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Linking language documentation to community needs: Kaska Language workers and the Kaska On-line Dictionary Project

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Title: Linking language documentation to community needs: Kaska Language workers and the Kaska On-line Dictionary Project
Issue Date: 12 Mar 2015
Description: Documentary language materials that serve the needs of local source communities differ from those designed for academic researchers. Local communities encompass users with diverse interests and abilities, everyone from pre-school learners to fluent speakers. This paper examines the language needs of community language workers, particularly language teachers and translators, who are an especially important local audience. Although the number of community language workers is typically small, they play a disproportionate role as language activists in developing teaching resources, instructing classes, and using the language in public settings. They are among the most literate members of the local community, and commonly work to enhance their spoken language fluency. They have often trained with academic language researchers and are among the most frequent users of documentary resources.

This paper examines the needs of Kaska language workers in Ross River and Watson Lake, Yukon who, over the last six months, have contributed to a collaborative on-line Kaska dictionary project conducted in collaboration between two First Nations, the Yukon Department of Education, and university-based researchers. We consider the extent to which design options, including the use of contemporary digital and web-based technologies, have facilitated or failed to facilitate the usability of the dictionary for community language workers. Dene (Athabaskan) dictionaries pose problems for dictionary makers and users relating to the complex structure of verbs. Hargus (2012) has pointed out that what might be construed as verbal headword entries in Dene languages are discontinuous, unpronounceable, non-word entities. Similarly Poser (2003) says that because of the extensive prefixation and complex verb stem variation in these languages there is a basic dilemma between a root based analytical dictionary (requiring extensive knowledge of abstract language structure) and presenting an overwhelming number of fully inflected forms. We explore a compromise organizational structure that utilizes access through English translational equivalents, Kaska entries organized by Kaska roots, and paradigms of selected inflected forms. We consider the advantages of using linked sound files as well as written text and reference to sentences, conversations and narratives recorded with fluent speakers. Finally we consider what types of recorded materials are most useful for Kaska language workers in their roles as language instructors and advanced language learners.


Hargus, Sharon
2012 Design Issues in Athabaskan Dictionaries. Northwest Journal of
Linguistics 6(2):1-14.

Poser, William
2003 Making Athabaskan Dictionaries Usable. Working Papers in the
Athabaskan Languages 2: Proceedings of the 2002 Athabaskan Languages Conference, 136-147.
Rights: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections:4th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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