Linguistics Department

NSF Award in Support of Archival Work on Indigenous Languages of the Americas

Wed, May 2, 2012

Linguistics Professor Tony Woodbury, along with his co-PI's Heidi Johnson (manager, Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America) and Pattie Epps (also of Linguistics), has been awarded a $245,752 grant from the National Science Foundation. That award, entitled "Archiving the Terrence Kaufman Collection", will enable the digital Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America (AILLA) here at UT to catalog, digitize, and archive the Terrence Kaufman Collection. Professor Kaufman, who is an emeritus professor of anthropology and linguistics at the University of Pittsburgh, is one of the world's foremost Mesoamericanists. His career spans more than 50 years. His research has encompassed most of the language families in a region of great linguistic, cultural, historical, and archaeological importance. Professor Kaufman’s vast language documentation work has made important contributions to linguistics as well as to other disciplines. The core of his contribution is the historical reconstruction of proto-languages - the ancestors of modern languages - including Mayan, Mixe-Zoquean, and Uto-Aztecan. His research sheds light on interactions among peoples and the transmission of ideas as well as artifacts. Kaufman and his collaborators have made major contributions to the understanding of the pre-history of Mesoamerican societies.

The collection includes over 100,000 pages of manuscript; 900 CDs of original recordings; 100 boxes of file slips; and 200 digital texts and databases. These materials will be digitized, converted to standard formats, and preserved in AILLA. The collection and the catalog will be available through English and Spanish web-based interfaces.

Grammars, dictionaries, and collections of texts can be repurposed for language teaching at all levels. Revitalization efforts are underway for dozens of the languages documented in this collection; these materials will be a treasure trove for such efforts. Professor Kaufman has always promoted the participation of speakers in all aspects of language documentation. He devised practical orthographies for most of the languages of Mesoamerica that make transcriptions and other data easier for non-specialists to use. Many native-speaker graduates of his projects are now teachers and researchers who can make immediate use of the resources that will be made available through this project.

AILLA is a joint project of the Departments of Anthropology and Linguistics and of the Digital Library Services Division of the General Libraries at the University of Texas at Austin. For more information, see AILLA's web site:

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