A Reminder About Funding for Endangered Language Documentation.

Shobhana Chelliah

University of North Texas

The US National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Education and Human Resources includes the Tribal Colleges and Universities Program (TCUP). TCUP promotes education, research, and outreach to eligible Tribal Colleges and Universities.  A quick visit to the NSF Awards Database (search for TCUP) will give you an idea of the institutions receiving TCUP funds and the kinds of projects that receive awards. 

There are few TCUs with NSF funded Computer Science, Computational Linguistics, or Linguistics projects, but TCUP would like to support awards in those area.  Towards that goal, TCUP is now partnering with NSFs Documenting Endangered Languages Program (DEL) to fund proposals in language documentation especially if the proposed projects improve research infrastructure at TCUs and support the overall research profile of a TCU by increasing awards made to that TCU.  A major interest is to ensure a smooth transition of TCU students to research universities, so projects encouraging student academic proficiency and research experience are a strong desideratum.

And the connection with language documentation?  By Executive Order 13592, TCUs must “maintain, preserve, and restore Native languages and cultural traditions…”.  So, there is already federal-level commitment to supporting native languages at TCUs – training students in documenting their own languages is a natural extension of these intentions. 

Consider partnering with a Native American, Alaska Native or Native Hawaiian TCU-eligible institution when undertaking your next language documentation project.  If you are a community member working to create a lasting record of your language, you could partner with researchers or staff at a local TCU.   If you are TCU faculty or staff interested in documentary work, you might seek out documentary linguists at local universities for consultation or guidance regarding particular parts of the language documentation process.  If you are a linguist with an existing or emerging relationship with a TCU, you might submit a proposal to the DEL program along with faculty or staff at the TCU. 

There are many practical benefits of partnering with TCUs.  Independent scholars and cultural organizations can have trouble receiving funding from NSF if they do not have a proven history of handling federal funds.  Without such a history, even a highly ranked proposal can be declined for funding by the NSF grants office.    A TCU can also provide infrastructure to get a project reviewed for IRB clearance, a budget office to manage awards, archival assistance, meeting space, and function as liaison with tribal authorities. 

There are also benefits for TCUs when partnering with language documenters, be they linguists from research universities or community members.  TCU students could receive training in computational linguistics, language analysis, corpora creation, or digital records curation and archiving.  Note that this training is not related to the language programs at TCUs per se.  Rather, TCUs could receive benefits in curriculum development at the TCU, summer courses, summer internships, and the like.  All these would be the “Broader Impacts” of the projects carried out with funding from NSF and in conjunction with linguists.

Successful partnerships take time and effort.  They require trust and patience.  They require some luck and a lot of planning.  One does not expect partnerships to spring up overnight.  If there are linguists out there who know of TCUs in their area and if there are faculty and staff at TCUs who know of linguists working with native communities in their area, this would be a great time to start a conversation on future collaborations.  If such collaboration is possible, then the NSF TCUP/DEL funding opportunity may be just what is needed to make that a reality. 

The funding models can vary depending on circumstances.  For example, a one- to three-year senior research grant may be submitted by the TCU with linguists brought on as consultants or a collaborative proposal may be submitted, i.e one proposal submitted by the TCU and a companion proposal by the linguist.  EAGERs and Conference proposals are also funded by DEL under the TCUP/DEL partnership.  Details can be found on the DEL NSF page at  http://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=12816.


Keep up the good work.