Phonetics and Phonology of two Northern Athabaskan Languages

Regions: North Slave Region, South Slave Region

Tags: aboriginal language, linguistics, phonology

Principal Investigator: Jaker, Alessandro M (9)
Licence Number: 15436
Organization: University of Alaska, Fairbanks
Licenced Year(s): 2014 2013 2012 2009 2008 2007 2005
Issued: Mar 11, 2014

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 research team 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 research team 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 research team 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 research team begin with one-on-one interviews with elders, where they are asked either to tell stories (for the reader) or ask them about verb forms (for the verb dictionary). The research team recruits elders over the telephone, by calling them at their house. The research team chooses elders based on which elders have expressed interest in working with the team, at community meetings, and elders the research team have worked with successfully in the past. The linguist (Alessandro Jaker) then writes down what the elders have said, with the help of younger speakers, including four trainees at Goyatiko. Before sending the materials off for printing, the research team 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 the research team are adding an additional step, 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 research team 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. The research team 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 research team 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 pending funding, at least one class in Lutselk'e (8 days) on Dene literacy and grammar, with a focus on Chipewyan. The research team will involve local language teachers at YK1 and YK2 in helping us to design teaching materials in Dogrib, as well as Celine Marlowe in Lutselk'e and Emerence Cardinal in Yellowknife, for Chipewyan. Finally, the research team will also encourage local youth to get involved, by helping the team 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 are made available to local teachers and students in language classes. In addition, the research team plans to distribute one copy of these materials, for free, 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, pending approval of funding.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from March 12, 2014 to July 15, 2014.