Group in American Indian Languages (GAIL)

The Group in American Indian Languages (GAIL) meets periodically in order to bring together individuals interested in Indigenous languages of the Americas for a potluck dinner and presentation. News about events can be found below, and a list of other past talks can be found here

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This group is on hiatus during the 2023-2024 academic year.

Most recent events:

October 8, 2019, 6PM: Meg Cychosz (UC Berkeley)

*Note this meeting will take place at Andrew Garrett's house (contact for directions).

Daylong audio recordings in linguistic research: Collection, management, and use

How does a child's linguistic environment interact with their language development? To answer this question, I have been working with bilingual children who are learning South Bolivian Quechua and Spanish in southern Bolivia. This is part of a larger, multi-lab project that incorporates a relatively new methodological tool in child development and human speech research: daylong audio recordings. This talk will illustrate how we can 1) efficiently collect large, naturalistic language databases, even on under-represented languages and 2) harness the power of these big data to answer questions about language universals and speech development.

April 4, 2019, 6PM: Tasha Hauff (UC Berkeley)

Improving Lakota language education in K-12 schools on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation

Native communities are spending great time energy and resources to revive the state of their languages, to get them spoken in their communities, and to ensure that next generations have access to the values, ideas, worldviews, and other gifts their language contain. One of the methods Native communities use to do this is by teaching their languages as a subject in existing K-12 institutions. Based on interviews and two years of participant observation, this talk examines the limits and possibilities recent tribal-wide efforts to improve the K-12 Dakota/Lakota language programming in K-12 schools on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.  While D/Lakota language had been taught, minimally, in these institutions for decades, major efforts to reform language education in this capacity started in 2006. These efforts included partnering with a non-tribal non-profit, developing language curriculum and classroom materials, coordinating among nearly all the K-12 institutions on the reservation, and developing teacher-training programs. The tribe has spent over a decade designing and implementing various improvement projects, which included a collaboration with the Lakota Language Consortium, yet there has been little documented progress. Nevertheless, Standing Rock’s story presents important lessons for tribes looking to revitalize Native language through schools and offers important lessons for teacher preparation programs looking to foster culturally and linguistically revitalizing pedagogy. Finally, while the results of these efforts to improve K-12 language education have not been as great as anticipated, the projects, partners, and programs developed to reach these goals have become the cornerstone of the larger language revitalization movement at Standing Rock that extends beyond the K-12 institutions and out in to the community more widely.

November 15, 2018, 6PM: Kate Hedges and Leanne Hinton (UC Berkeley)

The Konkow Project

The Konkow Maidu Cultural Preservation Association (KMCPA) is creating a searchable database and website to help language learners and researchers better utilize the Konkow materials of Russell Ultan, who did fieldwork on language in the 1960’s. His recordings, dissertation and student papers are in the Survey and online. We also have two stories with sentence by sentence translations that were provided to the Association by the Long Now Foundation. The team consists of Kate Hedges (secretary of KMCPA and the person developing the online database and website), Leanne Hinton (handling the linguistic analysis) and Todd Gettleman (in charge of inputting the language data and working with the team on the creation of lesson,exercises and language games for language learners.

Leanne and Kate will present the components of the database and website. Leanne will also report on the complex pronominal system of Konkow, which is one of the requirements of the DEL grant* funding this project.  

*Our thanks to the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

October 18, 2018: Andrew Garrett (UC Berkeley)

Yurok rhotic vowels and vowel harmony

Spoken in NW California, the Yurok language (Algic) has no remaining elder first-language speakers, but has an active language revival program with good second-language speakers and some young first-language speakers. In phonology, Yurok is well known for a vowel harmony process whereby non-high vowels (a, a:, e, o, o:) may become rhotic (ɚ, ɚ:) in words that contain a rhotic vowel. According to prior descriptions (e.g. Robins 1958), high vowels (i i: u u:) are unaffected. In this presentation, I will discuss the domain of harmony and the matter of high vowels. I will show that some Yurok speakers had rhotic high vowels that are the result of vowel harmony and even underlying rhotic high vowels that trigger vowel harmony. The work reported here is based on legacy data (notes and recordings) as well as more recent (2001-2007) recordings, and was partly collaborative with language teachers in the context of Yurok Tribe language workshops. This talk will be broadcast to Yurok language teachers and activists.

March 14, 2018: Konrad Rybka (UC Berkeley)

Affordances as determinants of lexical outcomes of language contact: a study of fire fans in northeastern Amazonia

A fundamental question of contact linguistics is what factors determine the outcomes of language contact. Amazonian languages play a key role in this investigation because Amazonian peoples deprecate lexical borrowing as the linguistic counterpart of miscegenation. Yet, lexical borrowing sometimes occurs, raising the question what other factors moderate its rate and how its paucity is compensated by other processes, such as lexical innovation or semantic extension, when cultures come in contact. A particularly felicitous domain to investigate these questions is the vocabulary of man-made objects. A comparative study of the actual artifacts can determine in which cases they were borrowed, providing an independent benchmark against which the linguistic results and their determinants can be gauged. One hypothesis suggests that the names of artefacts are borrowed when a novel function for an object is introduced. Borrowing is also often linked to a need to designate new entities. By looking at lexical borrowing, lexical innovation and semantic extension against the borrowing of the objects, I explore how functions and needs regulate the lexical outcomes of language contact more broadly. The methodological contribution of this work is to couple continent-wide linguistic and continent-wide ethnographic comparison to uncover important large-scale cultural and linguistic processes and reveal smaller-scale processes of contact from which areal patterns arise. 

For this purpose, I analyzed South American fire fans, tools for fanning cooking fires, using museum objects and ethnographic sources (Fig 1). I first determined the distribution of different models and their dispersal to identify cases of material borrowing. I then analyzed the cases of material borrowing against the names of the fans. The results suggest that the linguistic outcomes of contact may be mediated by affordances: a relationship between functions and needs. I illustrate this on fans from northeastern Amazonia, designed specifically for the processing of bitter manioc, a key crop for many Amazonian societies. Borrowed by bitter manioc horticulturalists, for whom the fans afford optimizing its processing, their names are borrowed as well, often in complex Wanderwörter chains. The same fans borrowed by groups that rely on other crops, for whom they do not have new affordances (via-à -vis the group’s antecedent model), trigger semantic extension. The results speak to the importance of linking linguistic forms not only to their users but also to their referents when analyzing language contact patterns and highlight the impact that bitter manioc has had on the material culture and languages of indigenous people in South America. (A PDF version of this abstract can be found here.)

April 18, 2018: Crystal Richardson (UC Davis)

Araráhih Kich Nuchuphêesh: Indigenous Breath Only We’ll-be-utilizing!

American Indigenous languages are typically spoken of as ‘highly’ or even ‘severely’ endangered in current academic discourse.  Although all minority languages are not also American Indigenous languages, it can be assumed that all American Indigenous languages are minority languages. 

Writing about minority languages, rather than allowing these language communities to voice their own perspectives in academic discourse, poses a problem to smaller languages because it allows external research Institutions to disempower minority voices by defining the terms of their existence (Skutnabb-Kangas, 2000; Leonard, 2011; Lara-Cooper, 2014).

In contrast, utilizing an emic-systemic framework to investigate Indigenous language revitalization and reclamation efforts, empowers Indigenous language communities.  Those researchers who come from a tribal scholar positionality, and allied researchers who embrace Indigenous linguistic paradigms are able to do better work by embracing the freedom to utilize their full repertoire of cultural literacies to both gather and analyze data within the context of Endangered Language documentation and revitalization projects.

This presentation seeks to address the following questions: 1) What is currently being done to keep Karuk vital; 2) What are current issues the Karuk language teacher & educator community is grappling with?  The paper being presented explores these fundamental concepts using a variety of qualitative data including: interviews, survey information, field notes, and pedagogic materials. 

By returning to our Indigenous processes and definitions, rather than accepting the deficit-based definitions projected into and upon our extant language communities (by ‘authorities’ like the ethnologue), Karuk speakers are part of the movement towards Indigenous linguistic sovereignty.  “[Indigenous] knowledge need no longer be subsumed or assimilated into Western knowledge systems, but can stand side by side with other knowledge systems as a viable expression of spatial/temporal engagements” (Louis, 2017, 174).