Navajo Language Academy

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"When you look to see whether a language is stable or not, you have to look to see whether the youngest people in the community are speaking the language," says Associate Professor of Linguistics Ted Fernald, who organizes the NLA's annual summer institute. "There are some children who speak the Navajo language, and that's an encouraging sign. But the vast majority of children in the Navajo Nation don't speak Navajo very well, if at all."

Now in its 11th year, the Navajo Language Academy (NLA) is devoted to the scientific study and promotion of the Navajo language. Although roughly 100,000 Navajo speakers currently exist, the numbers drop sharply every generation. In many ways, the NLA's work is in a race against time. "When you look to see whether a language is stable or not, you have to look to see whether the youngest people in the community are speaking the language," says Associate Professor of Linguistics Ted Fernald, who organizes the NLA's annual summer institute. "There are some children who speak the Navajo language, and that's an encouraging sign. But the vast majority of children in the Navajo Nation don't speak Navajo very well, if at all." Fernald has played a central role at the NLA since its founding. A member of Swarthmore's faculty since 1994, he also directs the NLA's Navajo Linguistics Archive Project housed in Swarthmore's McCabe Library.