ASU center bringing new life to Native languages
Arizona: Indigenous languages, like that of the Mojave tribe, are falling silent around the world. For 51 years, linguists at Arizona State University have been trying to save them.
ASU's Center for Indian Education is a research, teaching and outreach effort for Indian tribes across the state. Teresa McCarty from the CIE says:
Native American languages
are still spoken in
It's almost impossible to speak a silent language in its original
form unless the language is documented on video and audio
recordings. “Imagine trying to learn a language you have never
heard spoken,” McCarty said.
Fort Mojave Reservation
The CIE has taught workshops for learners and speakers on the Fort Mojave Indian Reservation. Ft. Mojave 's tribal council is also involved in their efforts. All tribal member are strongly encouraged to participate.
“It’s a testament to how badly people want to do it,” said Natalie Diaz from the tribe's language recovery program.
Today, only 22 elders or so speak some Mojave. Diaz works with the elders to teach Mojave through conversations and in cultural settings, like making pottery or cooking. She is recording their conversations and learning the language herself.
Fort Mojave residents have rallied around the elders to help build the program. Many are are committed to learning Mojave and passing it onto their kids. They speak Mojave with other community members and at home.
Plans include bringing simple Native songs and language to tribal Day Care centers. The Hawaiian language was nearly extinct until "language nests" helped revive their language. These “language nests” are family-run preschools where only the Native language is spoken. This is called language immersion.
“Children are immersed in the language spoken by elders, learning it naturally as children formerly did at home,” McCarty said.
In 1986, Navajo language revitalization efforts began in a Window Rock public school. Since then, students and elders hold weekly classes to speak Mojave in a group settings and in private sessions.
An unexpected pleasure is that speaking Mojave has enriched relationships among the generations. “It strengthens who I am as a Mojave woman, as a friend, as a sister and as a member of the community,” said April Garcia, an education administrator for the Mojave tribal government.
The different Mojave dialects are also discussed. Joe Scerato says these the differences are not errors. He believes the Northern, Central and Southern Mojave tribes all had different dialects. These differences grew after the U.S. forced the Southern Mojave to relocate to another reservation.
Only few schools on the Navajo Reservation use bilingual approaches, despite a state law to teach all subjects in English. Parents voluntarily enroll their children in these schools. Students in these schools perform as well or better than their peers in English-only programs.
“They are abiding by the same laws and they are accountable to the
same standards” as other schools, McCarty said.
Backgrounds: Robert Kaufman Fabrics: http://www.robertkaufman.com/
NATIVE VILLAGE website was created for youth,
educators, families, and friends who wish to celebrate the rich,
diverse cultures of The Americas' First Peoples. We offer
readers two monthly publications: NATIVE VILLAGE Youth and
Education News and NATIVE VILLAGE Opportunities and Websites.
Each issue shares today's happenings in Indian country.