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Web site tries to preserve language

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GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) - A University of Wisconsin - Green Bay professor and an Oneida Nation of Wisconsin tribal elder have created a Web site to help try to save the Oneida language.

For the past year and a half, professor Clifford Abbott and tribal elder Maria Hinton have tried to transform a printed dictionary into a searchable online database that includes sound samples.

''Culture and language goes together,'' said Hinton, 96, who learned the language from her grandparents as a child. She started speaking English when she was 7.

The endurance of the language transmits generations of stories, history and faith, Hinton said.

Oneida is in the Iroquoian family of languages and is more distantly related to Cherokee. It has an extensive history of oral literature and only has been written down in the past few generations.

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, there are 553 speakers of Oneida - 429 of them in Wisconsin.

Like other American Indian languages, the danger of extinction has inspired preservation efforts.

Students at the Oneida Nation schools learn to speak and write it. But only about a dozen fluent native speakers remain.

Abbott and Hinton say they have put about 4,000 words online, including about 900 sound samples of pronunciation. The English-to-Oneida part of the database is only available now.

''We decided what we really needed was sound,'' said Abbott, a professor of communication and First Nation studies who started studying the Oneida language as a graduate student. ''It's easy to look up a word, but to know what it should sound like is another story.''

They're about a quarter of the way through the dictionary, but the Web site already is being used for one of Abbott's grammar classes. The site includes texts on grammar and will one day have sample stories in Oneida.

Abbott said she expects it to be a few more years before the online dictionary is complete.

Besides the Oneida reservation near Green Bay, the other reservations are in New York and Ontario.