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Lenape Language Project will preserve tapes

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BARTLESVILLE, Okla. - The Delaware Tribe of Indians in Bartlesville, Okla., recently announced, that the Lenape Language Project has received a three-year language preservation grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). With NSF support, James Rementer and Dr., Bruce Pearson will review and convert to digital format some 1,000 hours of tape-recorded material in the Delaware Indian language dating back to the mid-20th century. Delaware Tribal members Janifer Brown and Nicky Kay Michael are also working on the language project.

Although this language has been studied in the past and belongs to the widely studied Algonquian family, little information about the structure of the speaking members of the tribe or the public is known. The project will bring together phonetic renditions of words and phrased, sound files of the words and phrases pronounced by the last generation of native speakers, and in many cased, pictures of cultural items being named.

A reference CD that will teach some of the language basics will also be produced and made available to Delaware Tribal members as well as the general public.

In addition to the importance of the project to the 11,000 members of the Oklahoma-based Delaware tribe, the language is historically important. It was once spoken over an area of almost 25,000 square miles, including all of New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, northern Delaware and southeastern New York. It was also significant as the language used between the Lenape and the early Dutch, Swedish, and English settlers in the area. It was the medium used to deal with William Penn when he established the Pennsylvania colony in the 17th century.

The importance of Lenape continued through the period of American independence and westward expansion to the end of the 19th century. The language remained in use in Oklahoma through the 20th century and survived in the memory of 98-year-old Ceremonial Chief Edward Leonard Thompson, until the last day of August 2002, when he passed away.

Some middle-aged tribal members have a partial command of the language as do a few scholars who have studied the language. Chief Ketchum and James Rementer have both worked to help preserve the language. In 1992, they began sponsoring Lenape language classes through the Culture Preservation Committee of the Delaware Tribe. It was taught by the late Lucy Parks Blalock, a fluent speaker of Lenape.

"The storage format developed for preservation of the materials will facilitate efforts of the Delaware tribe to create language teaching materials," Chief Ketchum added. This documentation will also support the work of tribal members and linguists in researching narratives contained in the material and in preparing English translations and/or bilingual editions of Delaware texts.

For more information about the Lenape Language Program or Delaware tribe of Indians, contact James Rementer at (918) 336-5272, Ext. 503.