CALIFORNIA INDIGENOUS LANGUAGES: DOCUMENTATION AND REVITALIZATION

Keeping the last native languages in California alive. BY RITA MCGAUGHY

This year’s final NCTA general meeting was held on December 11 at the modern and bright San Francisco State University downtown campus. An interesting agenda, awards, door prizes, and great refreshments sponsored by the company Ceditora attracted a large number of attendees.

Tuomas Kostiainen, the current NCTA President, opened the meeting by introducing Thomas Brandon, co-founder of Ceditora. Mr. Brandon explained that Ceditora is a literary contract publisher that focuses on four languages: English, German, Portuguese and Spanish. Writers, translators, editors, and illustrators can register with the company, which selects the most promising works and turns them into high quality literary end products. To learn more, please visit their website at www.Ceditora.com.

Awards and Candidates

Next on the agenda was the presentation of the volunteers’ awards by Tuomas Kostiainen. This year’s recipients were:  Scott Saylor and Michael Schubert. Scott, the Volunteer of the Year, created and continues to maintain the NCTA’s Facebook page.  Michael has been the yahoo list master since 2002, was a member of the nominating committee, and provides technical help during TRADOS workshops.  Both of them do significant other work for the NCTA.  Congratulations and thank you to both of you!

Tuomas Kostiainen then introduced the following NCTA members who are running for office: Paula Dieli: candidate for president; Sonia Wichmann: candidate for vice president; Afaf Steiert, Scott Saylor, and Kristen Corridan: candidates for director. The election will be held at the end of January.

ATA Conference Report

Tuomas Kostiainen invited several ATA conference attendees to share their experiences from this year’s conference in Denver. Sharlee Merner Bradley, who is a long time conference participant, said that it was the best yet.  With zero down time, she enjoyed all the interesting and entertaining sessions.

Connie Archea, a first time attendee, felt welcomed by the friendly atmosphere during the new member orientation. She appreciated the abundance of knowledge and opportunities for networking that the conference had to offer. Michael Metzger, a regular at the annual conference, followed mainly the machine translation seminars. Due to the trend toward machine translation, the ATA will definitely continue these seminars. Deana Smalley, a first time participant, concluded that the conference improved her understanding of the industry significantly.
The overwhelmingly positive feedback will certainly help promote next year’s ATA conference which will be held in Boston, Oct. 26-29, 2011.

Linguistic diversity

At 2:15 pm, the main presentation titled, “California Indigenous Languages: Documentation and Revitalization,” began. Andrew Garrett, a Harvard graduate and Professor of Linguistics and Director of the Survey of California and other Indian Languages at the University of California, Berkeley, addressed the audience.  First, he gave an overview of California’s indigenous languages that by 1800 numbered between 80 and 90, and belonged to 21 different language families. Thus, of the 61 language families of North America, more than one third belonged to California!  Linguistically, these languages are more diverse than in any comparable area of the New World.  Sometimes these native languages coexisted in close proximity, yet could be completely unrelated! Compared to the language density and diversity of Europe, California had a 10 times denser language distribution than Europe. Numerous languages that were spoken by very small groups of people were especially vulnerable in the aftermath of the white invasion. Today fewer than 50 of these native languages still have at least one speaker, but most are not actively spoken anymore.

Language documentation

In the second part, Prof. Garrett showed the historical development of language documentation that started in the Mission-era by Spanish priests.  In the late 1800’s, geologists and biologists began government sponsored documentation. 1901 marked the birth of academic language work, when the Berkeley Department of Anthropology started its documentation process. Around 1950 the Berkeley Department of Linguistics took over and has been involved in many language projects ever since. Berkeley also houses the largest university archive of indigenous language documentation in the US. Some of the oldest audio recordings of native languages are preserved on wax cylinders that are being kept at the Hearst Museum.  In addition, the Bancroft Library is home to several famous notebook collections, manuscripts, linguistic field notes, and groundbreaking papers. In the last part of his presentation, Prof Garrett explained several methods of language revitalization and revival.

Tribes are trying to preserve their languages through documentation, language classes in local schools, and language camps. Linguistic researchers at universities also give workshops, and create language materials and online resources.  Prof. Garrett, for example, has published a basic Yurok grammar and a preliminary Yurok dictionary which demonstrate the complexity and richness of the Yurok language. Additionally, an extensive digitization process is under way that involves both paper and audio materials. Now, it is possible to listen to some of the languages at blc.berkeley.edu and a survey of California and other Indian languages is available at www.linguistics.berkeley.edu/Survey/. The goal is to digitize all field books, notes, etc. and make them accessible to the public.
There was a brief, but lively discussion and a big round of applause for Prof. Garrett. The NCTA thanks Prof. Garrett for his captivating presentation.

The meeting closed with the announcement of the door prizes. Karen Tkaczyk & Rita McGaughy won Jost Zetzsche’s ebook, Ana de Moraes won the book, The Prosperous Translator, Advice from Fire Ant & Worker Bee, compiled and edited by Chris Durban, and Naomi Norberg won The Entrepreneurial Linguist: The Business School-Approach to Freelance Translation by Judy Jenner. RM

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