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Native American Languages in Print
A Student Research Project
Supervised by Bette S. Weidman
The following report describes an undergraduate college student research project I devised, supervised, and edited ten years ago with support from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education and additional support from the Queens College Foundation. It is offered here not only for its informational content and conclusions, but for the method of inquiry it models. The nine students have long since graduated, but we trust they would be pleased to see that work for which they received college credit has retained its value for a wider audience. Note: In the original project we handwrote the symbols for Native language sounds; in this version many of the words quoted from Native languages have been omitted reluctantly or represented without adequate fonts because of our technological limitations.
The idea for this research project was born when Keith Miller, a junior comparative literature major, showed me a set of bilingual poetry chapbooks by Native American writers. Published by Cross-Cultural Communications, a local Long Island small press, the chapbooks by Gogisi and Louis Oliver made us wonder how much representation of Native American languages has been entering the print medium for a general English-speaking audience. Our curiosity centered on literary works in all genres; the impression that we wished to test was that there is a steadily increasing body of literary and critical work in Native languages appearing in English-language books in varying proportions. We planned to sample one hundred works currently in print, as many as possible published in the last few years, and to include new reprints of older works. We intended our study to describe the patterns taken by this publishing [End Page 166] phenomenon. We thought of our project as collecting data for a chapter in the history of the book in American culture.
We began, with the chapbooks before us, by believing that we would find what we were looking for primarily in small press publications. Letters of inquiry were sent to the fifty-five small press publishers listed by A. LaVonne Brown Ruoff in her invaluable American Indian Literatures: An Introduction, Bibliographic Review and Selected Bibliography. To this list we added an additional fifteen university presses. In the final analysis, 61 percent of our books came from university presses, supporting Brian Swann's view, offered in a letter to us, that university presses were providing critical leadership in this field.
Our research seminar was funded by a grant to Queens College from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education; it provided funds to release me from teaching a regular course to work with ten students in a small seminar. A grant from the Queens College Foundation provided an additional sum, including funds to purchase a copy of our seminar "bible," Brian Swann's On the Translation of Native American Literatures. Our plan was to read our way through the text, sensitizing ourselves to issues in translation in order to help us describe and evaluate the representations of Native language and the translations we would meet in our research. The bulk of our funding, $2,000, was allocated to the purchase of books. Each student was given a budget of $200; when the seventy current publishers' catalogues arrived, they were distributed to the students, who were asked to build a $200 list of books that seemed, from the catalogue descriptions, to include representation on the page of Native American languages.
The number and type of books each student put on his or her "wish list" varied by taste (some students preferred inexpensive paperbacks, while others chose cloth-bound reference books) and by chance (publishers generally sent one catalogue so that all the students did not have the opportunity to order from every catalogue). One student specialized in children's literature; another emphasized the hemispheric nature of American literature by choosing Mexican or Mesoamerican works wherever possible; a third sought scholarly work having to do with music. One...