Project aims to preserve Jicarilla Apache language

Albuquerque News

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – It’s a language with long standing roots in northern New Mexico but only a handful of people can still speak it. Now, a group of tribal members and linguists are looking to make sure it survives for generations to come.

Today, there are only a few dozen fluent speakers of Jicarilla Apache and Dr. Veronica Tiller is one of them. She’s the director of a project, translating texts to create a functional body of work preserving the language with funding from the National Science Foundation. The team includes University of New Mexico Linguistics Professor Melissa Axelrod, who helped compile a Jicarilla Apache dictionary along with ten fluent elders.

There are working with a collection of traditional stories translated in the early 20th century by anthropologist Pliny Goddard. Their goal? to update the work to make it more accurate and better reflect the culture. “White scholars, up to now, have had a monopoly on academic studies. Everything is from their point of view,” said Dr. Tiller. She says like any project documenting folklore, it’s a daunting task. “It’s kind of like having the various versions of Cinderella, or Red Riding Hood, there are hundreds of versions so we have to make sure we’re not saying this is the only version,” Dr. Tiller said.

Dr. Tiller says she hopes the project will not only serve future generations of tribal members but scholars and others interested in learning about the culture. “We want the world to know that there is a body of knowledge and wisdom and values of a culture such as ours, let’s take a look at how we perceive the world,” Dr. Tiller said.

Dr. Tiller says she hopes the project will serve as a model for other tribes to go after similar grants, in order to preserve their cultures treasures as well.

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