UWM Libraries
UMW Libraries Newsletter
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Spring 2009
No. 55

Endangered Native American Language Tapes Digitized

In fall 2008, the UWM Libraries' Archives Department completed a significant project to digitize 118 audio recordings included in the records of the Wisconsin Native American Languages Project (WNALP).

The WNALP was formed in 1973 in order to analyze various aspects of Native languages-such as grammatical and lexical structures, morphology, phonology, and syntax-and develop a set of written materials and audio recordings for use in research and instruction.

The five Wisconsin Native American languages included in the project were Chippewa (aka Ojibwe), Menominee, Oneida, Potawatomi, and Winnebago (aka Ho-Chunk and Hocank). Thirty-eight years after the project started, the cultural and educational value of these documentary materials has increased substantially.

Language loss is accelerating among Native Americans in the United States. A majority of Native American languages are spoken only by elders and the rest are fast approaching that status, as younger speakers shift to English.

According to the 1990 U.S. Census, more than one-third of American Indian and Alaskan Native languages now have fewer than 100 speakers. These include the majority of the languages included in the WNALP survey.

Today Menominee is spoken only by thirty-nine individuals in the United States, Potawatomi by fifty, and Oneida by fifty in the United States and 200 in Canada (Source: Ethnologue.com, accessed November 26, 2008).

The crisis of Native American languages made the preservation of the WNALP audio recordings an urgent priority for the Archives Department. However, the project was complicated by the physical deterioration of the audio reels and cassettes, which had reached the end of their expected thirty-year lifespan.

In fact, a sampling of the WNALP recordings in 2006 raised sufficient concerns about the stability of the materials to justify restricting access until the collection could be entirely reformatted.

With the digitization project now complete, researchers once again have access to the content of the original recordings, although not to the originals themselves.

Nancy Hall, assistant professor of linguistics at California State University, Long Beach, has a longstanding interest in using the audio recordings and points out the value of the preservation project.

"It's exciting news that these recordings will be more easily accessible, in a format that will preserve them for future generations of researchers and speakers," Hall says. "I look forward to using the recordings for an acoustic phonetic study of vowel sounds in the Hocank (Winnebago) language. Since the historical documentation of this language is limited, it is important to preserve all existing audio recordings."

Researchers are very welcome to access them in the reading room of the Archives Department and request copies for their personal use. Given limitations concerning copying and publication imposed by the copyright holder, the UWM Libraries are unable to post the recordings on its website.

Michael Doylen

Potawatomi Alphabet Book
An example of the teaching materials produced by the WNALP is this Potawatomi Alphabet Book (1974), which is also included in the collection


News from the Director: Green and On Schedule: The Daniel M. Soref Learning Commons

Ewa Barczyk

I am pleased to report that work on the Daniel M. Soref Learning Commons in the west wing first floor continues smoothly. The project is on schedule to be ready for the first day of classes in the fall.

In early March, technical services and business staff moved from the first floor into new offices on the second floor. Demolition on the first floor will be completed this month. Most of the new south and central drywall has been built as well as framing for the service desks, main desk, and coffee shop.

In addition to its contemporary design and technology-enriched environment, the renovation project has incorporated "green" or "sustainable" design principles. "Green" buildings use resources like energy, water, materials and land more efficiently than buildings built just to code.

The employment of these "green" ideas will result in a well-designed space which will contribute to student well-being, comfort, and hopefully productivity.

Addressing environmental issues is a cornerstone to the philosophy and practice of the renovation's designers, The Kubala Washatko Architects, Inc.

Here are some of the project's green aspects:

  • The architects' plans call for the reuse of 41 doors, their hardware and frames; 35 windows and their frames; the second floor ceiling grid and light fixtures; lockers; and bathrooms.
  • Their design employs daylight for lighting many spaces, and the inclusion of power saving controls. Use of natural light and open spaces will make it a more comfortable place to study in.
  • A stained concrete topping will cover the floors of the learning commons, instead of removing the underlying concrete, thus reducing industrial waste.
  • Prevalent use of white oak and hard maple, renewable natural resources which, being native to Wisconsin, minimize transportation costs.
  • The architects also have specified the use of low VOC (volatile organic compound) paints, coatings, sealers, adhesives and flooring materials.
  • The new furniture is certified that any off-gassing of harmful compounds will be within specified low limits. Much of the furniture selected has high recycled content and can be 100% recycled.
  • Virtually all the demolished building materials are being recycled. To meet the state of Wisconsin's recycling requirement (at least 75% rate), the contractors are working with a private non-profit organization, WasteCap Wisconsin, which manages construction waste and disposal. Materials recycled include concrete, bricks, scrap metal, drywall, and wood scraps. Tons of materials will not be sent to landfills.

Students tell us they eagerly await the opening of the Daniel M. Soref Learning Commons because they will have comfortable open spaces, group study areas and breakout spaces-that are also environmentally-friendly. We are committed to providing our students, faculty and staff with a great atmosphere for learning, innovation and engagement.

All UWM Libraries services are available for the duration of the construction. Please visit the Libraries Renovation web site for more information and photos: http://www.uwm.edu/Libraries/renovation/

Ewa Barczyk

Old doors carefully stacked for re-use on first floor
Old doors carefully stacked for re-use on first floor


Steven Burnham, Editor, sburnham@uwm.edu
Krystyna Matusiak, Newsletter designer