Nawat Linguistic Seminar
Who we are:
The Nawat language recovery initiative:
Nawat linguistic seminar (SLN)
SLN (Seminario Lingüístico de Náhuat) is a programme of language research, analysis, codification and publication serving the needs of the Nawat language’s recovery process. The SLN will undertake or cooperate in a range of projects and activities compatible with these goals, encouraging the coordination of efforts and the sharing of results for the benefit of the Nawat language movement. Anybody who has the capability and desire to contribute to the projects and activities of SLN is invited to take part. SLN is institutionally independent and self-governing; at the present time, all participation is on a voluntary basis and the products of SLN are intended for the public domain, and in particular for use by Nawat speakers, writers, teachers, learners, and in general all involved in the Nawat movement.
Language tools for end-users
The following are some of the language tools that SLN will consider producing. It will also devote resources, effort and know-how towards the development of the different kinds of linguistic work required as a foundation for the creation of such tools, whether by the SLN itself or others.
- Spelling recommendations: As a language without a previous writing tradition, there is no pre-established orthography and earlier authors have proposed several different systems, none of which is widely known or fully satisfactory. SLN is in the process of developing its own spelling recommendations on the basis of the comparison of all previous proposals, study of the phonetics, phonology and morphology of each Nawat dialect known to us and of Nawat linguistics generally (including the consideration of other languages that are genetically, typologically or areally related to Nawat), and native intuitions and preferences, while also taking into account influence and possible interference from Spanish as the only other language known to most Nawat speakers (many of whom are illiterate, however). Taking into account the experience of orthographic standardisation in other languages, SLN understands the need to consult with speakers (and students) of the language on each potentially controversial proposal, and to proceed cautiously and gradually, by stages, ensuring acceptance (and if necessary, respecting rejection) of its recommendations on more central spelling issues before opening up to discussion less critical matters of detail. The SLN spelling recommendations will be implemented in teaching materials such as the Ne Nawat, Tutaketzalis and Tejemet Nusan series, taught to the teacher trainees in these programmes, and incorporated as appropriate into other basic Nawat language materials.
- Grammars: While it is unlikely that SLN will decide to produce its own Nawat textbooks since other projects and programmes are covering this area, it will respond to other needs such as the production of grammatical reference works. This implies the need for a considerable body of grammatical research, fieldwork and so on, as well as work on systematisation (codification) of the grammatical system for the purposes of teaching and standardisation. Such sork is now underway, and SLN hopes to be able to publish its first Nawat grammar in 2005.
- Vocabularies and dictionaries: Lexical work is also underway at SLN, and this is another area where there is much groundwork to be done before reliable reference works can be made available to the public. There are several SLN projects in motion that will eventually feed into the production of vocabularies and dictionaries, whose results will be made available to the public when they have advanced sufficiently to make it practical to do so. SLN hopes to be able to publish a basic Nawat dictionary by 2005.
Development of research resources
“Research resources” refers to material that does not fall either into the category of primary data or end-products but occupies an intermediate position: here primary data can be stored, systematised and made available both for further research and as a source for developing end-user tools. The advent of the computer age has made it possible to employ such strategies to increase the power of linguistic work, by making it more economical, in terms of money, time and human resources, to make an important quantity of information available and thus achieve more advanced results of higher quality than would otherwise have been possible. Development of two such resources of great importance is now in progress at SLN:
- Text corpus: SLN is developing a basic corpus of transcribed Nawat texts in a simple text format. In the future it will be possible to codify the corpus and convert it to a more sophisticated format permitting various forms of advanced processing. In its present form, the corpus is already available for research use (by means of a concordancer programme) as well as for future editing and publishing projects. Given the very small size of the existing corpus of published Nawat texts, an exhaustive transcribed corpus is highly feasible even with limited human resources. Transcription using a uniform set of graphic conventions (based on SLN’s spelling recommendations) will produce a mechanical corpus that facilitates concordancer-based linguistic research. New texts originating from oral fieldwork or from present and future written production are also being incorporated into the corpus as they become available. The partial corpus already available for use is 160K in size, containing over 24,000 words and texts from thirteen written and oral sources representing various authors, dialects, genres and periods.
- Lexical database: SLN has also begun construction of a computerised database, NawatLex, bringing together homologised lexical information from every source available including the text corpus, existing lexicographical works (published dictionaries and vocabularies) and current fieldwork. NawatLex has multiple uses: as a data source for various kinds of linguistic research and analysis; as part of a general process of systematisation and codification of the language; as a means of comparing the lexical content of specific data sources and texts; and as an basic source for developing didactic and lexical tools for end-users (textbooks, syllabuses, dictionaries etc. The database in its current format lists Nawat lexical words annotated with information including Spanish equivalent(s), grammatical category, morphological class, lexical root(s), data and text sources, additional markers and semantic categorisation, as well as fields for contextual annotations and additional observations (such as variation of detail between sources). At the present time NawatLex is still under construction, but already contains complete or partial information extracted from fifteen data sources and over 2,500 records (i.e. word entries).
Preparatory work and data collection
The creation of tools and resources such as those described depends on the existence of an underlying groundwork, primary data and other necessary conditions. SLN recognises the need for these and will contribute to, coordinate or cooperate in relevant efforts. SLN also believes that a successful language recovery process requires the direct involvement of the ‘target population’, i.e. native speakers and members of the ethnic group whose language it is. Therefore, although we recognise the advantages of cooperation and technical assistance from specialists outside the target population, especially in a case like that of Nawat where the target population lacks, at present, members possessing the needed knowledge, skills and experience, we also believe that dependence on outside help should be a temporary makeshift, and the assistance or guidance given should go hand-in-hand with measures aimed at providing the community with the technical and material means to continue the work on their own and take charge of the process in the near future. Thus SLN includes among its activities a triple focus on data (working with available texts and source information), sources (involvement of and fieldwork with native speakers, and access to existing studies and materials) and procedures (training in general linguistic concepts and analysis, specific Nawat linguistic knowledge, fieldwork methods, useful technology etc., with priority given to the training of Nawat speakers and Pipils). Therefore SLN supports the following kinds of activity:
- Linguistic training: SLN actively encourages the participation of interested individuals in all aspects of SLN work that they are able to carry out. It also helps to train such individuals, encouraging and helping them to develop relevant knowledge, methods, and skills either through study activities or on-the-job training.
- Fieldwork: Individuals who have adequate knowledge and training and are interested in doing so are encouraged to engage in supervised fieldwork with native Nawat speakers. Fieldworkers can improve their knowledge of Nawat and of the native community through this activity, while at the same time providing new data and texts. Given that both native speakers and skilled fieldworkers are in short supply, SLN recommends a coordinated and supervised procedure, in which there is a central database of informants and fieldworkers and these are matched, and fieldworkers are provided with guidelines and objectives, and requested to provide SLN with recordings and transcriptions to be incorporated into its library, archives and corpus (access to which is open to the public).
- Source library and text archive: To the extent permitted by its resources, SLN proposes to keep a library of source materials and maintain an archive of Nawat texts and transcripts.
- Cuadernos: In 2003 SLN began to develop a format for informal publication and discussion of aspects of its work and studies in particular areas in monographic volumes called Cuadernos (workbooks). The Cuadernos are intended to be placed on a free-access website where anybody interested will be invited to contribute and discuss the issues raised. Two Cuadernos have been begun, one on Nawat spelling and another on dialect variation; these have not yet been placed on the Internet.
© 2004 Alan R. King, Monica Ward and IRIN.