July 12, 2013

UMaine gets grant to create Penobscot Nation dictionary

The federal grant will help create the first comprehensive printed and searchable online dictionary of the endangered language of the Penobscot Indian Nation.

By Kelley Bouchard kbouchard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The University of Maine and the Penobscot Indian Nation have received a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to create the first comprehensive printed and searchable online dictionary of the Native American language.

The $339,411 grant will fund a three-year project building on a 494-page manuscript of about 17,000 entries that was produced by pathologist and linguist Frank Siebert during his work with native speakers from 1935 to 1993, according to a news release.

Researchers hope to add 30,000 to 45,000 words, phrases, sentences and usage examples from field notes and other archived materials.

The principal investigators will be Pauleena MacDougall, Ph.D., an anthropologist who heads the Maine Folklife Center at UMaine, and linguist Conor Quinn, Ph.D. Both worked with Siebert and have extensive experience with the Penobscot language.

"It is important for the university to reach out to communities, aiding their cultural efforts, particularly the Penobscots, who are our neighbors," MacDougall said.

The Penobscot Nation, which has been working to preserve its language for years, will cover the cost of and oversee publishing the dictionary.

Penobscot Indians started speaking English to their children in the late 1800s. By 1935, Siebert found only 98 speakers of the language.

Now, the language is taught largely through adult education classes.

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