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Helping to preserve the endangered Language and Culture of the Kiowa Tribe

Award Information

Discipline: Linguistics
Funding opportunity: AHRB scheme
Areas of Impact: Communities, Culture and heritage
Lead RO: Queen Mary University of London (QMUL)
Region: London

International collaborative research, led by Professor David Adger at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) substantially contributed to preserving and revitalising the Kiowa Native American Language of Oklahoma.

Language loss can have a profound effect on cultural identity, but resources provided by the research team enabled younger tribal members to gain a new level of understanding of their language and the Kiowa cultural memory. 

There are 11,445 enrolled Kiowa members but fewer than 30 fluent Kiowa speakers, and these are mainly Kiowa elders in the last decades of their lives.  As a result of the project, there are now resources available such as booklets of stories, sound files on YouTube, and a FaceBook group for the wider Kiowa community with over 1,000 members.  These resources have helped a new generation of the Kiowa tribe engage with the Kiowa language and its cultural heritage via self-study and grassroots language classes.  Tribal Elders credit the project with helping them pass on the Kiowa culture.

Copyright: Daniel Harbour
gàu áī̀tḕ and his daughters. Copyright: Daniel Harbour/Kiowa Stories

The  project studied the syntax and stories of the Kiowa language with an international team consisting of Professor Adger and Dr Daniel Harbour at QMUL, and Professor Laurel J. Watkins (then at Colorado College), who worked in close collaboration with the last remaining native speakers of the language. The researchers established a steering committee of Kiowas to ensure the community could engage with the work. These connections continued after the project ended, ensuring an enduring collaboration which led to project findings and resources being available and useful to the Kiowa Tribe.

The booklets of stories, in particular, were distributed by key tribal contacts and by agencies of tribal government, culture, media and education, including the Kiowa Tribal Museum, the Kiowa Elders’ Center, the Anadarko Daily news, and Jacobson House, a not-for-profit Native American centre.  The booklets allowed multi-purpose usage, combining Kiowa text for fluent speakers, word-by-word glossaries for learners, and idiomatic English translations for non speakers. The Director of the Kiowa Tribe Museum commended the resources as vital ‘to assist us in our fight to preserve and reclaim our language’. 

For more information read the feature on the QMUL website. See also Daniel Harbour's Facebook page 'Kiowa Stories'.