The $266,000 award from the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities will advance the institute's efforts to revitalize Tlingit.
"Tlingit is a highly endangered language," said SHI President Rosita Worl, noting roughly 300 speakers remain in Alaska and most of them are elderly. "Virtually no children are learning Tlingit as a first language in the home."
The institute will use the funds over two years to:
Develop a reference grammar of Tlingit, which will explain the grammar to language learners in as non-technical a way as possible;
Complete Intermediate Tlingit and Principal Parts (two previously unfunded books in progress). Intermediate Tlingit will complement Beginning Tlingit, a textbook currently used by Tlingit language teachers as well as independent learners. Principal Parts will provide detailed conjugation paradigms for Tlingit verbs; and,
Digitize a large collection of approximately 40-year-old audio cassette tapes containing Tlingit narrative, oratory and ethnographic information.
The grant is part of the federal agencies' joint Documenting Endangered Languages project - a new, multi-year effort to digitally archive at-risk languages before they become extinct. The institute has been on the forefront of efforts to revitalize the indigenous languages in the region, and in 1997, its Board of Trustees adopted language restoration as the foremost priority of the Institute.
"This award will advance our efforts to teach Tlingit to school children," Worl said. "This is so important because our past work has shown Native students do better academically when they are exposed to their Native languages and culture in school."