Community Spotlight

A smiling woman holding two boxes of files at Breath of Life workshop

Nuu-da’ Mv-ne’: Our Language’s Home

Oregon Dene is a name used to describe a chain of dialects of southern Oregon and far northern California. Speakers and learners of the language today refer to it as Nuu-wee-ya’, “our words,” or Nuu-da’, “our mouth.” The speech community was fragmented by forced removal to reservations in the mid-1800s. Today, descendants are enrolled in several different tribal nations in Oregon and California.

With support from the National Science Foundation's Documenting Endangered Languages grant program (BCS-1562859), three researchers of Oregon Dene descent came together at the University of Oregon's Northwest Indian Language Institute (NILI) to increase accessibility of archival language materials and support revitalization of Nuu-wee-ya’ across tribal nations. The project team consists of Linguistics PhD student Jaeci Hall and brothers Jerome and Carson Viles, who work under the guidance of Dr. Janne Underriner. The project team digitally archives written and audio materials in Nuu-wee-ya' gathered between the 1880s and 1970s. Materials are then transliterated into the practical orthography used by tribes today and displayed online through the Indigenous Languages Digital Arhcive (ILDA). The team has collaborated with the Myaamia Center to launch ILDA software, a platform for hosting linguistic archives online.

Nuu-da’ Mv-ne’ is the first archive hosted on ILDA, and it is being used to inform analysis of obscure orthographies, aid in transcription of legacy audio materials, and provide a resource for language workers and teachers in the community. It currently houses over 28,000 entries, with digital surrogates of the source document accompanying each word or phrase in the language. With the successful launch of Nuu-da' Mv-ne' on ILDA, language teachers and learners are gaining access to a treasure trove of previously inaccessible written and audio materials. This, in turn, allows the words of elders, culture bearers and heroes in the community to continue to guide the peoples’ work on Nuu-wee-ya’