9308115 Hale This project is concerned with the documentation of Ulwa, a Misumalpan language, spoken in the town of Karawala, on the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua. The project will produce materials for a reference grammar, a dictionary, and a collection of texts. The form which these materials will take will include not only standard book manuscripts for use by linguists but also books in a form requested by members of the Karawala community for use in education, in their efforts to safeguard their endangered linguistic heritage. The project builds upon four years of intermittent work by two linguists from MIT and six Ulwa-speaking residents of Karawala who have formed a committee for the purpose of preserving their language. The project does not start from scratch, therefore, and the two-year period allotted for it is realistic. Ulwa has few speakers, and almost no children are learning the language. Miskitu has replaced it almost entirely. The preservation of Ulwa is therefore understandably of concern to the people of Karawala. The project is considered necessary by the Ulwa members of the Karawala community, and it is felt that a concentrated effort is now appropriate, as opposed to the intermittent work of the past four years. The scientific importance of the project derives in part from the inherent value of documenting a little known and imperilled language. But Ulwa has already involved using the study of a number of phenomena which are to some extent peculiar to it. The phonology of the language has achieved some renown for its nominal inflection, whose placement within the word is governed by metrical principles, rather than morphological bracketing. The syntax of Ulwa involves use of the "internally headed" relative clause, which has provided clues leading to a promising analysis of the syntactic structure of the noun phrase in general, explaining an apparent exception to the prevailing head-final ordering of elements. The lan guage also has a fully developed switch-reference system. The latter interacts with a serial verb construction, which because of the head-final syntax of Ulwa, exhibits structural asymmetries strikingly at variance with those of the more familiar serializing languages. Ulwa is of some historical interest as well, being crucial in understanding the interrelations holding among Northern Sumu (Twahka, Panamahka), Southern Sumu (Ulwa), and Miskitu during the past centuries, particularly since the beginnings of British contact. Ulwa helps to date and to locate spatially certain events which have been important in the recent linguistic history of Miskitu, leading to the latter's preeminence in the region. While full understanding of the linguistic and ethnographic history of indigenous eastern Nicaragua is not a specific purpose of this project, documentation of Ulwa is clearly a necessary prerequisite to a project which might endeavor to achieve that goal.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
Standard Grant (Standard)
Application #
Program Officer
Paul G. Chapin
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
United States
Zip Code