October 23, 2006

Language celebration tries to stem decline

Losing the Native tongueAccording to the society, there are 13 Oklahoma Indian languages that no longer have any fluent speakers in the state. While a handful--including Wyandotte, Seneca and Cayuga--are still spoken by people living in other areas and Canada, others-Delaware, Kaw, Tonkawa and Modoc-are effectively dead.

Those facts scare people like Grounds and Alice Anderton, a linguist and former Comanche language instructor who serves as the society’s executive director. Anderton has her own theories as to why languages once used by state Indian tribes are now disappearing at an alarming rate. Anderton said tribes are “very assimilated here culturally. There are many tribes living in a small space and you have situations where someone speaks Cherokee and they are talking with someone else that speaks another [Indian] language. They don’t speak each other’s language so they communicate in English.”

In addition to funding language teaching programs and stressing the importance of cultural preservation, Anderton has other ideas for stemming the tide. One notion, she says, is for a tribe hosting a powwow or other cultural celebration to use the occasion as a chance to speak in their language, making the event more specific to that tribe and highlighting their language in the process.

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