The Lenape Language Preservation Project
Project History: In 1997 we received a Planning Grant from the ANA (Administration for Native Americans). We did a survey of tribal members concerning their interest in learning the Lenape language. A total of 4,350 questionnaires were mailed out to heads of families. As of March 1, 1998, the total number of questionnaires completed and returned was 1,269. Respondents stated that a total of 2,154 people in their households would be interested in learning the Lenape language.
Questions were asked about which topics would be of the greatest interest, and some of the items of interest were: Greetings, 91.3%; Basic grammar, 84.3%; Creating sentences, 80.5%; Kinship terms, 77.6%; People, 77.2%; Prayer words, 76.2%; and Numbers, 74.8%.
In 2002 the Lenape Language Preservation Project received a grant from the National Science Foundation to produce a dictionary database of Lenape. We had the database built to create a Lenape Talking Dictionary. Much of the funding went to digitizing and preserving our existing audiotapes which were made in past years with native speakers of Lenape. Please visit the dictionary at www.talk-lenape.org.
In 2010 we again applied for a DEL (Documenting Endangered Languages) grant from National Science Foundation. We received notice that funding would begin April 1, 2011. This grant is being used to make improvements to the existing Talking Dictionary, and these language grants were written by project director, Jim Rementer. Some of the newer features to be added will be the ability to search for works by entering the Lenape word or portion of a word. For example, if you find that the name of a certain tree in Lenape ends with “menshi” you can enter just that and you will find many other trees with the same ending.
It will be easier to view the plural of the Lenape words which are often in a different location due to having a separate sound file. This will be especially helpful when the English plural looks different from the singular such as mouse/mice.
Another feature is the addition of traditional stories in Lenape. The plan is to have these where they can be played one line at a time, or by paragraphs. There will be the English translation line-by-line.
Additional Information: The Talking Dictionary is a work in progress. At present the number of Lenape words in the Dictionary is about 15,380, and we have many more to add. Of these words almost 6,350 have sound files, and over 1,400 1,670 have sample sentences. It is now also possible to look up words by entering the word (or a part of a word) in the “Lenape” Search bar. Recently we have added over 30 Stories and Songs in the new “Stories” section. We continue to have our audiotapes of Lenape speakers converted to digital format, which then need to be edited to extract the Lenape words. These are then entered into the Dictionary database and become immediately available on the Internet. We should mention that the sound files are not all of studio quality. Most were recorded whenever and wherever possible – sitting in someone’s living room, on their porch, in a classroom, etc., so you may hear a dog barking in the background, or a baby crying, or people talking.
We would appreciate comments on the Lenape Dictionary. We hope you will find this useful as a learning tool. We will continue adding to the Grammar and Lessons sections so you can start learning how to construct sentences in Lenape. It is now up to you, the Lenape people who want to learn the language of your ancestors, to make good use of this material the Lenape elders left for your benefit.
Project Personnel: The people working on the project are Jim Rementer, Dr. Bruce Pearson, Dr. Grant Leneaux and Dr. Nicky Kay Michael.