April 21, 2007

Revitalizing Hawaiian, like Cherokee

Hawaiians reintroduce languageHawaiian is taught with a syllabic approach, emphasizing the syllables of the words instead of the individual letters of the alphabet.

“It’s a lot like Cherokee,” said Housman. “We use the same approach in Hawaii. It’s not a true syllabary because there aren’t symbols for each syllable, but we do have clusters of consonants and vowels.”

Housman said the Hawaiian language is taught in the immersion programs, just like other skills pertinent to the culture. First, the kids develop a connection to a concept, and then an understanding of it. Practice is the third level of learning, followed by the creation of something using the newly learned skill, whether it be a craft or a sentence.

Children in the immersion programs are taught so that, to put it in a traditional Hawaiian context, they know the big currents and the little currents.

April 20, 2007

Studi advocates language preservation

Actor:  Preserve Cherokee languagePreserving and updating Cherokee language is key to helping the tribe continue, Studi indicated.

“We live in the 21st century; people who can speak more than one language seem to have a better understanding,” he said, adding that Cherokee language must modernize.

“What do you call a computer? What do you call a mouse? What do you call a modem,” he said. “What about a jet airplane, jet propulsion. We cannot allow dogma to enter into the development of our language.”

Studi said language “allows us to communicate what is important to us.”

April 16, 2007

Oneida online

Talking online dictionary helps keep Oneida language alive

Database designed to help with pronunciationLearning the Oneida word "ahlukh"—roughly translating to "to know a language"—is a daunting task, especially if you don't know what it should sound like.

It's a battle for which language teachers have one more weapon, thanks to a Web site created by University of Wisconsin-Green Bay professor Clifford Abbott with tribal elder Maria Hinton.

They're transforming a printed dictionary into a searchable online database that includes sound samples to help those learning the Oneida language.

April 15, 2007

Language programs lack funds

Native educators struggle to fund language programsThe most proven method of teaching a language is through immersion schools, but the state Legislature recently nixed House Bill 750, which called for the state to provide funding for three existing tribe-based immersion schools, including the Gros Ventre, Salish and Blackfeet programs. The bill never made it out of committee to reach a full vote before the Legislature.

It's been difficult for tribes to start their own immersion schools independent of the state because they can't afford it. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes were able to create an immersion school because the tribe pays for the majority of the private school's operating budget. But other tribes in the state don't have the same economic options to start their own.
But bilingualism works:“I think it's a threat to them,” said Minerva Allen, a tribal elder cultural coordinator for the communities of the Fort Belknap Reservation. “They feel they can't understand us and they want us all to be equal in their sense of equal, not in ours. They want us all to be in this melting pot of all races. They had a hard time getting us to learn English and now we want to turn around and learn our Native language.”

But many people fail to understand that a bilingual speaker more readily absorbs new knowledge and abstract concepts because they can view and participate in life from multiple vantage points, said Richard Little Bear, president of the Dull Knife Community College.
Comment:  This contradicts the notion that we should adopt an English-first or English-only approach. It also contradicts the stereotype that all tribes are rich from casinos. That's far from the case, especially in rural states such as Montana.

April 05, 2007

Wappo saved from wipeout

UCSB Professors Preserve Native American LanguageThe spoken language of the Wappo Native American tribe almost ceased to exist when Laura Somersal, the last remaining fluent speaker, died sixteen years ago. The efforts of UCSB linguistics professors Sandra Thompson and Charles Li have prevented the language from becoming completely extinct. The pair recently published the most extensive data and grammatical research ever conducted on the Wappo language in A Reference Grammar of the Wappo. In the ten years it took to gather information, Li and Thompson traveled to Northern California every six to eight weeks to record Somersal speak and put the language in context.

April 01, 2007

North Carolina language center

Jackson center first in state to teach Cherokee languageTwenty-eight community sponsors, from individuals to big businesses like Lowe’s and Wal-Mart, donated money or in-kind services and materials for the center.

The center costs about $50,000, said organizer Vangie Stephens. Of that amount, $15,000 came from Tribal Council.

The center will serve 12 students a year on a first-come, first-served basis.

Stephens said the classroom is the only one in the state focused solely on teaching an American Indian language.