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Multimodal documentation of interactive speech in Kʷakʷ’ala


Language Kwakw’ala
Depositor Daisy Rosenblum
Affiliation UC Santa Barbara
Location Canada
Collection ID 0172
Grant ID IGS0187
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle


Summary of the collection

This collection is the outcome of a language document project on three dialects of Kʷak’ʷala speech in as many contexts as possible, among as many different participants as possible, using audio, video, still images, and time-aligned annotated transcription. By focusing on spontaneous interactive speech, we contribute to the corpus of documentation begun by Franz Boas and George Hunt in the early 20th century. It is hoped this collection will contribute to language revitalization efforts and scholarly linguistic research.


Group represented

This collection represents members of the Kʷakʷakə’wakʷ people.

The Kʷakʷakə’wakʷ speak Kwak’wala, a Northern Wakashan language spoken on the Northeast coast of Vancouver Island and the surrounding area. While the language is endangered, community motivation to maintain and revitalize the language is high. Immersion programs have been established at cacis (Fort Rupert), g?a?i (Kingcome Inlet) and yalis (Alert Bay). A weekly evening class for adult learners in Fort Rupert drew over fifty participants (Willie, p.c.). Language is part of the elementary school curriculum, and in 2010 an Integrated Resource Package was produced for Kwak’wala in Grades 5 through 12 (SD 85 First Nations Education Council 2010).

The Kʷakʷakə’wakʷ have a long history of mutually beneficial partnerships with external researchers, as well as a tradition of pursuing and valuing higher degrees. Boundaries distinguishing academic researcher and culture-bearers have eroded; several community-based researchers also hold graduate degrees in anthropology and linguistics. Community members appreciate the documentation created by Franz Boas and others. Our collaborative approach combines documentation goals with revitalization efforts. We partnered with the G-N school to document of a yearly cycle of resource-gathering activities, including clam digging, seaweed harvesting, oolichan fishing, cedar bark stripping, salmon fishing, and berry picking. Children from the school accompanied elders for the activities. Each event produced high-quality audio and video documentation to be transcribed and annotated. The edited videos provided an additional stimulus that was shown to elders as a catalyst for further documentation of the language.

The project provided multiple training opportunities of various types, to different audiences and for different purposes. Our first training audience were students at the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Primary School, where media training is part of the Culture Program curriculum. We provided multi-session workshops for 5th, 6th and 7th grade students, on audio documentation, video documentation, sound-editing and video-editing. Working in teams on small documentation projects reflecting their own interests, students learned to place microphones, place and operate recorders and cameras, record metadata, store and process media files, and edit audio and video recordings. Secondly, we provided three-part workshops for adult community-members interested in digital documentation of language and culture. I lead an audio-recording workshop; Mikael Willie lead a video-recording workshop and a video-editing workshop. Data management was a central theme throughout; we worked with students to create metadata for all files, ensure media are recorded according to archival standards, establish consistent file naming protocols and directory structures, and discuss the merits of archiving. Finally, we continued targeted training for researchers interested in transcription and linguistic analysis, including introductory and advanced workshops in ELAN and Toolbox, Kwak’wala orthographies (including early and late Boas, NAPA, U’mista, and School District 75), and the symbols used in the UCSB transcription system.


Language information

Kwakw’ala is a Kwakuitlan language spoken in south-western Canada. It is indigenous to Northern Vancouver Island and the surrounding areas, and is one of four Northern Wakashan languages spoken in British Columbia. It is severely endangered, with less than 150 elderly speakers remaining. Alternate names: Kʷak’ʷala, Kwak’wala, Kwakiutl, Bak’ʷəmk’ala.

Seven Wakashan languages split into a Northern branch (Kwak’wala, Heiltsuk, Haisla, Ooweekyala) and a Southern branch (Nuuh-chah-nulth, Ditidaht, and Makah). Adjacent languages to Kwak’wala include Nuuh-chah-nulth (South Wakashan), Oowek’yala (North Wakashan), Bella Coola (Salish), Comox (Salish), Cowichan (Salish) and Squamish (Salish). Kwak’wala is polysynthetic, predicate-initial and exclusively suffixing, with nominative-accusative alignment.


Special characteristics

A “Boasian Trilogy” of grammar, texts, and dictionary together provides a complete picture of the linguistic structure of Kwak’wala. The trilogy is embodied in the products of Boas’s fifty years of work on Kwak’wala. With native speaker George Hunt, Boas produced three linked resources: hundreds of texts (Boas 1910, 1921 inter alia); a reference grammar (Boas 1947); and a dictionary (Boas 1948). These and other resources (i.e. Grubb 1977) facilitate ongoing analysis of the language and culture in both academic and community contexts.

Even though the existing materials are extensive, the corpus is dominated by monologic genres and reflects the limitations of contemporary technologies. Boas himself lamented the limitations of available methods: “The slowness of dictation…necessary for recording texts makes it difficult for the narrator to employ that freedom of diction that belongs to the well-told tale, and consequently an unnatural simplicity of syntax prevails in most of the dictated texts….[T]he…material gives a one-sided presentation of linguistic data, because we have hardly any records of daily occurrences, every-day conversation, descriptions of industries, customs, and the like…” (Boas 1917:1-2).

Applying digital technologies to the documentation of Kwak’wala, this project fulfils Boas’s dream of a more complete picture of the language in its most natural form. The creation of a multimedia corpus of interactive speech contributes crucial new information to the development of curricular material and to a cross-linguistic picture of linguistic structure. Boas himself might have been excited about our ability to record spontaneous conversations between married partners and to document caretaker speech in immersion programs.


Collection contents

When completed, the collection will include

  • around 90 hours of audio and video recordings of newly recorded Kwa’wala speech
  • around 15 hours of interactive speech transcribed, translated, interlinearized and indexed in ELAN and Toolbox
  • a Toolbox-created lexicon of the stems and suffixes contained in these texts
  • four ethnographic videos, edited from the raw documentation footage described above
  • digital photographs of each recording event
  • a map recording coordinates and tracks for each recording event
  • TIFF scans of field notebooks and other paper records
  • metadata files describing the project, individuals, recording events and equipment
  • a dissertation focusing on the grammatical structure of spontaneous discourse in Kwak’wala


Collection history

These materials were recorded between January 2012 and January 2015 in Tsulquate, Fort Rupert, and Kingcome Inlet, British Columbia.

Before starting work on this language documentation project, I first encountered Kwak’wala as an undergraduate while researching discourse markers in George Hunt’s unpublished manuscripts. Ten years later at InField 2008, I finally heard the language spoken by Beverly Lagis and Daisy Sewid-Smith, in the Kwak’wala Field Training class taught by Patricia A. Shaw. The class brought academic and community-based researchers together. A month of intensive training strengthened our mutual knowledge of the language and culture. Dr. Shaw’s modeled for us a collaborative and ethical approach to documentation in the Native North American context. The following autumn, I worked with Mikael Willie, an InField classmate and the Culture Program Coordinator at the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw School, to seek two small grants from the Jacobs and the Phillips Funds for our 2009 project gacdzola’moc ???ed??aqa? (It finally came back), which used photographs from museum archives to document interactive speech in Kwak’wala. I traveled to Fort Rupert for a six-week research trip in November 2009 and we recorded 39 hours of interactional speech on audio and 6 hours of video. I returned in July 2010, after Mr. Willie and I co-taught a workshop (with Colleen Fitzgerald) at Infield 2010 called “Accessing legacy materials for language documentation and revitalization.” In Kingcome Inlet, we attended the Maya’antl Youth Conference and led a teen workshop on stop-motion claymation. Students recorded elders speaking a story in Kwak’wala and added soundclips to their films. While in Kingcome, we also recorded an additional 12.5 hours of conversational speech with two elders. These data recorded in 2009 and 2010 and the relevant metadata are currently stored on three distributed hard drives; we would like to include them in our deposits at ELAR and local archives. Reed Allen, principal of the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw School, has written a letter of support expressing his enthusiasm for the proposed project. As the culture program teachers in the school, Mikael Willie and Elizabeth Cadwallader are ideal partners to facilitate our documentation of caretaker speech and resource gathering texts.


Other information

In addition to archiving at the Endangered Languages Archive, the materials will also be deposited with a password-protected community-based server at a central location. According to community interests, digital versions of privately-held recordings, legacy images, and published and unpublished manuscripts relating to Kwakw’ala can also be digitized and deposited on the server.


Acknowledgement and citation

To refer to any data from the collection, please cite as follows:

Rosenblum, Daisy. 2018. Multimodal documentation of interactive speech in Kwakw’ala. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

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