Timothy Montler, professor of linguistics in the Department of English, has a $317,502 Documenting Endangered Languages grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to create a Klallam dictionary and electronic text archive. His project was designated an NEH "We The People" project for promoting knowledge and understanding of American history and culture.
The dictionary and electronic text archive are Montler's continuation of his preservation of Klallam, a language used by the Lower Elwha Klallam American Indian tribe in northwest Washington.
In 1992, only eight members of the tribe - all in their 70s or older - had grown up speaking Klallam, and very few members could sing traditional songs and relate tribal legends in folklore in the language.
Wanting more members to learn the native language, staff members of the tribe's cultural office contacted Montler, who had been recommended to them by an anthropologist for Olympic National Park in Washington.
As a doctoral student at the University of Hawaii, Montler had received a working knowledge of Saanich, a language similar to Klallam that is spoken by the Salish tribe living on Vancouver Island. He also had assisted his professor, Laurence C. Thompson, who was the first linguist to collect and publish grammatical information on Klallam.
Montler began visiting the Lower Elwha and other nearby reservations almost every summer and created computer games for schools in Port Angeles, Wash., near the Lower Elwha Klallam reservation, to teach the language.
After Montler developed teaching materials, Port Angeles High School began offering Klallam language classes for foreign language credit, and several elementary schools also teach Klallam.
Montler says the dictionary and electronic text archive, which staff members at the Klallam Language Program asked him to produce, are two other tools for teaching the language.
"The text and the electronic archive will be created together," he says. "Each word will have a reference and a link to a sound file, and the archive will be easily searchable."
In addition to the thousands of pages of notes and hundreds of hours of recordings on the Klallam language that he has collected, Montler now has 500 pages of notes and 30 hours of recordings that Thompson and his wife, linguist M. Terry Thompson gathered.
He says their work is particularly valuable for him because his professor "worked with speakers who were from Jamestown and Port Gamble, at the opposite end of Klallam territory from where I worked." Montler added the Thompsons also interviewed elders who were a generation older than those he interviewed.
Already the author of 47 chapters of a not-yet-published Klallam grammar reference book, Montler says he hopes the dictionary and electronic text archive will be immediately used by members of the tribe and students learning Klallam in the Port Angeles schools.
With the Klallam Language Program now providing texts of folktales in the native language, those learning Klallam "have reached a point where a simple wordlist is not enough," he says.
"A comprehensive Klallam dictionary is needed now and must be done now, while I still have native-speaking elders to help me," he says.
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