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UW Graduate Student Studies Dane-zaa in British Columbia

March 30, 2009


Julia Colleen Miller, Linguistics and 2008-09 FLAS Fellow (Dane-zaa), standing in front of a birch grove after a day of helping pick up trash outside the Halfway River Reserve in British Columbia.

This quarter, research pertaining to my FLAS fellowship has been two-fold. I have been studying the Dane-zaa language, a First Nations language spoken in northern British Columbia and Alberta, through the use of stories and conversations that I have helped collect over the past four years. Additionally, I am exploring the importance of geography in the Dane-zaa culture. During these past four years I have part of a language documentation team ( Link no longer available. that has been working to bring these two concepts together, by documenting the Dane-zaa language from a place names perspective. The documentation team, together with Dane-zaa community members, has collected hours of linguistic data that derive from narratives of culturally relevant locations and personal migration histories. These materials, which have been deposited into our digital language archive (http://corpus), include stories, conversations, folklore and procedural recordings that are intrinsically tied to the land.

My colleague, Gabriele Müller (University of Münster), and I envisioned an alternative way to access the archived materials, one that reflects the geographic knowledge of the Dane-zaa. To this end, we created map layers (.kml files) for use with Google Earth. One layer represents specific locations, chosen by the elders as historically significant locations. Each geographic point has various media files associated with it. Direct links to these media are provided in the layer, as well as links into the archive. A second layer provides place names in Dane-zaa, which are hyperlinked to audio files of elders pronouncing the names. We will be presenting this project at the first annual meeting of the International Conference of Language Documentation and Conservation, held on March 12-14, in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Thanks to the FLAS awards I have received from the Canadian Studies Center, my work with the Dane-zaa elders, and my academic adviser here at UW, Sharon Hargus, Linguisitics, I am able to continue my scholarship of the Dane-zaa language as well as pursue my interests in geography and language archiving. It is my hope that I can create materials that will aid in the continuing efforts of language documentation and revitalization within the Dane-zaa communities.

Julia Colleen Miller is a doctoral candidate in Linguistics and a 2008-09 FLAS Fellow (Dane-zaa). Her dissertation focuses on the acoustic properties of lexical tone in two dialects of Dane-zaa: Doig River and Halfway River.