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History of Research on T̉aat̉aaqsapa

Research on T̛aat̛aaqsapa  goes  back to the 18th C. and first contact with Nuuchahnulth people. There are a number of wordlists collected by both English and Spanish visitors to Vancouver Island from this period. In the following century there are a few studies, including one relatively good, although linguistically naive, one by Knipe (1868). Boas (1893) is the first linguistically sophisticated description, although only a sketch.

It is not until the 20th c. that we see significant, linguistically aware studies of the language, beginning with Edward Sapir's fieldwork from 1910-1914 and the subsequent materials sent to Sapir by his consultants Alex Thomas and Hamilton George. This collection is extensive in terms of size and coverage and is the best early study of the language at a time when it was widely spoken. These fieldnotes were originally deposited in the Canadian Museum of Civilization. After Sapir's death in 1939 much of this material was waylaid and reappeared only in the 1970's, and was then deposited in the archives of the American Philosophical Society, where it has remained since. Another collection of materials gathered for Sapir by others remains in the archives of the Canadian Museum of Civilization. 

Sapir's work resulted in the publication of two volumes of texts (Sapir & Swadesh 1939, 1955) with his student, Morris Swadesh. Both volumes are long out of print and difficult to find. Following on this work, there has been additional research by a number of people, as outlined in the bibliography.

The principal investigator has been working on this material for the past 20+ years, beginning with fieldwork on the closely related Ditidaht language. Focus was shifted to Sapir's work in the late 1980s and has continued until the present.  The ultimate goal is to provide a complete collection of texts, which cover the gamut of Nuuchahnulth culture and history, a description of the phonetics and phonology, and a grammar and dictionary of the Nuuchahnulth language.

Work has consisted of assembling and collation of the textual material which existed only in manuscript form in various locations in North America. Subsequent to this is the task of inputting the data into the computer in order to more easily work with it. One of the major hurdles to be overcome at this stage was the complex nature of the manuscript materials with which the project is concerned. Much of this material, in fact the majority, is in handwritten form from more than a single source, some of it partially obscured by age or damage, and it requires a significant amount of expertise to decipher certain parts of the material. Once the material is in machine readable form various techniques, computational and other, are employed to translate and edit it online. Work at this stage requires knowledge of the Nuuchahnulth language as well as editorial skills. Naturally this presents a problem due to the paucity of specialists familiar with the language. The results of this stage was then organised in a form suitable for publication, and presently constitutes the largest corpus of data on the Nuuchahnulth language and, perhaps, on any Native American language to date.

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©2006 John Stonham