Earlier this month, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) announced that it would be doling out $27.4 million in grants for more than 200 humanities projects throughout the nation — including a project that could be pivotal for preservation of the Cherokee language.
“These NEH grants will support educators and scholars in enriching our understanding of the past and enable cultural institutions from across the country to expand their offerings, resources, and public programming, both in person and online,” said Adam Wolfson, the NEH’s acting chair. “We look forward to the many new insights and discoveries that these 208 exemplary projects will make possible.”
Among the 208 projects that received grants includes Northeastern University professors Ellen Cushman and Julia Flanders’ project to further develop a digital archive of manuscripts in the Cherokee language. A grant of $99,957 was allocated for the researchers’ project “Translating Cherokee Manuscripts,” which aims to further develop and translate the collection of Cherokee language materials and manuscripts in the Digital Archive for American Indian Languages Preservation and Perseverance (DAILP).
The DAILP espouses several core goals for the project, such as annotating and translating Cherokee manuscripts to eventually be used as a resource for language learning and education efforts. Such manuscripts can ultimately play a large role in revitalization of the Cherokee language, which is currently spoken by fewer than 2,500 people and is classified as “definitely endangered” or “severely endangered” by UNESCO, depending on the dialect.
“The DAILP treats language perseverance and language preservation as closely interconnected and mutually-sustaining efforts,” the project’s website reads. “Our team includes Cherokee language experts, speakers, teachers, learners, archivists and librarians, as well as linguists and literacy and digital humanities scholars.”
Cushman, the founder and project leader of the DAILP, also received a $30,000 grant as a fellow, for her project entitled “Cherokee Lifeways: Hidden Literacies of Collective Action.” Through this project, Cushman aims to research and write an extensive history of the Cherokee people and their philosophy, utilizing a recently developed and translated corpus of Cherokee language materials.
Among other language-related initiatives that received grants from the NEH include the Fort Lewis College Native Language Revitalization Institute, which received a $148,400 grant from the NEH, and a research project investigating ways to improve world language education, which received $100,000.
The NEH’s decision to aid in the funding of so many language-related projects could be indicative of a larger trend, as the past year has been a particularly major one for language preservation and revitalization efforts. In 2021, several efforts were made on a federal and local level to support Native American languages, including the breaking of ground on the Durbin Feeling Language Center, a community center that will house the Cherokee Nation’s language education and preservation programs.