U of T professor awarded $50K for work on Slavey language

The Canada Council for the Arts is awarding Professor Keren Rice $50,000 work her work on reviving the Slavey language.

Keren Rice spent 30 years working on the Dene language

The Canada Council for the Arts is awarding Keren Rice $50,000 for her work on reviving the Slavey language.

The University of Toronto professor spent three decades studying Slavey and helped produce a dictionary, called A Grammar of Slave.

Professor Keren Rice has spent the past 30 years studying the Dene language, Slavey. She has also won numerous other awards for her work over the years. (Henry Feather, courtesy of the University of Toronto)

The dictionary won the Bloomfield Book Award from the Linguistic Society of America and the dictionary is still widely used, even 20 years after its publication.

Rice said she was very excited that she got a call from the community of Fort Good Hope, N.W.T., on Thursday asking her for an electronic version of the Slavey dictionary because they wanted to create an application for smart phones.

"It's that local ownership and the feeling that this is something they're really excited about and something they really want to do. If anything is going to make the languages last in some form or other, it's going to be the people in the communities. It's not going to be the outsiders that do it," she said.

Rice said too many people choose to not pass on their language to their children because they don't think it will help their kids get ahead. But Rice says learning the language has tremendous benefits.

Rice has also helped to standardize the Dene writing system and worked to develop teaching materials for language teachers.

Rice is now serving her second term as Canada Research Chair in Linguistics and Aboriginal Studies. She also won a Killam Prize for her research in 2011.