Skip to main content

Linguistics Students First to Take College-Level Class in Pennsylvania's Indigenous Language

Linguistics Students First to
Take College-Level Class in
Pennsylvania's Indigenous Language  

by Alisa Giardinelli

introduction to Lenape language

Students in Shelley DePaul's (center) Introduction to the Lenape Language course.


Swarthmore students are the first to take a collegiate-level course in the indigenous language of Pennsylvania. The goal, according to linguistics instructor Shelley DePaul, is not only to give students a working knowledge of the structure of Lenape, but also to engage them in efforts to revitalize the endangered language, especially among the Lenape people. more

"We have 12 students in the class and it's a great joy to me to hear them speak in the language," says DePaul, the director of the Language Program for the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania. "It's crucial to note that there are only three proficient speakers in our community at present, and no other speakers in Pennsylvania that I am aware of. At the completion of this course, there will be 12 more."

If funding is secured, DePaul says she hopes to continue with an additional course in the fall in which students would have field opportunities to help teach the language to members of the community, as well as to work on translations, documentation, linguistics, and development of further language materials. "The students in the class are already involved in creating valuable language resources," she says. "I cannot overestimate the vast contribution that this undertaking on the part of Swarthmore has made to the revitalization of our language."