We are community members and linguists at the University of California, Santa Cruz working to preserve and strengthen the Numu (Northern Paiute) language of the Koodzabe Duka'a ("alkali fly pupae eaters" of Mono Lake, Lee Vining, California), the Way Dukadu or Pogi Dukadu ("rye grass seed eaters" of Bridgeport, California), the Onabe Dukadu ("salt eaters" of Coleville, California), and the people of Pehabe Paa'away ("the place of sweet water", Sweetwater, Nevada). We are creating comprehensive documentation — including a collection of texts and an audio dictionary — that community members can use to learn their language.
With thousands of words, the dictionary will be a comprehensive resource for community members learning the language. Audio recordings will show how each word is pronounced.
The collection of texts will be an invaluable storehouse of linguistic and cultural knowledge, containing myths, traditional narratives, personal anecdotes, conversations, and instructional monologues.
The people who speak the Numu (Northern Paiute) language live in many communities across the western United States, from Mono Lake in eastern California into Nevada, Oregon, and Idaho. The members of each community often refer to themselves, and to the members of other communities, by a traditional food they ate. There are four communities on the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada that speak one dialect of the language: the Koodzabe Duka'a ("alkali fly pupae eaters" of Mono Lake, Lee Vining, California), the Way Dukadu or Pogi Dukadu ("rye grass seed eaters" of Bridgeport, California), the Onabe Dukadu ("salt eaters" of Coleville, California), and the people of Pehabe Paa'away ("the place of sweet water", Sweetwater, Nevada).
Other distinct, but mutually intelligible dialects are spoken farther to the north and to the east. Many of these communities have initiated programs to teach the language, including at Reno-Sparks and Pyramid Lake, Nevada and Burns, Oregon. These have produced learning materials, such as phrase books, audio and video tapes, and lesson plans, designed for use in the classroom. In addition, the State of Nevada has approved the awarding of credit for Northern Paiute language instruction in high schools at Pyramid Lake and in Reno-Sparks and McDermitt, Nevada.
The Numu (Northern Paiute) language is a member of the Uto-Aztecan language family. It is most closely related to the language of the Owens Valley Paiute and to Mono, spoken directly on the other side of the Sierra Nevada. More distantly, it is related to the language of the Shoshoni, who live in Death Valley, California and to the east and north, as well as to that of the Kawaiisu and Ute, who reside in southern California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. The structure and cultural significance of these languages — as well as their histories and the relations among them — are areas of active research for linguists, anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians.
Our project began in 2005 as a class in the Department of Linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley. Over the years, the participants have changed, but the project has continued. Today, it is hosted at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Toza Gracie Dick, Traditionalist (Coleville, Mono Lake, Benton, Sweetwater, and Bridgeport Paiute)
Edith McCann, Traditionalist Elder (Bridgeport and Mono Lake Paiute)
Madeline Stevens, Traditionalist Elder (Bridgeport and Sweetwater Paiute)
Maziar Toosarvandani, Associate Professor (Department of Linguistics, University of California, Santa Cruz)
Molly Babel, † Leona Cluette Dick, Andrew Garrett, Erin Haynes, Michael Houser, Morris Jack, Reiko Kataoka, † Elaine Lundy, Edna Meg Dick McDonald
We have received financial support from the American Council of Learned Societies, American Philosophical Society, Foundation for Endangered Languages, Hellman Fellows Fund, Jacobs Research Fund (Whatcom Museum, Bellingham, Washington), Sven and Astrid Liljeblad Endowment Fund in Great Basin Studies (University of Nevada, Reno), Survey of California and Other Indian Languages (University of California, Berkeley), and University of California, Santa Cruz.