New Announcement: First Sign Talk Conference in eighty years!

2010 Plains Indian Sign Language Conference
August 12 - 15, 2010
Northern Cheyenne Reservation, Montana

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2010 Science Nation

Jeffrey Davis, Melanie McKay-Cody and James Woodenlegs are profiled in this week's Science Nation, a science video series commissioned by the NSF Office of Legislative and Public Affairs.

View the story on NSF's Web site

From the front page of the Fall 2009 issue of The Connection, the newsletter for the UT College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences

Plains Indian Sign Language: Project Documents Endangered Languages

Researchers and members of the PISL research team (left to right): Ron Garritson, James Woodenlegs, Melanie McKay-Cody, Jeffrey Davis, Daniel Davis, Ann Brunelle, and Steve Brunelle.

With support of a 2009-2010 research grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), sign language linguists Dr. Jeffrey Davis (University of Tennessee) and Melanie McKay-Cody (Chickamauga Cherokee/Choctaw; William Woods University, Fulton, MO) will collect contemporary sign language narratives of American Indians who know and use Plains Indian Sign Language (PISL). Historically, PISL served various social and discourse functions among numerous American Indian communities of the Great Plains. PISL is distinct from American Sign Language (ASL) that is used in Deaf communities of the US and Canada. Today, PISL is an endangered language. It has not vanished, however, and is still being used and learned within some native groups in traditional storytelling, rituals, and conversational narratives by both deaf and hearing American Indians.

Recently, Dr. Jeffrey Davis, Associate Professor in TPTE's Interpreter Education/ASL studies program, conducted the first round of fieldwork on the Northern Cheyenne, Assiniboine, Nakota/Gros Ventre reservations of Montana. The NSF has recognized the urgent need for sign language linguists to collaborate with deaf and hearing members of American Indian signing communities. The one-year project aims to: document the current sociolinguistic status of PISL; describe its linguistic structure; produce annotations and captions of documentary materials and films; contribute to the revitalization of PISL in native communities where it once thrived; and make accessible to broader audiences this important yet often overlooked part of American Indian linguistic and cultural heritage. Davis plans to integrate these findings into the digital archive of American Indian sign language he developed in collaboration with the Smithsonian's National Anthropological Archives. Further information can be found at Davis' research website:

This website was developed by Jeffrey Davis with support from a 2006-2007 research fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities and National Science Foundation for Documenting Endangered Languages (DEL). Hand talk: Sign Language among American Indian Nations is copyright Jeffrey Davis.