Kashaya is one of the seven Native American Pomoan languages of Northern California. With only a dozen or so fluent speakers remaining, it is critically endangered. Linguist Eugene Buckley, in collaboration with his tribal partners, used an NEH Documenting Endangered Languages grant to develop digital language resources for Kashaya that will strengthen revitalization efforts.
Buckley, who had written his dissertation on Kashaya, began working toward compiling a dictionary in 2009, using materials that had been left by the linguist Robert Oswalt. Soon, however, he realized that Oswalt’s work was incomplete, and that what was there was not useful for teaching the language. For example, there were few examples that would allow language learners to see how to use particular words in context. Improving the dictionary would require intensive linguistic work with fluent Kashaya speakers. Anita Silva, a Kashaya speaker whom Buckley had worked with before briefly, agreed to undertake that work, despite her ill health. Between 2012 and her death in 2015, Buckley visited Silva seven times at her home so they could work together to generate the material Buckley required to complete the dictionary. These sessions were intense: six hours a day for two weeks at a time. The NEH grant provided Buckley with the funds to make that work happen: to travel regularly to Northern California and to compensate Silva for her time. It also provided the resources for Buckley to work with students at the University of Pennsylvania to do further work with tribal partners.
Though Buckley’s initial plan was to create a printed dictionary, he soon changed course and decided that online language resources would be more accessible and, ultimately, more useful for tribal members looking to learn Kashaya. In addition to an online dictionary, he has developed a website with audio resources that currently includes 850 words and 1350 sound files with pronunciations by native speakers. The database, which is frequently updated with new material, also includes example sentences and stories told in Kashaya.