National Science Foundation support, Theodore B. Fernald, Ellavina Tsosie Perkins, and Irene Silentman have begun a project to record conversations in Navajo about people’s conscious knowledge of how to get things done with language in Navajo society. In groups, participants discussed things such as what to say if you accidentally bump into someone, how you make requests, what you do to get someone’s attention in various situations, how people greet each other, when kinship terms are used with strangers, and several other topics of this sort. The participants were asked to keep the discussion in Navajo. Each conversation was led by Perkins or Silentman with two to four other speakers seated at the corner of a table. Two microphones were used, one for the video recorder, and one for the audio recorder. In the pilot project, the PIs recorded approximately 4 hours and 15 minutes of conversations.

After processing, the original video tapes will be stored in the NLA archives currently located at Swarthmore College. They will remain there unless the NLA builds a secure archive at some time in the future. The video recordings have been loaded onto Apple Macintosh Xserve and Xserve RAID hardware for video content storage at Swarthmore College maintained by Informational Technology services.

The conversations are being transcribed in Navajo orthography, annotated with a morpheme-by-morpheme gloss, and translated into English. Some of the transcriptions along with compressed versions of the audio-video files into ELAN software that allow multiple levels of running transcription to be displayed as the video is played. 

As the conversations are processed, streaming samples will be made available on this website.

The screen shot below is from one of the ELAN files. The lower portion of the screen includes three lines of text: the top is in Navajo conventional orthography; second is a morpheme-by-morpheme gloss; the third line is a free translation into English.

Sample conversations:

Here is a conversation about what to do if you bump into someone in a crowded room:

Note: not everyone will agree that what is described here is what people actually do under these circumstances. One observer of the conversation said that people would normally be less polite!

A transcription will be posted here when it is available.

Here is a conversation on the topic of what to do about long-winded people at meetings:

Click here for an annotated transcription of the first 5 minutes and 23 seconds of it. Warning: this transcription is still being edited. Numbers in the transcription file are timestamps for the corresponding Flash file.

You are free to use the conversations for educational or research purposes. Please credit the Navajo Language Academy and cite this website.

This work is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

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