March Madness at NEH: University of Arizona

Throughout the rest of March, we will have a special series of blog posts following the NCAA Division I College Basketball tournament, highlighting grantees at institutions represented in the tournament.

The Documenting Endangered Languages (DEL) program is a partnership between the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Science Foundation to document endangered languages. A language is most endangered when it is spoken chiefly by elderly people. Linguists therefore work with aging populations to document languages. More than three thousand languages spoken today are classified as endangered.

Linguist Stacy Oberly at the University of Arizona recently received a DEL award for her project Documenting Southern Ute: Naturally Occurring Speech and Personal Narrative. With NEH funding, she documented the Southern Ute language, which is spoken primarily in Colorado and classified as highly endangered with only forty remaining speakers, all of whom are more than sixty years old. To document this language, she made fifteen hours of audio and video recordings of naturally occurring speech and personal narratives collected from a number of Southern Ute speakers. The audio and video data were then transcribed, translated, annotated and entered into an electronic database that will be archived and disseminated to the Ute community. This archive greatly expanded the knowledge and understanding of a language that is syntactically and morphologically interesting and preserves an important part of the Ute Nation’s indigenous heritage.