Melissa Axelrod
Professor, Emerita

My primary research areas are 1) morphosyntax and semantics in polysynthetic languages, and 2) language preservation and revitalization in Native American language communities. I began work on Northern Athabaskan in 1981, and have published a book and many articles on the Koyukon language and have collaborated on volumes of texts and pedagogical materials, as well as a comprehensive dictionary. I have been working on language revitalization efforts in the Southwest since 1995, working with the Apache and with the Sandia Tiwa, and Nambe, Pojoaque, and Tesuque Tewa Pueblos. I have been involved in projects with the Jicarilla Apache community since 1996, in particular, as PI of the NSF-funded Dictionary of Jicarilla Apache project (W. Phone, M. Olson, and M. Martinez. Abáachi Mizaa Láo Ilkee' Shijai: Dictionary of Jicarilla Apache. By UNM Press, 2007).  I have been collaborating, along with a UNM team of students and graduates, with the Language Program at Nanbé Pueblo on a dictionary and pedagogical materials. The comprehensive Dictionary of Nanbé Tewa will be printed for community use this year. I have also been working with colleagues on a documentation project for Ixhil Mayan since 2001, involving a trilingual grammar and pedagogical materials, and I have been participating in the O’odham Ñe’ok Revitalization Project since 2009. I was recently awarded the Linguistic Society of America’s Ken Hale Prize for my work on language documentation.

Educational History

Ph.D. Linguistics. University of Colorado, Boulder. May 1990.

M.A. Linguistics. University of Colorado, Boulder. April 1978.

B.A. English. SUNY Stony Brook. August 1974.

Dissertation: The Semantics of Time: Aspectual Categorization in Koyukon Athabaskan.

Dissertation Director: David Rood

Research Interests

Morphosyntax and semantics, particularly in polysynthetic languages. Language documentation and revitalization.

Selected Publications

Axelrod, M. J. Gómez de García, and J. Lachler, with S. Burke (Eds.). Abáachi Mizaa Láo Ilkee' Shijai: Dictionary of Jicarilla Apache. By W. Phone, M. Olson, and M. Martinez. Introduction and Grammatical Sketch by M. Axelrod. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. 2007. Approx. 475 pp.

Axelrod, M. and J. Scheibman. Contemporary American English. Journal of Language, Translation and Intercultural Communication. Issue 1, 2012.

Gómez de García, J., M. Axelrod, and J. Lachler. Sociopragmatic influences on the development and use of the discourse marker Vet in Ixil Maya In Andrea L. Berez, Daisy Rosenblum & Jean Mulder (eds.). Fieldwork and linguistic analysis in Indigenous languages of the Americas. Language Documentation & Conservation Special Publication No. 2. 2010.

Gómez de García, J., M. Axelrod, and J. Lachler. “English is the Dead Language: Native perspectives on bilingualism.” In Margaret Field and Paul Kroskrity (Eds.), Native American Language Ideologies: Language Beliefs, Practices, and Struggles in Indian Country. University of Arizona Press. 2009. Pp. 99-122.

Axelrod, M. and J. Gómez de García. Repetition in Apachean narrative discourse: From discourse structure to language learning in morphologically complex languages. Language, Meaning, and Society. Vol. 1. 2007.

Axelrod, M. and J. Gómez de García. “Fieldnotes from the edge: Collaboration between academics and Native Americans in their speech communities.” In T.L. McCarty and O. Zepeda (Eds.). One Voice, Many Voices—Recreating Indigenous Language Communities. Tempe and Tucson: Arizona State University Center for Indian Education, and University of Arizona American Indian Language Development Institute. 2006. Pp. 431-54.

Axelrod, M. “Navajo and Athabaskan-Eyak.” In Philipp Strazny (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Linguistics. NY: Routledge. 2005. 3 pp.

Axelrod, M., J. Gómez de García, and J. Lachler. “The roles of literacy and collaboration in documenting Native American languages: A report from the Jicarilla Apache Dictionary Project.” Sign Language Studies (2003) 3:3.67-101.

Gómez de García, J., M. Axelrod, and J. Lachler. “’If You Play with Fire…’: Literary Production in Jicarilla Apache.” In R.M. Brown (Ed.), Proceedings of the 2002 Foundation for Endangered Languages Conference. 2002. Pp. 51-8.

Axelrod, M. “The semantics of classification in Koyukon Athabaskan”. In T. Fernald and P. Platero (Eds.), Athabaskan Syntax and Semantics. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2000. Pp. 11-32.

Axelrod, M. “Lexis, grammar, and grammatical change: The Koyukon classifier prefixes.” In Darnell, M., E. Moravscik, M. Noonan, F. Newmeyer, and K. Wheatly (Eds.), Functionalism and Formalism in Linguistics. Volume 2: Case Studies. Studies in Language Companion Series, 42. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 1998. Pp. 39-58.

Axelrod, M. The Semantics of Time: Aspectual Categorization in Koyukon Athabaskan. Studies in the Anthropology of North American Indians. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. In cooperation with the American Indian Studies Research Institute, Indiana University. 1993. 199 pp.

Awards and Grants

2013-2014 Consultant, New Mexico Public Education Department. Database and Dictionary of Nanbé Tewa. $30,000.

2011-2012 Principal Investigator, National Science Foundation dissertation grant for doctoral student Logan Sutton: Dissertation Research: Kiowa-Tanoan: A Synchronic and Diachronic Study, $10,000. Funding period: 10/1/11 – 9/30/13.

2011 Pojoaque Pueblo – co-wrote grant proposal to NSF to fund language revitalization, including funding for UNM Linguistics grad students.

2008-2011 Consultant, Grammar of the Nebaj Dialect of the Ixil Maya Language, Documenting Endangered Languages project NSF 06-577.

2006-07 Maintenance and Revitalization of Native Languages Grant, State of New Mexico Public Education Department, Division of Indian Education. Nanbé Tewa Language Revitalization Project: Curriculum Development. $50,000. Written on behalf of Nambé Pueblo.

2005-08 Principal Investigator, National Science Foundation, BCS-0505107, Nambé Tewa Language Revitalization Project: Production of an Electronic Archive, $203,840. Funding period: 9/1/05 – 9/1/08.

2005-08 Co-Principal Investigator, National Science Foundation, BCS-0504904/5, Collaborative Research: Multimedia Database of Ixil Mayan Narratives, $160,000. Principal Investigator: Jule Gómez de García, California State University, San Marcos. Funding period: 7/1/05 – 7/1/08.


Currently working with collaborative documentation and language revitalization projects with the Grupo de Mujeres y Hombres por la Paz, Nebaj, Guatemala (Ixhil Mayan), Nambé Pueblo, NM (Nanbe Tewa), and Tohono O’odham.

Teaching Interests

Semantic Analysis, Grammatical Analysis, Discourse Analysis, Functional Syntax, Linguistic Field Methods, Native American Languages, Seminars on Language Ideologies, Polysynthesis