Ignacio Montoya: The Pyramid Lake dialect of Northern Paiute


Documenting and Revitalizing the Pyramid Lake Dialect of Northern Paiute


Ignacio Montoya




Dr. Ignacio Montoya earned his PhD in Linguistics from The Graduate Center at the City University of New York (CUNY). His academic specializations include morphology, cognitive approaches to grammar, and language revitalization. Upon arriving at the University of Nevada, Reno as an Assistant Professor, he began focusing on the Indigenous languages of the area: Northern Paiute, Washo, and Shoshone. 

Dr. Montoya was born in Southern New Mexico and was raised in a small town on the border of the United States and Mexico until the age of 13, when his family moved to the Phoenix, Arizona area. He was raised by his grandmother and his mother, who was the first person in the family to earn a college degree, an accomplishment she achieved while raising three teenage boys. For many years prior to entering his PhD program, Dr. Montoya was an elementary and middle school teacher. As a graduate student, he was first a mentor and instructor and then a coordinator for the CUNY Pipeline Program, whose goal is to support undergraduate students from underrepresented groups who are interested in graduate school. Throughout the many facets of his career as an educator, Dr. Montoya has been strongly committed to education as a means of empowering marginalized communities.

Project Overview

Northern Paiute is one of the local Indigenous languages of the Reno-Sparks area. It is spoken in the Northwestern part of the Great Basin, including Northwestern Nevada and parts of Oregon, Idaho, and California. Like other languages, Northern Paiute exhibits different varieties (or dialects), depending on where it is spoken. This project focuses on the variety of Northern Paiute spoken in the Pyramid Lake area.

Northern Paiute is considered an endangered language, which means that it is at risk of having no native speakers in the near future as a result of a decline in the number of speakers over the last century. In order to help maintain and strengthen the language, a number of efforts are underway to revitalize Northern Paiute. In addition to being endangered, Northern Paiute is also under-documented, which means that there is not enough information about its vocabulary and grammar compared to other languages. Since this project involves compiling information on Northern Paiute, it thereby contributes to both the documentation and the revitalization of the language.

The overall goal of this project is to collect and organize words, sentences, and texts (spoken and written) from Northern Paiute, with a focus on the Pyramid Lake dialect. Among the resources currently available for doing so are a dictionary that complies previous field research on the language, primary sources available in Special Collections at the UNR library, academic materials published on the language, and recordings from the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony. A student participating in this research project will work with one or more of those materials in order to process the information in such a way that will be useful for documentation or revitalization purposes. Depending on the source of the information, the student will process the information differently. For example, if the student is working with the dictionary, then the task will involve identifying words and sentences specific to the Pyramid Lake dialect and inputting them into a spreadsheet for further analysis. If, on the other hand, the student is working with recordings from the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, then the task will likely involve digitizing and transcription. A basic analysis of that information could also be part of the project.

The specific tasks that the student will undertake will be chosen based in part on the student's interests and skills and in part on the needs of the project at the time that the student begins. Though there is therefore flexibility in the skills needed for working on this project, it will be important for the student to possess an interest in (though not necessarily a great deal of experience with) language learning, a willingness to learn new skills (with guidance from the mentor or others), an ability to work independently, and attention to detail.