With the passing of fluent elder first language speakers, the Northern Paiute language is in danger, as is access to oral history that has been passed down through generations of speakers. Northern Paiute elders and community educators have worked with Thornes to record interviews, conversations, story recitations, and other interactions; to carefully transcribe these recordings in the language as a resource for educators; and to translate these, in turn, into English to provide greater access to their enduring historical and cultural value.
A 2012 NEH fellowship helped Thornes deepen his understanding and description of complex elements of Northern Paiute language grammar. A second fellowship, awarded in 2018, is helping him prepare a book of Northern Paiute folktales and autobiographical narratives recorded in this critically-endangered language. The book will feature careful transcription of the narratives as recorded in the heritage language alongside an English translation. It will also include information about the Northern Paiute language’s writing system and, informed by work under the earlier NEH fellowship, a user-friendly description of key aspects of Northern Paiute grammar.
Community involvement in the book’s preparation will also include photos and artwork to accompany the oral history theme. Cumulatively, the work will support language classes on the reservation and encourage intergenerational community-building and heritage preservation through language.