For the first time in the 125 year history of the International Polar Year (IPY) research, the 2007 organizers of the fourth IPY decided to include the "human dimension" of polar science. The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded an unprecedented 20 million dollars in support of more than 30 research observational and data management projects in social science and humanities. This IPY project is groundbreaking "human dimension" research; the documentation of acutely endangered languages of the Arctic.
Language makes the communication of cultural identity.
Cultural beliefs, world views, value systems of the past, present and future are shared because these elements compose language. A verbal language relies on the present moment and context for the exchange of information.A documented language allows for the heritage exchange to take place regardless of the time and place in which it occurs.
The cultural identity of the language can be shared in perpetuity because the language documentation has been completed.
The purpose of the IPY: Documenting Alaskan and Neighboring Languages Project, NSF #0707327 is the documentation of endangered languages and extinct languages of the Arctic. The project results are comprehensive dictionaries, grammars and assorted publications/web resources for these languages.
IPY arctic research practical to a variety of stakeholders
- For the school children and teachers- language documentation makes possible the production of good curriculum products written in the heritage languages.
- For Alaskans wishing to acknowledge their identity-language documentation assists in the interpretation of cultural materials and the transcription and translation of audio recordings.
- For academic institutions- the instruction of Alaska's languages and the teaching of Alaska's past and present cultural heritage.
- For the state and local governments-language documentation provides the necessary information for the production of adequate bilingual materials absolutely required to ensure voter participation by the local citizens.
- For tribal governments and corporations- language documentation offers the basic information necessary for the development of language programs these entities provide to their tribal members and shareholders.
Linguists and social scientists from Alaska and around the world have spent a substantial portion of their lives working toward the goals of this project. The work is all fieldwork and/or consolidation and analysis of large masses of data collected over many years. All data is available through the Alaska Native Language Archive, University of Alaska Fairbanks.