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Foundation for Endangered Languages

2015 FEL Grant recipients

This year 11 grants were awarded for a total of about US$14,000. Further details about each funded project can be found below the table.

Grantee Country Language supported Grant (US$) Focus
FEL grants 2015
Mlllicent Akinyi Tanzania Ngasa (Tanzania) 1515 Documentation and revitalisation
Vera Ferreira Portugal Fala (Spain) 925 Documentation and developing materials
Emilienne M. Ireland USA Wauja / Arawak (Brazil) 980 Wauja Wiktionary and Language Sustainability Project
Gang Li China Manchu (China) 1050 Documentation and workshop
Christina Murmann Germany Miriwoong (Australia) 902 Documenting and training
Rafael Bezerra Nonato Brazil Kĩsêdjê (Brazil) 970 Transcription and training local researchers
Sheena Shah South Africa Phuthi (South Africa) 985 Developing a practical orthography
Elwira Sobkowiak Poland Huasteca Potosina Nahuatl (Mexico) 965 Compilation of book of local stories
Claudio de la Rosa Valdez Mexico Eastern Wixárika 885 Developing learning material
Navlipi grants 2015 ?
Larry Ndivo Kenya Waata (Kenya) 1950 Developing materials
Giancarlo M. G. Scoditti Italy Nowau / Kitawa, and Boyowa / Kiriwina (Papua New Guinea) 2821 Transcription and analysis of oral texts
See all previous grant recipients 2007-2014
Millicent Akinyi
Grant year: 2015
Home country: Tanzania
Title: Before They Pass Away: Saving the Oral Traditions of the Ongamo People
Language(s): Ngasa (Tanzania)
Amount (US$): 1515
Focus: Documentation and developing materials

The Ngasa Folk (also known as the: Ongamo, Shaka, Ongg“amoni, Ongg“amo) - are a people found on the Eastern Slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro Region in Tanzania. Although the Ngasa population is said to be roughly 4,285, UNESCO considers Ngasa language as $ldquo;moribund”, with only 300-400 elderly speakers left. Ngasa language‘s use began diminishing in the 1950s. Currently, it‘s viewed as a secret language of a few elderly, partly due to fewer Ongamoni people willing to speak their language confidently in the open. Additionally, there has never been any documentation done on the Ngasa language to date. However, the elderly people (like my grandparents) have fought cultural and linguistic assimilation into dominant languages and cultures in vain.

The project Before They Pass Away will finally see the collection, recording and creation of audio, video, graphic and text documentation material covering the use of Ngasa language. The FEL Grant will help to collect and come up with a comprehensive record of the traditional, cultural and linguistic practices characteristic of the Ngasa speech community, taking into account their historical and personal accounts, Ngasa oral literature, folklore, fairytales, songs, poetry, proverbs, riddles, tongue twister and plays. For 12 months, Akinyi and two local technicians will work with Ngasa speakers, recording video, and producing audio, transcribing, analyzing and editing the collected materials and thus make it accessible for future use by the Ngasa community, their next generation and the linguistic community globally.

[Awaiting bio]

Vera Ferreira
Grant year: 2015
Home country: Portugal
Title: Documenting Fala, a minority language in Spanish Extremadura
Language(s): Fala (Spain)
Amount (US$): 925
Focus: Documentation and developing materials

This project aims at documenting Fala, a small langauge spoken in Valverde del Fresno, Eljas and San Martín de Trevejo, three small villages in the northwestern part of Extremadura (Spain). In each village the language has its own name, namely Valverdeiru, Lagarteiru and Mañegu respectively. The differences in naming reflect not only the group identity of its speakers but also the phonetic, morphosyntactic and lexical differences that exist between the varieties of Fala spoken in each village. Thus, Fala is a general and unifying name for the three varieties that belong to the same language. Fala is spoken by approximately 4500 speakers of all ages. The documentation will comprise photos and 15 hours of audio and video recordings from selected local practices, with focus on endangered traditional work methods (agriculture, animal husbandry and household) and everyday language, and with special attention to generational differences. A preliminary dictionary will be also produced with wordlists from the domains of agriculture, animal husbandry and household, extracted from the primary data collected during fieldwork.

After taking the licentiate degree in English and German Studies at the University of Coimbra (Portugal, 1999) and getting an M.A. degree in General Linguistics and Linguistic Typology at the Ludwig-Maximilian-University in Munich (Germany, 2000), Ferreira started her PhD in General Linguistics at the Ludwig-Maximilian-University and specialized in Language Documentation and endangered languages in Europe. She teaches Language Documentation and endangered languages at the Institute for General Linguistics and Language Typology (Ludwig-Maximilian- University) in Munich. During 2008-2012 she was responsible for the documentation of Minderico within the DoBeS project at the University of Regensburg.

Vera is the president of CIDLeS (Interdisciplinary Centre for Social and Language Documentation) and head of its Language Documentation and Typology group. She is involved in several projects focusing on the documentation and study of minority/endangered languages in Europe:

  • 2015: Documenting Fala - a minority language in Spanish Extremadura
  • 2011-2015: Multimedia Bilingual Dictionary Minderico - Portuguese
  • 2013-2014: WordByWord - Aprender Minderico: A multimedia software for learning Minderico vocabulary
  • 2008-2012: Documentation of Minderico - An endangered language in Portugal
Emilienne M. Ireland
Grant year: 2015
Home country: USA
Title: Wauja Wiktionary and Language Sustainability Project
Language(s): Wauja / Arawak (Brazil)
Amount (US$): 980
Focus: Wauja Wiktionary and Language Sustainability Project

In 1981, the Wauja, a community of indigenous Arawak-speakers residing in the Amazon rainforest of Central Brazil, spoke almost no Portuguese. Children learned their own language from their elders at home. Today, children attend school, and are taught a bilingual curriculum. Now is the turning point, the moment when the ancestral language will be kept or lost.

Wauja elders recently convened a meeting to discuss the future of their language. In the summer of 2015, the Wauja will discuss a new project: their own online open-source Wauja-Portuguese dictionary, the first of its kind in their region, and probably one of the first in Brazil created by an entire language community, not just professional linguists.

This is a three-part project. Phase one, already well underway, is the development of a Wauja-English dictionary. Phase two, supported by this FEL grant, will document community feedback on the work done so far on the Wauja-English lexicon, and train young Wauja to begin developing a Wauja-Portuguese digital dictionary. A future phase three of the project, part of the overall language sustainability strategy, is development of a Wauja-Wauja dictionary in 2016.

Spanning three decades, Emilienne Ireland has spent nearly two years residing among the Wauja, an Arawak-speaking people of Central Brazil, as well as the Mehinaku, Ikpeng, and other groups. Her research focused on political relations and local history, Wauja language and literature, and the impact of bilingual village schools and literacy. In 1980, the Wauja had an exclusively oral tradition, and spoke only Wauja and other neighboring indigenous languages. Today, young people are bilingual in Wauja and Portuguese, and have learned to read and write in their village schools. The Wauja also have seen a shift from a network of community-based redistributive barter economies dependent on fishing, hunting, and agriculture, to local economies increasingly dependent on cash derived from government salaries, entitlement programs, NGO grants, sales of handicrafts, and tourism.

Current research interests are documenting the Wauja language, focusing on oral literature and historical narratives; contributing to a Wauja-English online dictionary on the open-source Wiktionary platform; and, in 2015, training a team of young Wauja to build their own Wauja-Portuguese Wiktionary site. Additional areas include the role of digital media in defining individual and community identity, and digital media as a tool for cultural repatriation. Ireland holds an M. Phil in Anthropology from Yale University, and a B.A. in Anthropology from Columbia University. Currently a Research Collaborator at the Smithsonian Institution, she is actively involved in its Recovering Voices program.

Websites: Wauja-English Wiktionary, Wauja Cultural Repatriation Project, Excerpt from BBC documentary

Gang Li
Grant year: 2015
Home country: China
Title: Documentation of the Manchu language at Sanjiazi village
Language(s): Manchu (China)
Amount (US$): 1050
Focus: Documentation and workshop

This project aims at preservation and revitalization of Manchu language at Sanjiazi village, where Mandarin is the overwhelming language in media, administration and education. Manchu language may die out in the next 50 years, so its preservation and revitalization are extremely urgent. Specifically, this project will focus on: (1) a general survey of Manchu language at Sanjiazi village so as to prepare the relevant report in which the use of the language in various spheres of community life and the younger generation’s language shift will be observed and analyzed; (2) several workshops in the villages of Manchu language speakers and at one migration site of speakers far from the village, intended to raise the adult Manchu language speakers’ awareness about transmitting their mother tongue to the younger generations; and (3) publication of a booklet to introduce basic grammatical knowledge, words and phrases, and relevant information about Manchu language, which will be provided to the school teachers and grass roots cadres who may contribute most to the preservation and revitalization of the language. All materials produced will be bilingual in Chinese and English and available to community members, local school teachers, government officials, and academia.

I‘m Gang Li, a native of Turfan, Xinjiang. I live near a minority village where Uighurs gather, so I learned to speak the Uighur language since my childhood. In 2002 I was admitted to Xinjiang Normal University for Uighur language study. After graduation, I passed the national graduate entrance examination and enrolled in Minzu University for Manchu language study, gaining my masters degree in 2009. After that I went to the community of Sanjiazi village for three years to undertake Manchu language research and investigation. During that time, I combined my Manchu language study with practice to become proficient in the Manchu language.

The Manchu language has become a kind of endangered language as many Manchu people themselves are not speaking their mother tongue. In 2013, I was admitted as a PhD candidate at Minzu University to study Linguistic Typology. In the current project I can make best use of resources at the village as well as academic resources in colleges, libraries and research institutions in Beijing, I‘m always aware of the endangerment of Manchu language, and will try my best to conduct this project to make a contribution to the preservation and revitalization of the Manchu language.

Christina Murmann
Grant year: 2015
Home country: Germany
Title: Using language games to document Possession in Miriwoong
Language(s): Miriwoong (Australia)
Amount (US$): 902
Focus: Documenting and training

The aim of this project is to spur the documentation of the highly endangered Miriwoong language, which is spoken fluently by no more than 20 elderly speakers in Western Australia. In particular, the project will describe the linguistic structures involved in expressing possession. During a field trip in 2014, data was gathered with the help of tasks and language games which encouraged speakers to produce sentences containing possessive constructions such as I have a big yellow bag, The didgeridoo belongs to the old man or The fish has many scales. The second fieldtrip in 2015 will be dedicated to clarifying questions arising during transcription and analysis of this data and carrying out revised versions of the games as well as new games with different speakers to allow for documenting possible variation in the language.

The data will mainly be gathered in the field since speakers are highly motivated and data quality improves greatly. Senior speakers in particular feel much more confident on their traditional country than in an office environment. Younger speakers also benefit from this language learning experience.

Apart from these field trips a follow-up training workshop on transcription will be offered. Its goal is to enhance transcription skills and encourage independence.

Christina Murmann studied Linguistics in Paderborn and Düsseldorf. In her Masters thesis she investigated grammatical agreement marking in German Sign Language. In 2011, she had the opportunity to do linguistic fieldwork in northern Brazil, where she collected word lists with speakers of Waiãpi (of the Tupi language family), Palikur (Arawakan), Kheuól (French and Carib-based Creole), Apalaí, Tiriyó and Kaxuyana (all Carib). She recorded sentences and short texts with speakers of Kheuól and Apalaí. In addition, she co-taught a course on the creation of dictionaries at the Federal University of Amapá (UNIFAP) and was involved with the language archive at the Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi. Later, she assisted Sebastian Drude with the maintenance of the Awetí language (Tupi) corpus at the DOBES Archive at the Max-Planck-Institute in Nijmegen (The Netherlands).

In 2013 she was the Special Intern at Mirima Dawang Woorlab-gerring Language and Culture Centre (MDWg) in Western Australia. Along with linguistic research, she mentored and supported Miriwoong language workers in language maintenance and revitalization tasks such as the development of teaching materials and radio programs and the Master-Apprentice Language Learning Program. She returned to the MDWg in 2014 to start research for her PhD (this field trip was also part-funded by FEL). Christina is currently writing her dissertation on the linguistic expression of possession in Miriwoong at the University of Cologne.

Rafael Bezerra Nonato
Grant year: 2015
Home country: Brazil
Title: Documentation of endangered genres of the Kĩsêdjê oral literature
Language(s): Kĩsêdjê (Brazil)
Amount (US$): 970
Focus: Transcription and training local researchers

This project builds upon previous work to document the Kĩsêdjê language and its oral genres. Kĩsêdjê has roughly 350 speakers who live in 5 villages along the tributaries of the Suyá river, in the State of Mato Grosso, Brazil. The team, made up of two Kĩsêdjê speakers and a linguist, have so far produced a grammar sketch, an annotated speech corpus (narratives, interviews, songs and elicited sentences) and a short dictionary.

In this new phase of documentation, we will continue building the audiovisual corpus of Kĩsêdjê oral genres, and transcribe and translate the collected sessions. Elicitation sessions will be added to the existing Toolbox database of sentences, with the knowledge thus acquired incorporated into a grammar sketch. As audiovisual sessions get transcribed and translated, they will be added to the Toolbox database of sentences, to create interlinear annotation. The morphemes abstracted from the interlinear analyses of the elicitation and audiovisual sessions will be incorporated into the existing Toolbox database of lexical entries. Those products will be adapted into material for use by the Kĩsêdjê community and for use at the local indigenous school. Transcribed audiovisual sessions will also be adapted into reading materials for use at the school. The community has also expressed their interest in adapting the lexical database into a pedagogical dictionary.

I became a linguist out of fascination for weird languages. Nowadays I don‘t think there are weird languages anymore, and I spend my academic time arguing that languages only seem weird if you don‘t look at them the right way. I got my Bachelor‘s and Master‘s from Unicamp, in Brazil, and my PhD from MIT, in the US. I have been working on the documentation of Brazilian Indigenous languages since I was an undergraduate sophomore and I have become a specialist in Brazilian languages Bororo (topic of my Master's thesis) and Kĩsêdjê (topic of my PhD thesis). Since 2008 I have been leading a long-term project for the documentation of the endangered oral genres of the Kĩsêdjê language.

Sheena Shah
Grant year: 2015
Home country: South Africa
Title: A Practical Orthography for the Development of the Phuthi Language
Language(s): Phuthi (South Africa)
Amount (US$): 985
Focus: Developing a practical orthography

Phuthi is a severely endangered Nguni language spoken by approximately 20,000 people in Lesotho and South Africa. The language has no official status and does not receive any governmental support. No standardised orthography has been developed for Phuthi and no written literature or mass media (print, radio or television) exists in the language. Phuthi is neither formally nor informally taught.

The Phuthi community have expressed great interest in a practical standard orthography for their language and in the development of teaching and learning materials. The envisaged project will lead to the development of a practical Phuthi orthography and to the production of an alphabet chart. The chart will be used by teachers and community members in their language teaching and learning efforts. The project supports Phuthi speakers to become literate in their language and encourages them to get involved in language revitalisation activities. The chart may also be sold to tourists and visitors, which will help to raise awareness among the visitors of the existence and historical importance of this language

Sheena Shah obtained her doctorate in Linguistics from Georgetown University (USA) in 2013. Her PhD thesis focused on the factors affecting proficiency among Gujarati heritage language learners in the UK, Singapore and South Africa. She is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for African Language Diversity (CALDi, University of Cape Town). Sheena has conducted linguistic fieldwork on a number of African languages, including N|uu (linguistic isolate, South Africa), !Xun (Kx’a, Namibia), ǂHoan (Kx’a, Botswana) and Ngiemboon (Bantoid, Cameroon). Her research interests include endangered, minority and heritage languages, language documentation and revitalization, language maintenance and shift, language policy, and language and education.

Elwira Sobkowiak
Grant year: 2015
Home country: Poland
Title: Huasteca Potosina Nahuatl: a book-compilation of local stories and legends
Language(s): Huasteca Potosina Nahuatl (Mexico)
Amount (US$): 965
Focus: Compilation of book of local stories

Huasteca Potosina in the Mexican state of San Luis Potosí is a multilingual region, the two largest indigenous groups being Nahuas and Teenek (Huastec). Indigenous languages are still spoken in the region but the domains of use have been reduced in recent decades. Languages are taught at primary schools but are not used in everyday conversations by younger people. Many speakers have negative attitudes towards indigenous languages and are using Spanish as preferred language of communication. Migrations of people and loosing of family ties are also a threat to the vitality of the indigenous languages.

The project intends to publish a book of local folk tales and legends from the region of Huasteca Potosina, and from the municipalities of Xilitla, Axtla and Matlapa in particular. The book will be a compilation of stories told by indigenous people about landmarks, people and deities. Stories will be recorded, transcribed, formatted to produce a printed book, with copies distributed among the local Nahua residents, libraries, schools, and culture centres. A compilation will also be available in digital form and as an audiobook. The publication is intended to raise awareness of local folklore and history and to boost Nahuatl language attitudes. Its main audience will be local Nahua community but also linguists, cultural anthropologists and those wanting to learn Nahuatl.

I received my MA degree in Language Documentation and Description from SOAS, University of London in 2010. I am currently a PhD student at the Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies ‘Artes Liberales’ at the University of Warsaw in Poland, with research focused on language contact in La Huasteca Potosina, a multiethnic and multilingual region in east-central Mexico. I analyse how, as a result of intense contact with Spanish, the grammatical structures of Huasteca Nahuatl (Uto-Aztecan) and Teenek (Mayan), two languages representing distinct language families and of different morphosyntactic profiles, are shifting.

Ethnolinguistic work in Mexico reflects my long-term interest in Mesoamerican cultures of the past as well as concern about the future of Mexican indigenous languages, many of which are now in decline as speakers choose Spanish as their preferred language of communication. My fieldtrips to Mexico have resulted so far in several hours of audio and video recordings of spoken Nahuatl. I have also worked in archives analysing colonial documents written in Classical Nahuatl. Apart from my PhD research, I am learning to speak Nahuatl and Teenek, and am involved in revitalization initiatives such as working towards implementation of bi- and multilingual signs in indigenous regions in Mexico.

Claudio de la Rosa Valdez
Grant year: 2015
Home country: Mexico
Language(s): Eastern Wixárika (Mexico)
Amount (US$): 885
Focus: Developing learning material

[Awaiting project description]

Claudio de la Rosa Valdez was born in 1980 in the Huichol Community of Taymarita, territory of Tuapurie Santa Catarina Cuexcomatitlán, in the highlands of western Mexico. At the time, the primary school in a nearby community was the only education center in the region, so Claudio had to leave the community to continue his education at the age of 12. While away from home he realized how important it was for indigenous youth to also have access to secondary education in their own language, and that traditional knowledge is also essential for sustainable development of their communities. In 2001 he started a degree in Education Sciences at ITESO University, Guadalajara, México, where he went on to coordinate the Academic Support Program for Indigenous Students at the University of Guadalajara, and was part of the project team ‘Improving Intercultural Education Conditions for Indigenous Nahua and Huichol in the State of Jalisco’.

In 2008 Claudio went back to his community and, with support from community authorities, ITESO University, and Mexican music band Cafe Tacvba, it was possible to open the first community high school in the territory of Tuapurie Santa Catarina Cuexcomatitlán. Tamaatsi Páritsika Community High School is much more than a learning institution; it’s a community center involving youth in the healthy and sustainable development of their region and people. The study program includes courses like agro-ecology, forest management, Wixárika language (Huichol), food production, herbal medicine, carpentry, Huichol culture, computer science, and music, among others. Preservation of Wixárika is central to the school’s values, and the school started a project in 2014 to promote its use through attractive and easily available language material. In February 2015 Niuki was launched, the first mobile application for learning Wixárika. Today, Claudio de la Rosa works with teachers and students at Tamaatsi Páritsika to create a complete learning guide for Wixárika that can be shared with the world.

Larry Ndivo
Grant year: 2015
Home country: Kenya
Title: Using Media to Document Waata Language and Cultural Practises
Language(s): Waata (Kenya)
Amount (US$): 1950
Focus: Developing materials

The project aims to develop materials for the revitalization and preservation efforts of the Waata language. The language is spoken by nearly 13,000 indigenous people living in territorial groups on the coast of Kenya. It is actively used in everyday conversations but there are concerns by community members that it is not being transmitted to the younger members who are increasingly turning to the neighbouring Pokomo and Kamba.

Three elders of the Waata community will work as language consultants and four younger members aged between 18-35 will be involved in making transcriptions and translations. Interviews and videos will be used as documentation tools. The project will result into an audio record and a published word list with at least 1200 items with example sentences. This publication will be designed to give phonological, semantic and syntactic information on everyday usage of Waata language. In additional the project will produce oral narratives including legends, proverbs, riddles, tongue twisters, origin stories and meaning of clan names, a one-hour documentary on Waata ways of life and a video footage, and photographs of traditional artefacts and important sites.

Larry Ndivo is a lecturer at Machakos University College and a former Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Free State in South Africa. He is passionate about literature and especially the need to conserve oral literature and indigenous peoples’ traditions. He has been actively engaged in fieldwork specifically in the Coastal Region of Kenya where some indigenous communities live. As a member of the Kenya Oral Literature Association, he has taken students for fieldwork in oral literature and emphasized the need for the study and documentation of indigenous peoples’ knowledge. He hopes that the current documentation of the Waata Language and Cultural practices will act as a basis for similar future research activities.

Giancarlo M. G. Scoditti
Grant year: 2015
Home country: Italy
Title: Transcription and analysis of oral texts on the Foundation Myth performed in Nowau and Boyowa languages by Kitawa and Kiriwina Islanders (PNG)
Language(s): Nowau / Kitawa, and Boyowa / Kiriwina (Papua New Guinea)
Amount (US$): 2821
Focus: Transcription and analysis of oral texts

All the collected texts related to the Foundation Myth had been originally recorded in an analogue format, so they need to be converted into a digital format before being transcribed and translated into English: in fact, one of the aims of the project is to re-construct the “cognitive frame” of both Kiriwina and Kitawa local cultures by two interrelated processes: first, through the collection of some linguistic aspects of the culture (such as the texts of the Myth of Foundation) likely to disappear with the demise of the old generation, and their documentation; second, through this process, the identification, and analysis, of the various “mental mechanisms” which govern the production of various aspects of local culture.

The texts will be transcribed with the phonetic symbols (IPA Chart/Navlipi Alphabet) to establish the frequency and the correspondences of the lexemes used in these texts in order to establish their standardized form, both on the phonetic and the orthographic level. The second step will be the preparation of a Lexicon of the verbal expressions employed in the texts of the Foundation Myth, in such a way as to preserve and save a precious linguistic corpus as well as the “mental mechanisms” contained in such a corpus.

Until 2012 I held the Chair of Ethnology at the Dept of Classical Archaeology and History of Ancient Art, Università degli Studi di Urbino «Carlo Bo» - Urbino, Italy, and in 2013 became Emeritus Professor. I started field research in 1973 on Kitawa Island, Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea, focusing on learning the Nowau language. Nowau, an Austronesian language spoken by the inhabitants of Lalela region of Kitawa, is a pivot-language within the Kula area allowing the linguistic-ritual communication between the men who live on the East-side and the men who live in the West-side of the Kula area. I spent my field research time working with the carvers of the polychrome prow-boards which decorate canoes, also collecting a large amount of linguistic data on the technical language spoken only by the carvers. Later, I focused on the cognitive mechanism of Kitawa poets in composing their oral texts.

In the last ten years of field research I was fascinated by the old tellers of the oral texts related to the Foundation myth of the four clans (and related subclans) in the Kula area: I recorded these texts from tellers who are recognized by Kula people as the last lawful owners of such texts.

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