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New Mexico State University

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NMSU professor receives more than $300,000 to preserve Apache languages

A grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) will help the Mescalero Apache Tribe and a New Mexico State University professor preserve and maintain Apache languages on the Mescalero Apache Reservation, about 100 miles northeast of Las Cruces near Ruidoso.

Professor Scott Rushforth, an anthropological linguist, received a $321,200 award from the NEH Documenting Endangered Languages Program. The funding will enable Rushforth and Ndé Bizaa, the Mescalero Apache Tribe Language Program, to develop a dictionary, grammar and multimedia archive. Ndé Bizaa staff members include Director Oliver Enjady, Caroline Blake, Ben Blake and Walter Scott, an Apache language media specialist who obtained his degree from NMSU.

Today, there are fewer than 200 fluent Apache speakers at Mescalero.

"The Apache languages at Mescalero are not being learned by children, so we are using modern technology to document and preserve those languages," Rushforth said.

Under authority of the Mescalero Apache Tribe, Rushforth and Ndé Bizaa are constructing an electronic dictionary and grammar, and producing hundreds of hours of audio and video recordings of the Mescalero, Chiricahua and Lipan Apache languages.

Apache belongs to the Athabaskan language family, which includes Navajo and other related languages spoken by indigenous peoples in North America. Rushforth and Ndé Bizaa staff will analyze the complex structure of verbs and other word classes in Apache to assist with comparative work on the entire Athabaskan language family.

Experts estimate approximately 7,000 currently used human languages are bound for oblivion in this century, and the window of opportunity to document these languages is becoming smaller with each passing year.
The NMSU award is among $3.9 million in grants and fellowships from the NEH and NSF to support digital documentation work on almost 50 endangered languages.

For more information about the NEH and NSF, visit their websites at http://www.neh.gov/ and http://www.nsf.gov/. For more information about the Chiricahua Apache, visit http://www.chiricahua-apache.com/.