This year, Breath of Life (BOL) welcomes a single returning participant and Recovering Voices Research Assistant, Maura Sullivan. Maura returns to BOL this year as an Ivan Sag Fellow, LSA Chicago, on a path towards completing graduate studies in Linguistics. Ms. Sullivan’s experience with BOL is perhaps a shining example of the embodiment of what the Breath of Life Archival Institute for Indigenous Languages strives for.
A Šmuwič (Barbareño Chumash) speaker and language learner, Sullivan attended the 2013 BOL in D.C. At that time she already had three years of working on language restoration in California under her belt. Participating in the 2013 Breath of Life, however, “allowed (her) to finally work with the JP Harrington materials that (she) had only seen in microfilm”. Furthermore, completing this hands on work with her “mentors, two Chumash elders, allowed (them) to research together and bring things out of the archives that we never had…” For Maura and her mentors, one important discovery from the JP Harrington collection was the numbers 20 and 24. This simple discovery of two numbers was truly groundbreaking for the Šmuwič language. Having knowledge of the full set of numbers allowed Maura and her colleagues to finally reconstruct their numbering system. This intensive 2-week experience together, in the Smithsonian archives allowed them to achieve more than they thought possible. “Being around each other in the archives brought our research to the next level, something that could have taken years as a solo researcher to do”.
This work sparked pursuit of the Recovering Voices Community Grant in April 2014 when she returned with 6 other Chumash people to continue their research on the songs in the Library of Congress and the transcriptions of those in the Harrington Notes. During that trip they found words to songs that before they had only been trying to transcribe by ear from the LOC recordings. That trip also resulted in a deeper understanding of the online catalogue of the Harrington material as well as a database where the community researchers produced commentary into what the Reels in the collection contained. Thanks to the support of an Arcadia Grant, the JP Harrington microfilm is now available as digital surrogates online at http://anthropology.si.edu/naa/harrington/ which allows for the research to continue from wherever Maura and any other Chumash scholar are. The Chumash collection can be found at http://anthropology.si.edu/naa/harrington/harrington_mf3.html.
Maura’s commitment to the language, and passion for staying connected, and connecting people within the larger Chumash language community is one of the things that brought her back to Breath of Life. This year, Maura is partnered with Willem de Reuse, linguistic expert who is equally passionate about the language and supportive of Maura’s drive to revitalize it. During the next 2 weeks in Washington, Maura and her language mentor will continue to scrutinize with a fine tooth comb some 150 Barbareño Chumash related items in the collections and archives including sound recordings and vocabularies. After BOL it is Maura’s intention to translate her findings into something that is accessible to her community, one day creating a curriculum that can be used for Šmuwič Chumash language and cultural revitalization. She is also developing a research project using the Harrington material that will give her more understanding of linguistics and linguistic analysis.
Below are just two examples of the Šmuwič (Barbareño Chumash) resources available in the Smithsonian collections. Click on the links to listen to the language being spoken, and see how the language was documented.
Sound recording: http://sirismm.si.edu/naa/harrington/sinaa_00000771.mp3, John Peabody Harrington Sound Recordings 1920s-1950s. Chumash Sound Recording 21 JUN 1936. NAA INV 00000772.