Published: March 1, 2018 By


CU Boulder scholars are helping to rescue the Arapaho language, once a major tongue in the Great Plains region, from near extinction.

Part of the Algonquian family of languages, Arapaho has fewer than 200 living speakers and no fluent speakers under the age of 60.

For the past 15 years, CU linguistics professor Andrew Cowell, and more recently doctoral student Irina Wagner (Anth, Ling’14; MLing’14), have collected and documented many hours of oral histories, stories and conversations from Native American elders in Wyoming and Oklahoma. Their work has blossomed into the Arapaho Language Project — a website providing language learners with tools for incorporating Arapaho into their everyday lives.

“In reality, for the language reclamation to work, young parents should be speaking it,” said Wagner, who’s been on the project since 2014. She’s working on a dissertation that explores how Arapaho grammar helps its speakers complain about other people without naming them directly.

But with so few speakers and scarce other resources available, the language project can help fill the void, she said.

Initially established in 2003 with a grant from the Colorado Endowment for the Humanities, the expanded website now contains a variety of resources, including an Arapaho-English dictionary, pronunciation guides and bilingual curriculum materials. It also features Native American stories, prayers and name lists.

Find audio clips of spoken Arapaho on the Arapaho Language Project website.

Additional clips are available on the CU Boulder Today website.