to the designing of research projects in language science. The trainings and discussions will improve participants’ understanding of linguistic structures, support the development of more sophisticated language research at TCUs, and promote the CBR approach, and the incorporation of the research results will contribute to the communities’ language revitalization efforts.

This project’s linguistic training includes methods for observing complex language data, organizing data based on form and function, finding patterns and essential problems, addressing issues, and solving problems. The participants will discover unique properties of their community languages, which are notably distinct from English, expand their knowledge by learning how to consult available linguistic literature, identify underresearched areas in the language, and develop research projects to further our understanding of language in general as well as specific linguistic theoretical notions and frameworks. These activities will lead to a set of research questions, and direct outcomes of this project will include research agendas developed by the Indigenous scholars and stakeholders, some of which will be carried out in collaboration with outside researchers. The participants will also be introduced to technological tools in order to develop skills that can be applied to their research interests in language-related fields. The process of investigating and formalizing potential research projects in language science may reveal interesting data on language use in terms of structures (phonology, morphology, syntax, and semantics) and pragmatics. Since many Indigenous languages spoken in the U.S. show diverse ways of encoding human experience and complex thoughts, investigating these languages is key to advancing our understanding of the relationship between language and cognition.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

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University of Montana
United States
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