Welcome to the 2019 Dene Languages Conference

Hoopa Valley, California

Main Conference
Saturday, July 6 - Sunday, July 7, 2019 (add to calendar)
Student Community Center Multi-Purpose Room
University of California, Davis

Workshop on Pacific Coast Dene Languages
Friday, July 5, 2019 (add to calendar)
David Risling Room (3201 Hart Hall)
University of California, Davis

·      Justin Spence (UC Davis)
·      Kayla Begay (Humboldt State University)
·      Kayla Palakurthy (UC Santa Barbara)

The Dene (also known as “Athabaskan”) languages comprise one of the most geographically widespread indigenous language families of North America, with concentrations of speakers in Alaska and western Canada, the southwestern United States, and along the coast in northern California and southern Oregon. Well-known among linguists for the complexity and diachronic stability of their verb morphology, Dene languages have historically played a major role in the development of both theoretical linguistics and linguistic typology. Many Dene languages are also undergoing active documentation, maintenance, and revitalization efforts, putting them at the forefront of global conversations about endangered language survival in the 21st century, including the interplay between academically-oriented linguistic research and applied domains such as language teaching.

Each year, specialists gather at the Dene Languages Conference (DLC) to share their research and insights into the language family (and its Na-Dene congeners Eyak and Tlingit). Attendees typically include linguists representing both theoretical and descriptive paradigms, with presentations drawn from a variety of linguistic sub-disciplines. Moreover, one of the strengths of the DLC is that it attracts expertise from neighboring disciplines in the social sciences and humanities such as Linguistic Anthropology, Comparative Literature and Native American/Indigenous Studies. Importantly, there is typically robust participation of members of the Dene speech communities whose languages are the focus of the conference: tribal linguists, language teachers, elders and master speakers of the languages, cultural preservation officers, and others who support the well-being of Dene-speaking communities through language-centered activities. The DLC is thus strongly cross-disciplinary and presents many opportunities not only for language practitioners to be exposed to ideas emanating from the field of linguistics, but also for linguists to gain a better understanding of the needs of the communities whose languages they study.

The 2019 iteration of the conference will be hosted at the University of California, Davis on July 6-7, in conjunction with the Linguistic Society of America's Summer Institute. In addition, a pre-conference workshop focused on the Pacific Coast Dene languages of California and Oregon will take place on July 5, hosted by the Native American Language Center. The main conference will feature general sessions and two special themed sessions:

Special Session: "Dene Epistemologies: Linguistic Stability and Adaptation"
This session invites papers that explore connections between Dene languages and Dene peoples’ ways of knowing, value systems, and worldviews, considering especially ways that these connections have remained constant or changed over time (hence “stability and adaptation”). This might be over relatively long time spans as Dene-speaking peoples have interacted with other Indigenous groups in North America over many centuries, or relatively recently as many Dene languages have reached a point of critical endangerment due to the persistent encroachments and violence of colonization. Papers can consider not only how the languages and the epistemologies they encode came to be how they are today, but also their prospects and enduring value moving forward.

Special Session: "The Language of Music, Dance, and Performance"
Music, dance, and genres that can be broadly considered “performance” are important components of Dene peoples’ ceremonial life and modes of cultural expression. Dene languages play a central role in defining these genres (e.g., the deployment or absence of lyrics in different song types), and they also provide a powerful means of understanding their cultural value through analysis of vocabulary and idioms typically used to describe them. This session will bring together papers on more strictly linguistic aspects of the language deployed in these genres (such as issues pertaining to lexical tone and prosody in song or poetry), as well as their pedagogical applications in language maintenance/revitalization settings (using music and dance in language teaching), their role as a stimulus for language documentation work, and their value as reflections of Dene peoples’ understanding of their cultural significance.

Invited Keynote Speakers:

     Siri Tuttle
     Professor of Linguistics, University of Alaska, Fairbanks
     Director, Alaska Native Language Center
     Learning from Songs, or Why It's Good to Do What You Don't Know How to Do

     Wesley Thomas
     Professor Emeritus, Navajo Technical University
     Senior Fellow, Center for the Study of the Middle East, Indiana University-Bloomington
     Diné Dęęgó Nihizaad Nídaniiłí': Stabilization and Adaptation of Diné Language