Research Topics

Welcome to the webpage for the course ‘Research Topics’ at the Navajo Language Academy (Diné Bizaad Naalkaah) 2013. We will be updating this course page throughout the workshop.



NLA video

Course Map:

Part One: Doing Linguistics in Context

  • Required: ‘A New Perspective on American Indian Linguistics’. Ken Hale, 1972. From New Perspectives on the Pueblos.
  • ‘Someone else’s language: on the role of linguists in language revitalization’. Peggy Speas, 2008. Talk given at Stabilizing Indigenous Languages Symposium.
  • ‘Language ownership and language ideologies’. Peggy Speas, to appear. From Negotiating Culture.
  • ‘Doing Mayan linguistics in Guatemala.’ Nora England, 1992. Portion of article ‘Endangered Languages’ in Language.
  • ‘Integrating documentation and formal teaching of Kari’nja: Documentary materials as pedagogical materials‘. Racquel-María Yamada, 2011. In Language Documentation and Conservation, Vol. 5.

Part Two: Studying Meanings in Context

  • Required: ‘On the expression of modality in Navajo’. Maryanne Willie, 1996.
  • The Function and Signification of Certain Navajo Particles‘. Robert Young and William Morgan.
  • ‘Da: The Navajo distributive plural preverb‘. 2000. Helen Yellowman Yazzie, Regina Yazzie, Roseann Willink, Caroline Bemore, Jefferson Clauschee, Peggy Rafelito.

Class Activity 1: Storyboards

Storyboards that we went over in class:

Class Activity 2: Responses to Willie modals paper

Groups will present sections of ‘On the expression of modality in Navajo’. Directions for presentations:

  • Read the whole Willie paper but read your section extra carefully.
  • Give several important examples from your section. Be prepared to write it on the board and talk about it briefly.
  • How do the examples sound to you? Would you use them to express the meaning given by Willie? Can you think of any other ways in which you might use the construction or constructions discussed by Willie?

Course Project Ideas

These are just ideas – talk to us about other ideas you’re interested in pursuing. 

(1) Storyboard projects on meanings in context:

  • Idea One: Go through a storyboard we didn’t do in class; fill in the Navajo narration for the storyboard. Discuss three of the slides in detail; what kinds of words came up frequently? Were there any challenging decisions you had to make?
  • Idea Two: Make your own storyboard for a grammatical concept you find interesting or difficult to teach in Navajo. Write up some discussion about why you picked this topic (is it hard for students to learn? do you find it difficult to explain?). Some ideas for storyboard topics: plurality and distributivity, particle .

Additional resources for this project:

(2) Research paper on individual words and grammar:

  • How do you express permission/law modals (‘is allowed to’) and ability modals (‘is able to’) in Navajo? Are these the same words as belief modals (e.g., daats’í, sha’shin)?
  • Can you use different verb modes with the particles discussed by Willie? Does the meaning of the sentence change?

(3) Documentation projects on language and culture:

We haven’t talked a lot yet about the interaction of language and culture, but this is another area where there are a lot of possible project topics.

  • Idea One: Metaphors in Navajo

Two possible readings for this assignment to give you ideas:

  1. ‘Walking like a porcupine, talking like a raven’, Olga Lovick (2013). On metaphors in Lower Tanana, an Alaskan Athabaskan language.
  2. ‘Metaphor, Mythology, and a Navajo Verb’, Margaret C. Field (2009). Explaining the different uses of a single Navajo handling verb stem in terms of culturally relevant metaphors.
  • Idea Two: Place names in Navajo

Possible videos and reading for this assignment to give you ideas: Lower Tanana place names, lecture by Jim Kari (2012).


Further resources for after the course is over:

Books and Journals (free)


Funding and Grants: