November 12, 2007

Pechanga Phraselators

In an impressive move to bolster a Native language, the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians has given every member a Phraselator. This handheld gizmo can translate hundreds of words and phrases from English to Luiseño. A voice speaks the translation aloud, giving it the proper intonation.

Think about the cost of this move. Say the Pechanga band has 1,200 members and the Phraselator costs $2,000. That's $2.4 million spent on this project. Has there ever been a bigger one-time expense to preserve a Native language? If so, I don't know about it.

Also interesting is that Chairman Mark Macarro of the Pechangas has recorded the Luiseño translations. Apparently he's one of the most fluent speakers of the language--and he's a busy politician, not a retired elder. Some of the disenrolled Pechangas have criticized Macarro for not being an authentic Indian, but how many tribal leaders are this committed to keeping their language alive?

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