Research indicates Tlingit is spoken fluently by fewer than 500 people and Northern Haida is spoken by only four Alaskans and 10 people in British Columbia. An estimated 20-25 Alaskans and 500 Canadians speak Tsimshian fluently. Most fluent speakers are middle-age or elderly. The three-year grant from the National Science Foundation will give students a lasting opportunity to hear the languages spoken by fluent Native speakers in a conversational context, rather than having to rely on semi-fluent teachers who have learned Tlingit, Haida or Tsimshian as a second language. The project also will allow SHI's linguists to study the narratives and conversations and to incorporate the materials into curriculum.
"In doing language projects, we have to have the documentation and the recordings. We have to then have the linguists be able to look at the language, study the language and from that, then we can begin to do curriculum development," said SHI President Rosita Worl.
The $263,126 award includes $81,211 for 2007 and, funds permitting, $82,263 in 2008 and $99,652 in 2009, said Worl, adding NSF grants are not easy to get.
"It's very prestigious to get a National Science Foundation award. It's also very competitive, and I think it speaks highly of the team we have assembled here at Sealaska Heritage Institute," Worl said.