Phonetics and Phonology of two Northern Athabaskan Languages

Regions: North Slave Region, South Slave Region

Tags: dene culture, aboriginal language, Dogrib, literacy, phonology

Principal Investigator: Jaker, Alessandro M (10)
Licence Number: 15327
Organization: University of Alaska, Fairbanks
Licenced Year(s): 2014 2013 2012 2009 2008 2007 2005
Issued: Aug 20, 2013

Objective(s): To produce two published materials, in each language (Dogrib and Chipewyan): an intermediate-level reader, and a verb dictionary.

Project Description: This project is the continuation of a previous year's project, "Teaching our Yellowknives Dene Languages". The principal investigator (PI) will produce two published materials in each language (Dogrib and Chipewyan): an intermediate-level reader, and a verb dictionary. The reader will contain elders' stories on topics from Dene Kede, with a focus on animals: the PI would like to include at least two short stories on each animal in both languages. The verb dictionary will list at least 200 verbs in each language, with the complete paradigm for each verb (all 27 forms), and example sentences taken from the stories. The goal is to produce high-quality materials that teachers can use in the classroom, to teach Dene culture and languages.

In addition, this year the PI will add an additional step, instrumental (phonetic) measurement of vowel length, nasality, and tone, by computer. This is to ensure that verb forms are spelled accurately.

Making language teaching materials begins with elders, since they are the ones most knowledgeable about Dene languages and culture. The PI will begin with one-on-one interviews with elders, where they will be asked to tell stories (for the reader) or ask them about verb forms (for the verb dictionary). The PI will recruit elders over the telephone, by calling them at their house. Elders are chosen based on which elders have expressed interest in working with the PI, at community meetings, and elders that the PI has worked with successfully in the past. The linguist will then write down what the elders have said, with the help of younger speakers, including the four trainees at Goyatiko. Before sending the materials off for printing, the PI will have one or more meetings with a group of elders to look over the final version and make sure there are no mistakes.

Finally, this year an additional step is being added, to do instrumental phonetic measurements of verb forms by computer. Using a computer program called "Praat", it is possible to precisely measure the nasality, tone, and length of each vowel. The purpose of this step is to make spellings more accurate than might be done just by ear.

There will be many opportunities for local involvement. The PI will work with elders individually, to provide the content, in the form of stories or verb paradigms, which will be transcribed and made into teaching materials, and will also meet with elders as a group (8-10 local elders) to proofread the final version of any materials before they are published. The four trainees at Goyatiko will help transcribe stories in Dogrib. The PI will also offer at least one class in Dettah on Dene literacy, as part of the Aboriginal Language and Cultural Instructor Program, which will be open to all community members (other first nations also welcome), and at least one class in Lutselk'e (8 days) on Dene literacy and grammar, with a focus on Chipewyan. The PI will involve local language teachers at YK1 and YK2 in helping to design teaching materials in Dogrib, as well as for Chipewyan. Finally, the PI will also encourage local youth to get involved, by helping to produce two board games, one in Dogrib and the other in Chipewyan.

In making teaching materials, the ultimate goal is that these materials be used in local schools. Thus the results of the study will be made available to local teachers and students in language classes. In addition, the PI plans to distribute one copy of these materials, to each household in Dettah, Ndilo, and Lutselk'e. Finally, the principal investigator will teach at least one Dene literacy course in Dettah and one in Lutselk'e.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from August 17, 2013 to December 31, 2013.