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University of Oklahoma, Norman (Norman, OK 73019-3003)
Sean P. O'Neill (Project Director: December 2007 to September 2013)

Documenting Endangered Languages - Preservation
Preservation and Access

$348,800 (approved)
$270,751 (awarded)

Grant period:
6/1/2008 – 5/31/2013

Documenting Plains Apache: Fieldwork, Archives, and Database

Fieldwork on the grammar, lexicon, and storytelling traditions of the Plains Apache, speakers of an endangered Athabaskan language in Oklahoma. The project would result in a database, which would be used to produce a dictionary and a collection of texts.

This project would produce new material on Plains Apache, a scarcely documented Athabaskan language formerly known as Kiowa-Apache. The original homeland of the Athabaskan family most likely lies in northwestern Canada and Alaska (where the bulk of the languages are spoken today), suggesting a one-time southward migration of the ancestors of the present-day speakers of Plains Apache. When working with a group of closely related languages, it is often possible to reconstruct earlier forms of speech by studying minute differences that have arisen in each of the daughter languages, because each language preserves the material in a slightly different way. Since Plains Apache is the most divergent member of the Apachean branch of Athabaskan, new material on this language variety would play a vital role in reconstructing the prehistory of the Athabaskan-speaking peoples. From another perspective, the speakers of Plains Apache have been in close contact with neighboring Kiowa speakers for well over 100 years, and it would be interesting to assess the degree of influence between these languages. Because the vast majority of the speakers are elderly, this work is urgent. First, I plan to elicit new material on the grammar, lexicon, and storytelling traditions of Plains Apache in order to expand and complete its existing documentation. Second, I would combine the new data with existing archival materials in a database, from which a series of publications would be produced, including a practical dictionary for the tribe, an analytical lexicon with extensive grammatical information, and a collection of narrative texts. Graduate students and a community speaker would be trained in both fieldwork and database construction.