December 15, 2008

Ojibwe via interactive TV

Ojibwe by ITV:  Bena school delivers classes to Deer River, RemerAs high school students arrive in Andrew Jackson’s classroom for Ojibwe language classes each afternoon in Bena, students miles away in Deer River and Remer also meet for Jackson’s classes.

This fall, Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School started delivering two Ojibwe classes via interactive television to students at Deer River High School and Northland High School.
And:During the two classes at Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School, Jackson and the students in his classroom can see and hear the students in Deer River and Remer on a television. The TV screen is split, with the Remer classroom on top and the Deer River classroom on bottom.

A second television in Jackson’s classroom reflects the sights and sounds of his classroom–the same sights and sounds transmitted to televisions in the two classrooms in Deer River and Remer.

Jackson sends handouts and assignments to students in Deer River and Remer by e-mail, and the high schools send the students’ completed assignments back to Jackson.

Lushootseed in public schools

Teaching Indian languages preserves heritage, tooIn Washington, tribes have formed partnerships with school districts and the state to reach tribal and nontribal kids in public schools. As of the 2006-07 school year, 14 instructors were certified by tribes to teach language in the public schools. Tribes work with school districts to fit language classes into the school day.

"It's a priority," said principal Teresa Iyall-Williams at Tulalip Elementary. Language instruction boosts native students' achievement, she said. "It increases engagement when they are able to see themselves in the curriculum."

Non-Indian students benefit, too: At Port Angeles High School in Clallam County, where the student body is about 97 percent nonnative, Lower Elwha Klallam language instructor Jamie Valadez has since 1999 taught Klallam as one of the elective languages any student can take. Her classes are made up not only of students from Lower Elwha and other tribes but nonnative teens curious to learn.

"It is just something they are interested in and enjoy, they are fascinated with learning about the native culture," Valadez said.

Learning another language also hones her students' knowledge of English grammar and syntax, which they use to decode and build sentences in Klallam.

December 03, 2008

iRez Language Pal debuts

Language Learning Gets More High-TechThornton Media, Inc., a Indian-owned firm based in Banning Calif, plans to launch two new Native language learning products at the 2008 National Indian Education Association Conference, held October 23-26 in Seattle, Wash.

The first is a hand-held language teacher called the iRez Language Pal. The device is much like Phraselator, a hand-held device developed by Voxtec to help troops serving in the Middle East translate Arabic words to English. It records and translates audio and video files and stores language via a flash memory card, holding up to 85,000 phrases and words.

Thornton Media adapted the product for Native language instruction and marketed it to tribes for about three years. But the $3,300 price tag limited accessibility. It decided to develop a more affordable product.

Offered at a quarter of the cost, iRez Language Pal is smaller and more advanced. It comes with a half dozen new features, like crossword puzzles, flashcards and a car tutor system.

University offers Cherokee course

Cherokee Language to be offered at Rogers State UniversityBeginning in the spring semester, Rogers State University will offer Cherokee language courses on its Pryor campus.

Cherokee I will begin in January at the start of the spring 2009 semester and Cherokee II will be offered in the fall. The university plans to continue the course rotation each year. The Cherokee language courses are open to both degree seeking and non-degree seeking students. Students can take the course as part of the minor in Native American Studies or to fulfill a general education requirement.

“We are located in the Cherokee Nation, so it is only natural that we offer Cherokee language classes,” said Dr. Hugh Foley, associate professor and coordinator of Native American Studies at RSU. “This is part of our continued development of American Indian Studies at RSU.”

November 25, 2008

The thinking behind RezWorld

Native company launches video game to teach endangered languages, culturesLike in other interactive games such as Grand Theft Auto and The Sims, the player controls the main character in the game.

“Imagine a world inhabited by intelligent virtual humans that speak only your Indigenous language,” said Don Thornton, TMI’s Chief Executive Officer. To reach the game’s goals you must communicate with other characters that recognize not only your language but also your gestures and behavior. The game teaches languages in context and also cultural protocols based on character behaviors.

Thornton Media, Inc., the creative minds behind the RezWorld™ 3-D video game was the first company to offer customized hi-tech tools to revitalize Native languages. Since its launch in 1995, it has become the recognized leader in the industry. TMI, a Native-owned company with more than 100 tribal clients in the United States and Canada, has invested over six-figures into the game.

“The reason I am so aggressive about saving indigenous languages is because I am a Cherokee Nation citizen and the Cherokee language is in worse shape than ever,” Thornton said. About five years ago, there were 15,000 speakers, now there are only about 6,000. A Cherokee language department staff member recently remarked, “Some weeks we lose 100 speakers. Think about the language situation in 10 years.”
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Video Game Teaches Languages and More on RezWorld.

November 21, 2008

Menominee talking circles

Menominee language finds new life in schools

Tribe committed to preserving conversational skillsEveryone must participate in Margaret Snow's "talking circle" when the fifth-graders introduce themselves using the Menominee language—that's a rule.

Some students easily pronounce the words, repeating their name, clan and hometown as quickly as they can recall it. But it's more of a challenge to others who may not have been as exposed to the native language.

"I just want them to try," said Snow, one of two language teachers at Keshena Primary School. "With these words they can communicate with each other, so it's important they have a chance to show they can remember their introductions."

Snow's third-grade students learn to talk about the weather in the Menominee language, and then recite a traditional prayer. Her fifth-graders focus on their conversational skills.

November 16, 2008

Cherokee documentary on PBS

PBS to do documentary on Cherokee language programA program that teaches the Cherokee language to Cherokee children will be featured in a PBS documentary.

A film crew and producer for "We Shall Remain" were in Tahlequah Thursday to visit the Cherokee Language Immersion School and interview Principal Chief Chad Smith and others.

November 13, 2008

Lakota language summit

Fluent Lakota speakers running out of time

Symposium searches for ways to preserve Native languages.At Tuesday's opening of a three-day summit about revitalizing their languages, the Native American speakers needed English at some point to communicate.

"We're really in a race against time," said Ryan Wilson of the National Alliance to Save Native Languages.

The Lakota, Dakota, Nakota Language Summit: Uniting the Seven Council Fire to Save the Language has brought together a mix of 400 Native American educators, language experts and traditional fluent speakers. They are here to determine how to keep their languages from disappearing.
And:On Wyoming's Wind River Reservation, people in the Arapaho Tribe counted on teaching the language in school, similar to how math and other classes are taught in a system approved by federal and state regulators.

"After 35 years of teaching at Wind River, not one student is a fluent speaker. These methods, ... they're not working," Wilson said.

Wilson said his stepfather saw the answer to capturing fluency by teaching children in a language-immersion school. With Wilson's help, an immersion school was funded, built and opened in 12 months. But it wasn't easy.

November 11, 2008

When It's Gone It's Gone

A documentary filmed and produced by the Norman High School Native American Club. It examines the dying languages of Native Americans through the eyes of our Elders.Comment:  This video is long (17 minutes) but watchable. Considering it was put together by high-schoolers, it's pretty polished. I'm not sure you'll learn anything new about language preservation, but it's interesting to see people and places that usually aren't featured in Native films.

October 21, 2008

Arapaho Language Lodge

Its Native Tongue Facing Extinction, Arapaho Tribe Teaches the Young About 22 children from pre-kindergarten through first grade started classes at the school—a rectangular one-story structure with a fresh coat of white paint and the words Hinono’ Eitiino’ Oowu’ (translation: Arapaho Language Lodge) written across its siding.

Here, set against an endless stretch of windswept plains and tufts of cottonwoods, instructors are using a state-approved curriculum to teach students exclusively in Arapaho. All costs related to the school, which has an operating budget of $340,000 a year, are paid for by the tribe and private donors. Administrators plan to add a grade each year until it comprises pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade classes.
And:A group of Arapaho families had sent their children to a pre-kindergarten language program for years, but it was not enough. Heeding Ms. Cedar Tree’s words, the tribe began using Arapaho dictionaries, night classes, CDs made by the tribe, and anything they could find to help resuscitate the language. In the end, “we knew in our hearts that immersion was the only way we were going to turn this around,” said Mr. Wilson, a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe.

“Language-immersion schools offer an environment that goes beyond teaching the language,” Ms. Slaughter said. “It provides a safe place where a child’s roots are nurtured, its culture honored, and its being valued.”

October 03, 2008

Building a house of language

North Slope Inupiaq language teachers stress oral fluencyOver the last several years all of the Inupiaq teachers received training in the accelerated second language acquisition methodology from Dr. Stephen Greymorning, professor of Native American Studies at the University of Montana.

The technique developed by Greymorning employs the use of images to teach in a unique system designed to build a “house of language.”

Teachers use images to teach a sequence of skill sets that require learners to produce the language, and facilitate the internalization of the way the language works.

The method requires that teachers speak only in the language when they are working with children. Translation into English is not allowed which means that teachers need to use the images, as well as gestures and body language, in order to facilitate comprehension.

September 24, 2008

More on RezWorld

Immersive video game aims to revitalize American Indian languagesIndian kids will soon have a Super Mario-like character of their own to guide through an array of digital puzzles and game landscapes. But instead of a character who looks like the mustached Italian plumber, made popular from appearances in dozens of Nintendo offerings, a new video game created by a Native-owned company will feature tribal characters speaking a variety of Indian languages.

The game, called RezWorld, is billed as the first fully immersive 3-D interactive video game that can help young Indians learn to speak their own languages via a unique speech recognition component.

“We’re all about teaching Native language in a context that really engages our young people,” said Don Thornton, the Cherokee owner of the California-based Thornton Media, which has led the way in creating the game’s prototype.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Video Game Teaches Language.

Declaration for Anishinaabemowin

Putting Anishinaabemowin firstAn alliance of Anishinaabe tribal leaders and citizens from Canada has put forth a declaration asserting that Anishinaabemowin is their primary language.

The declaration, which was approved by the Walpole Island First Nation of the Bkejwanong Territory in August, says that immersion and fluency in the Anishinaabemowin language is a long-term goal for all of its citizens.

September 18, 2008

Smithsonian has stuff

Drafting a FutureDuring his getting-acquainted tour of the Smithsonian, G. Wayne Clough, the institution's new secretary, was stopped in his tracks by a group of researchers poring over pages of "endangered" languages.

Clough sat there in the reading room of the National Anthropological Archives in Suitland, one of the many outposts of the Smithsonian empire, and heard how experts at the institution have been collecting languages since before the Smithsonian was the Smithsonian.

This group handed him some cards. He undid the white ribbon and found slips with words from the Poosepatuck Nation. Clough recalled he was a little flabbergasted when Robert Leopold told him these were 19th-century copies of a set that Thomas Jefferson had written on a trip to Long Island in 1791. And Clough (pronounced "cluff") said he was even more impressed when he visited a laboratory and saw that 8,000 pages of Cherokee had been digitized and shared with North Carolina tribe members who wanted to teach their children the language.

August 17, 2008

Hualapai language camps

Language camps help tribes keep languages aliveAbout 80 youngsters are camped in tents for the program at Hualapai Mountain Park.

They rise at 5 a.m. for a hike, followed by language sessions. One "master" uses pantomime to teach a Native game similar to street hockey, then asks kids to describe the actions in Pai terms. Others teach how to make arrows, gourd rattles and a drink from sumac berries.
And:Because language frames the way a person looks upon the world, Watahomigie said, its demise also threatens a tribe's values, traditions and religion.

That reality is magnified by the dominance of pop culture among kids.

"A lot of these kids here, they don't even think they're Indians. They're like everyone else," she said. "We have a lot of gangs, a lot of drug abuse, right now. Much of that is because children don't have a good self-concept. It's important for them to be proud of who they are, to respect themselves, to understand that they are a unique people but also part of a whole."

Nearby, two girls share an iPod. They appear to be ignoring their pottery instructor, but it turns out that the music in their ears comes from a traditional Hualapai singer.

August 14, 2008

Video game teaches language

RezWorld™--The 3D Interactive Video Game that teaches YOUR Native languageThornton Media, Inc., the leaders in "Language tools for Indian Country", presents RezWorld™, the first fully-immersive 3-D Video Game that teaches Native languages.

The game teaches spoken language and cultural knowledge. Students learn by playing fun, immersive 3D video games that simulate real life social communications. It involves "intelligent virtual humans" that recognize the trainee's speech, gestures and social behavior.

The technology was developed by academic scientists and has been used successfully by language learners. Extensive testing by third-party researchers measured positive learning results (May 2007).

August 04, 2008

Paid to speak Oneida

Saving Oneida language becomes a full time jobIndian tribes across the country are taking steps to preserve their native languages. The Oneida Indian Nation of New York has made it a full-time job, paying tribal members what they would earn in other jobs to immerse themselves in the nation's spoken word.

"We've had language programs here for a long time," said Sheri Beglen, a teacher in the Oneida's program. "But they were once a week for adults, or a half-hour after school for kids. You just can't learn a language one day a week.

"To learn a language, you have to hear it, use it constantly," said Beglen, who was among the first eight graduates of the Oneida program, now in its fourth year.

Gerald Hill, president of the Indigenous Language Institute in Santa Fe, N.M., said while virtually all the more than 300 recognized American Indian tribes have some type of language program, they vary dramatically in approach and effectiveness. Hill said he was unaware of any other tribes paying members to learn the language as a full-time job.

July 30, 2008

Rediscovering the Navajo Language

Putting a language into perspective

New Mexico first state to adopt Navajo textbookState officials formally adopted Yazzie's book, Diné Bizaad Binahoo'ahh, or Rediscovering the Navajo Language, on Tuesday in Santa Fe. While other books on Navajo language exist, state officials say New Mexico is the first to adopt a Navajo textbook for use in the public education system.

About 10 school districts in New Mexico provide Navajo language instruction. Out of seven American Indian languages that were taught in the public school system during the 2006-07 school year, 5,024 students were learning Navajo.
And:School districts in New Mexico, as well as U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs schools, can review Yazzie's book and decide whether to use it starting in the 2009-10 school year. The book will be accompanied by a compact disc with the voices of Yazzie and her brother, Berlyn Yazzie, a former educator and administrator on the Navajo Nation.

In the Navajo culture, certain topics—such as how to build a hogan or cradle board and how to care for cattle and horses—should be addressed by men. Other topics, including the preparation of food, clothing and caring for children, should be addressed by women.
And:Each chapter of the book, which Yazzie said is suitable for students of all ages, begins with a cultural lesson and guides readers through verbs, sentence construction, clanship, clothing, formal education, telling time the Navajo way, the reservation, Navajo teachings, corn fields, livestock, textures, shapes and the Navajo government.

It also includes pictures of people who have lived on the Navajo reservation, which stretches into New Mexico, Utah and Arizona. Yazzie said she looks forward to students sharing the book with Navajo elders and "pretty soon conversation will be sparking around fires."

July 21, 2008

Diné summer language camp

Elementary students participate in Dine summer language campElementary school children in Bloomfield are breaking away from their TVs this summer to learn about the history and culture of the Navajo people—in a class conducted entirely in the Navajo language.

The Diné Language Immersion Program, for students in kindergarten through sixth grade, runs from July 7-30 at Central Primary School in Bloomfield. The course lasts all morning, from 8:30 until noon, Monday through Thursday.

"I was just watching TV all day," said 10-year-old Zachary Augustine, referring to his summer before the class and why he decided to attend.

July 10, 2008

Ojibwa songs as teaching tools

Native American language classes aren't just talk

Heritage is at the heart of the lessonsHis songs don't make the American Top 40. Instead they have a more useful purpose: To help keep children of American Indian descent connected with the language of their heritage.

Taylor, a Walpole Island resident whose Ojibwa name is Kaangaadese, uses songs he writes as part of a class he teaches in American Indian language Wednesday nights at Algonac Community Center.

"I like to teach every day language using native language songs," Taylor said. "It is a good teaching tool."

July 09, 2008

Inuktitut for babies

Labrador Inuit struggle to save languageNunatsiavut, the governing body of the Labrador Inuit, will begin work on a 50-year plan to save its vanishing language, at a conference starting Tuesday in Nain.

Nunatsiavut officials will look at expanding programs, such as the Language Nest founded in 2001 in Hopedale, to expose babies to the Inuktitut language.
A bit on how the Language Nest works:Doris Boas and her son Cole, 2, used the small classroom in the Nunatsiavut Health Centre for the Language Nest to learn Inuktitut together from a computer program. Boas said although her family spoke the language, she never learned.

"My parents were fluent and I wasn't taught," Boas said. "It's sad because in the past, it was just natural for it to be said; my parents grew up knowing just Inuktitut, and for it to come this far, to almost losing it, it's sad," Boas said.

She now hopes to learn more, along with her son.

Agnes Able, who teaches at the Language Nest, said she's heard a lot of first words in Inuktitut from the babies and from their parents.

However, she said it's often hard for parents to keep up the language at home, once they finish the two-year program in the classroom.

June 26, 2008

Blackfeet word translations

Blackfeet Language Institute aims at integrating Blackfeet language into school curriculaThe Blackfeet Language Institute was held June 16-18 at the Blackfeet Head Start Multipurpose Room in Browning. The Institute was sponsored through Browning Public Schools' Blackfeet Native American Studies Department, and its main purpose was to develop Blackfeet word translations for classroom use.

A large group of elders, students and educators met June 16-18 a the Blackfeet Early Childhood Center to discuss ways and means of integrating the Blackfeet language into local school curricula.

Terminology in the areas of math, reading, music, technology and science was developed. Among those topics, the hardest content areas to develop were math and music because the Blackfeet language is descriptive so the translations were a bit longer.

June 17, 2008

Emergency language meeting

American Indians work to preserve their languagesIn the Lakota language, a single word expresses the awe and connectedness with nature that some feel looking at the Northern Lights. In Euchee, the language makes no distinction between humans and other animals, though it does differentiate between Euchee people and non-Euchee.

And the Koasati language of Louisiana provides no word for goodbye, since time is seen as more cyclical than linear. To end a conversation, you would say something like: "This was good."
The situation is dire:Can they be saved? Last month, representatives from Indian groups around the country met with linguists and other academics in Philadelphia to see what they could accomplish together.

"We're talking about an emergency situation," said Richard Grounds, a speaker of the Euchee language and co-organiser of the meeting, held at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology.
More unique Native concepts:Some languages, for example, have no way to give directions using left and right, because their speakers navigate with a less self-centred view of the world than we do, said Leanne Hinton, a linguist at the University of California, Los Angeles. They think more in terms of local geography.

Ryan Wilson, a member of the Oglala Sioux tribe, said the quality his people value most in a man is something like courage, but includes a degree of independence and perseverance. It has no direct English translation, and with the word may go the idea and the reason it once mattered.

Wilson, who is president of the National Alliance to Save Native Languages, said there was also a word that describes the feeling that you cannot live without someone. It is similar to love, but something is lost in that translation.

June 14, 2008

Dream of preserving Quechua

Scholar's not-impossible dream:  To preserve language of the Incas

Demetrio Tupac Yupanqui's translation of "Don Quixote" into Quechua is a landmark in reviving the indigenous tongue.Since the Spanish conquest, important writing in Quechua has emerged, but linguists and Quechua speakers hope that the new version of "Don Quixote" will be a step toward forming a public culture in the language, through Quechua magazines, television and books, that will keep its speakers engaged with the wider world.

After centuries of retreat in the Andes, Tupac Yupanqui's efforts in fortifying Quechua, through teaching and translating, are being complemented by various other ventures.

Microsoft has released translations of its software in Quechua, recognizing the importance of 5 million or so speakers of the language in Peru and millions elsewhere in the Andes, mainly in Bolivia and Ecuador. Not to be outdone, Google has a version of its search engine in Quechua, even if some linguists say that these projects were carried out more for corporate image polishing than for practical reasons.

The workings of Andean democracy are also reminding the world of Quechua's importance. The government of President Evo Morales of Bolivia, for instance, is trying to make fluency in Quechua or another indigenous language mandatory in the civil service.

June 12, 2008

Tulalip worships in Lushootseed

Mass in ancient language celebrates blending of culture and faithWorshippers called, "Peace be with you," and sang, "Lord, send out your spirit and renew the face of the Earth." That was in English.

Then, they struck hand-painted drums made from stretched animal hide. Rhythmic tribal songs in Lushootseed filled the church.

Virginia Jones, 22, read scripture from the New Testament in Lushootseed while dozens of worshippers followed along with English translations in their service books.

Blessings were called out in Lushootseed while Dario MeGuire, 15, played a hand-carved flute. Archbishop Alex Brunett, on hand for the occasion, celebrated the marriage of tribal culture and Catholic faith.

June 08, 2008

"Duck, duck, goose" in Ojibwe

Tribe strives to preserve Ojibwe languageEkdahl, who stepped in following White Pigeon's resignation, said the Tribe received grants from the Native American/Native Hawaiian Museum Services Program of the Institute of Museum and Library Services for their language documentation project.

"The grant allows for the creation of immersion opportunities by the Anishinaabemowin Club," Ekdahl said.

The club hosts gatherings where people are required to speak in Ojibwe during meal and social situations. Instructional cards were created to generate dialogue.

"We also have a Little Language Warrior Club for 3- to 7-year-olds," Ekdahl said. "The program targets young children and parents."

Ekdahl said the project work has created tools to teach young children, including board games, Bingo and charades translated into the Ojibwe language, which are used during the immersion programs.

"We teach them how to play ‘duck, duck, goose' in the language," Ekdahl said. "The parents have to participate.

June 07, 2008

"Breath of Life" conference

Berkeley researchers go global to document endangered languagesInterest by UC Berkeley students in the documentation of endangered languages and in making the information available to native communities seems to have "taken on a new life," Hinton said.

Technology is at least partially responsible for helping to stimulate this renewed interest, she said, with more and more language archives going online and becoming available to interested parties virtually wherever they may be.

The Breath of Life work is aimed at revitalization, whereas the student research is aimed at documentation of still-healthy, if endangered, languages, said Sharon Inkelas, chair of UC Berkeley's linguistics department and professor of linguistics. The June 8-14 conference and the faculty and student fieldwork represent often complementary research at different stages of the lifespan of a language, she said.
An example of the work being done:Andrew Garrett, a UC Berkeley linguistics professor, is known for his ongoing work documenting California Indian languages. He is running a project that is documenting the Yurok language, developing an archive of Yurok texts and audio recordings, and establishing language resources for the Yurok community. Garrett and his students also have worked with Yurok elders on language teaching. Garrett is creating an online multi-media Hupa language dictionary and documentation and doing related research on Northern Paiute dialects in California and Nevada.Breath of Life for California's native languagesLeanne Hinton, UC Berkeley professor emeritus of linguistics, co-founder of the June 8-14 "Breath of Life" conference and author of the "How to Keep Your Language Alive" (2002) handbook, said that a key goal of the conference is to prepare participants to take their languages home and to help turn learning native languages--as a very first language--into a fundamental feature of Indian childhood.

"The school is great for language learning, but if a community really wants its language to be alive, it has to be using it at home," Hinton said. "The tribes are making progress, and there are people who are teaching it to kids at home."

Home instruction helps children to bond emotionally with their language, according to Hinton, whereas classroom learning reflects a more intellectual and dry approach.

June 01, 2008

Documentary inspires Ioway

Native tongue

Lost language comes to life on screen in new movie[T]ribal members are seeing a resurgence in interest in their Iowa roots—and residents of Iowa are rediscovering an interest in the tribe—thanks to a new documentary featuring the culture of a people struggling to maintain their heritage through the years.

The title of the film—“Lost Nation: The Ioway”—refers mainly to the fact that the people of Iowa don’t know the history of their state’s name. But it also refers to a bond that has been lost among Ioway people—a bond people such as Goodtracks hope to rediscover.

May 23, 2008

Scrambling to save tongues

Tribes strive to save native tongues

In the Pacific Northwest, some 40 indigenous languages are at risk of disappearing within a decade.Grass-roots efforts to preserve and teach youngsters native languages are intensifying around the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia as about 40 indigenous tongues are in danger of disappearing within the next decade.

Native leaders are compiling dictionaries, drafting lesson plans, and scrambling to save what scraps of language they can before the last of the fluent elders dies. In the case of Kiksht, a language spoken for centuries along Oregon's Columbia River, there are two remaining speakers and neither can remember the words for "yawn" or "brown."

May 21, 2008

Video game employs languages

Thornton Media in Banning hopes to keep Native American languages aliveWhat's new: Thornton Media in Banning has developed a video game featuring Native American languages.

Thornton's newest release, "Rez World," is a 3-D video game featuring a virtual Native American reservation where the user interacts with other virtual humans who speak only their native language. It is a proven technology and has been shown to be an effective tool in third-party testing with more than 20,000 students, Thornton said.

May 18, 2008

Salish Language Revitalization Institute

Speaking SalishIn a language immersion school, every object has a label to remind students how to describe the world around them.

So in a sense, the expansion project going on at Nkwusm Salish Language Revitalization Institute here is adding to its dictionary. From a single classroom and hallway kitchen six years ago, Nkwusm now is filling a former bowling alley with white boards, desks, student art and recording equipment.

From that time just six years ago when only a couple children showed up for class, Nkwusm now has 39 regular students in preschool through high school grades. It's divided into three multi-age classes, each with a certified teacher, a fluent Salish speaker and a teacher's aide.
And:[T]he Salish language is everywhere, from the gathering songs the children sing in the morning to the labels on every counter, fixture and picture in the building. When Salish elders and language specialists Pat Pierre and Stephen Small Salmon lead a call-and-response exercise, the children yell with gusto.

May 08, 2008

6th annual Oklahoma language fair

Maintaining identity

Youth fair shows validity of Native language in OklahomaRare are the opportunities to hear young Native people speak and sing in their traditional languages in Oklahoma. But when these Native students in grades pre-K through 12 can come under one roof, speaking and singing in languages as diverse as Creek, Choctaw, Kiowa, Cherokee, Comanche, Otoe or Apache, it is a wonderful experience for all involved.

Beginning in 2002, with the Indigenous Language Institute of Santa Fe, N.M., serving as a model, the University of Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair expected only 80 participants in individual and group speech and song categories. Instead, more than 200 participated in the inaugural event. This year on March 31 and April 1, the seventh annual event grew to include 1,055 pre-registered students and teachers.
Cherokee Nation immersion students excel at language fairCherokee Nation language immersion students recently participated in the sixth annual Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History in Norman.

"Through our language immersion program, we are working diligently to teach future generations our native tongue," said Chad Smith, principal chief of the Cherokee Nation. "The Cherokee language enhances the quality of life of our people and preserves the culture and traditions of our past. The Cherokee Nation is very proud of these young Cherokees and their accomplishments at the language fair."

May 02, 2008

The importance of documenting languages

Tongue ties:  a language bridge across the Bering Strait

A Western Washington University professor has compared native languages in North America to those in Asia and found ties that suggest they come from the same ancestors.Vajda, a professor at Western Washington University in Bellingham, recently demonstrated a convincing kinship between a Siberian language family called Yeniseic and a Native American family called Na-Dene, which includes languages spoken in the Pacific Northwest and the Southwest.

The work also underscores the importance of documenting obscure languages before they die out. Vajda closed his symposium paper with this thought: "Who could have guessed that the ancient words Native American and Native Siberian boarding-school children were punished for speaking aloud just a few short decades ago would prove to wield a power vast enough to reunite entire continents?"

April 29, 2008

Yuman summit at Barona

Tribes aim to revive language

Summit planned at Barona reservationIn recent decades, tribes have taken steps to revitalize their endangered languages by compiling dictionaries, offering classes, encouraging children to speak it at camp and connecting fluent speakers with apprentices in immersion efforts.

Now money from tribal casinos has stepped up those efforts.

Gatherings such as the Yuman summit are key to sharing what works and what doesn't, Ray said.

The gathering is unique because it's driven by Indians, rather than academics, said Leanne Hinton, a linguist at the University of California Berkeley.

April 21, 2008

Samala lives

Ancient Chumash tongue revivedA bound volume of ink and paper is keeping a language alive.

With the unveiling of “Samala-English Dictionary--A Guide to the Samala Language of the Ineseño Chumash People,” the language of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians has been awakened from half a century of dormancy.
And:The tribe's language program initiative, which includes the dictionary and a group of five Samala apprentices, began in 2003 as a directive of Tribal Chairman Vincent Armenta.

April 12, 2008

Revitalizing Shoshone

Woman will teach Shoshone at UWAs the language coordinator for the Shoshone Tribal Cultural Center on the Wind River Indian Reservation, Teran has been working with tribal elders for almost six years to produce a written and digital-audio dictionary of the Eastern Shoshone language.

In that time she has reconnected with her first tongue, and she has again begun dreaming in Shoshone--a language that is more descriptive, colorful and emotional than English is, she said.

In addition to the dictionary project, which has been a huge undertaking for her and three tribal elders, Teran has also developed an eight-CD audio book for basic Shoshone-language instruction.
Shoshone woman devotes her life to preserving native language
Since 2002, Teran, the Eastern Shoshone language coordinator, has been working with three Shoshone elders on the reservation to compile the most comprehensive phonetic dictionary and audio record of the tribe's language yet assembled.

She has been digitally recording the elders for going on six years now, as they've painstakingly pronounced 14,000-plus words and phrases in a cramped, makeshift recording studio.

She has also been creating and producing a basic multimedia Shoshone language course for schools and tribal members.

Teran said she fell in love with media technology the moment she was introduced to that reel-to-reel recorder, and she now believes it offers the surest way to preserve and help to revive the language.
Elder says reconnection with native tongue could help bring tribal renaissance

March 29, 2008

The Myaamia Project

Miami University helps Miami Tribe reclaim languageKelsey Young--like many other members of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma--could not understand her tribe's language. The Myaamia Project supported by the tribe and Miami University is changing that--helping the tribe reclaim and keep its language and culture alive.

A long-standing relationship between the Miami tribe and its namesake university helped lead to a tribal initiative in 2001 creating the Myaamia Project to help preserve the language, culture and history of the small, non-reservation tribe. The word Miami is derived from the tribe's original Myaamia name. A conference Saturday at the university in Oxford, about 40 miles northwest of Cincinnati, will highlight the project's latest language revival and educational efforts.

The conference will highlight project efforts such as the April debut of an online version of the Miami dictionary. Myaamia Project Director Daryl Baldwin says the online version will make the dictionary more accessible to tribal members and others and allow people to hear pronunciations.

There also will be a preview of a video showing challenges the small community has faced in reclaiming a language whose last fluent speakers died in the early 1960s.

March 05, 2008

Potawatomis use Phraselator

Technology helps tribe pass on native speechCecelia "Meeks" Jackson is helping revitalize an almost lost language.

Jackson, 85, is one of six people nationwide who fluently speak the Potawatomi language, Sydney Van Zile, director of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Language Center, said Tuesday.

Thanks to advanced technology, Jackson is sharing her knowledge with other members of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation through the Phraselator Language Companion, a one-way translator.

February 27, 2008

Recording Alaskan languages

UAF gets $1.2 million to record Native languages

Some are on the verge of extinctionA researcher at the University of Alaska Fairbanks has been awarded $1.2 million by the National Science Foundation to document the endangered languages of Alaska and other areas of the Arctic.

“If it’s ever going to be done, it has got to be done now,” said Michael Krauss, professor emeritus of linguistics at UAF. “Making a record, as much as we can, of a language while it is still there is vital to the future of the language and the people.”

On Jan. 21, Marie Smith Jones died at the age of 89. Her death, Krauss said, marked a “tragic new phase of history” in Alaska because she was the last remaining speaker of Eyak. The language may be extinct, but Krauss will continue his work to document it. The grant, funded from the National Science Foundation, will enable the detailed documentation of Eyak and 10 other languages. A number of linguists will be working with speakers of various languages from across Alaska and the Arctic.

February 22, 2008

Rescuing languages is impossible?

No Tears For Dead TonguesMany hope that we can turn back the tide with programs to revive indigenous languages, but the sad fact is that this will almost never be seriously effective. For an educated English speaker, learning to hold a conversation in French or Spanish isn't too difficult. But learning small, endangered languages is a much tougher business, because they are often as different from European languages as Berik.

I once taught a class of Native Americans their ancestral language in a summer program. This had the positive effect of helping them feel connected to their ancestors, but there was no possible way they were going to be able to converse in the language. Native American languages seem almost designed to frustrate someone who grew up with English. There are sounds it's hard to make unless you were born to them.

February 20, 2008

Crash courses in Quileute

Non-Native teaching Quileute tongue-twisting languageHe hasn't tried to make his students fluent in Quileute.

"We don't know of a single child raised speaking English who has learned a native language in a classroom," Powell said, despite educators' spending $2 billion on such efforts.

"Fluency wasn't one of the alternatives. It just wasn't achievable."

Instead, at the invitation of the Quileute Tribal Council, Powell and Jensen devised a series of intensive courses, four to five weeks long, held twice a year over two years.

The Quileute reached the halfway point of the curriculum last month.

What is emerging is a language of English mingled with Quileute words and phrases—greetings, common comments and "useful terms of various kinds," Powell said.

February 17, 2008

Reclaiming Algonquian languages

Mashantucket Pequots Seek To Reclaim, Preserve Language

Tribe's children are keys to reviving ancient tongue[T]here is an entire field of anthropology and linguistics that specializes in reclaiming indigenous languages. For the fourth time in eight years, those professionals will gather at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, starting Wednesday, to discuss everything from poetic form to developing an Algonquian dictionary.

For the first time, the tribe's children will be involved. Their artwork, featuring animals and the corresponding Pequot word showcased in pastel drawings and on clay tiles, will be on display.

The next major step for both tribes is initiating a major push to teach all tribal members the language. Jones said two dozen members have graduated from a beginner-level language course and several are in advanced-level courses.

The Mohegan tribe has also developed a phrase book and dictionary and is currently putting together language programs for adults and children.

February 16, 2008

Cayuga immersion school

School fights to revive native Canadian language Jamieson is a teacher at the Gaweni:yo High School, part of the same Cayuga language immersion program that also includes Jacobs' kindergarten class, as well as a parallel Mohawk language program.

"I think the language speaks to their spirit," Jamieson said of the 35 pupils at the high school, located about 70 miles (120 km) southwest of the Ontario capital Toronto. "They're able to grasp it and go with it."

While the linguistic knowledge of native speakers like Jamieson is irreplaceable, Gaweni:yo--which means "nice-sounding words"--is helping to slow the erosion of the Cayuga language, and young people are becoming a viable population of fluent speakers.

The most dedicated meet up regularly to chat in Cayuga and practice new words and some even use Cayuga as the primary language at home.

February 07, 2008

Arapaho immersion school

Reviving a dying languageTo save the language, the Council of Elders has completed a strategic plan, and has secured funding, to create a new Arapaho Immersion Grade School, set to open in August.

If the council succeeds in its efforts to revitalize the Arapaho language, new generations of fluent speakers will begin to emerge in a few short years, Redman said. And the language will not only survive, but the Arapaho people will gradually reclaim more of their traditional culture, and become, on the whole, a more vibrant and healthy nation.

The Arapaho Immersion Grade School aims to build upon the foundation laid by the preschool.

The school will teach all standard elementary school subjects, save English, with all instruction and interaction done in Arapaho. Children who attend the school will be effectively immersed in the language for eight hours at a time, every school day.

The students will receive an English education, Redman said--but after school in their homes, with tutors.

If everything goes as planned, the children will be completely fluent in the Arapaho language by the third grade. But the more modest goal set by the council for the first crop of children will be fluency for all students by the time they finish the sixth grade.
Tribe:  Plan follows successful modelsPrevious efforts to revitalize the Arapaho language have largely failed, but the Northern Arapaho Council of Elders believes it has developed a plan that will finally succeed, taking cues from recent, successful language revival programs in Hawaii and New Zealand.

In both cases, the Hawaiian and Maori languages were moribund before revival efforts.

The Northern Arapaho Council of Elders estimates that there are 225--maybe 230--fluent speakers of Arapaho left on the planet. Almost all are over the age of 60, and every time a fluent speaker dies, usually of old age, the number drops by one. The Arapaho language "is now in its 59th minute of the last hour of survival," the Council of Elders wrote recently.

The revival of indigenous languages is a worldwide movement, which has gained significant momentum over the past two decades. A few flourishing programs around the globe have helped establish something of a blueprint for success, the council believes.

Arapahoe School, which last spring completed the first year of a five-year federal grant to create a bilingual, English-Arapaho, program, also took inspiration from the successful Hawaiian and Maori language programs.

February 04, 2008

Utah considers Navajo classes

Utah educators want schools to teach Indians native languagesThe state Board of Education wants to offer classes in American Indian languages to Utah students.

The board is asking the Legislature for $275,000 to fund the classes, which it says have been shown to reduce the achievement gap between white and American Indian students.

"Take a look year after year at low test scores and a 50 percent dropout rate," said state Associate Superintendent Brenda Hales. "We have a whole generation of students we're going to lose if we don't start making immediate attempts to help them."

State test results show Navajo students trail white students by 45 percentage points in language arts, 48 percentage points in math and 57 percentage points in science.

In a San Juan School District pilot program where students were immersed in Navajo language classes, those gaps fell to 15, 23 and 10 percentage points difference, respectively.

February 02, 2008

More on the Odawa class

Odawa language course part of school's curriculumSusan Jacobs, principal at Harbor Springs High School, said she had recognized the need for such a course for several years.

"Native American students do not feel part of our system because very little about the system honors who they are," she wrote in a 2006 letter to the Harbor Springs Public Schools Board of Education.

She contacted Ray Kiogima, a tribal member and elder, about offering an Odawa language course at the high school. Kiogima had co-authored a book entitled, "Odawa Language and Legends," which translates more than 1,000 common words and phrases from Odawa to English.

Kiogima set up a meeting between Jacobs and tribal members.

"The tribe thought it was wonderful; everybody thought it was great," she said. "We wanted to give the Native American students exactly what we give to the white children. We wanted to do something within the curriculum that implicitly said, without saying a word, that 'You are just as valued as anybody else.'"

January 26, 2008

Year of the Ho-Chunk language

Keep the language aliveAfter touting language preservation as part of his platform, recently-elected Ho-Chunk President Wilfrid Cleveland has proclaimed 2008 the year of the Ho-Chunk language.

Cleveland's staff are taking daily classes, and Nation officials are encouraging tribe members to speak Ho-Chunk more in their personal lives and at work.

Mann said an effort to preserve the language on CD is also under way, and an interactive Web site lets tribe members learn from home. They also can order lesson materials online.

January 20, 2008

More on the last Wichita speaker

Last fluent speaker of Wichita tribal language preserves what's leftTerri, the tribe's enrollment clerk, understands. She has watched the number of full-blooded Wichita members--including the Waco, Tawakoni and Keechi bands--fall to just 41 today after once numbering tens of thousands scattered in villages from Central and North Texas to Kansas.

They've tried language classes to teach adults how to say a little, and still hold classes for kids, but the language is too hard and resources too spare to ever resurrect it.

When Doris is gone, the silence will be larger than one woman.

"Any chance of us ever being fluent in it again ... that dies," Terri says.

Then later: "We lose our identity."

January 15, 2008

Public school offers Odawa language

Odawa language course makes its way into Harbor Springs’ curriculumA groundbreaking new course is being offered at Harbor Springs High School—Anishinaabemowin, the native language of Odawa Indians.

The class, which is a collaboration between the Little Traverse Bay Bands (LTBB) of Odawa Indians and Harbor Springs Public Schools, began in September 2007—the beginning of the current school year.

According to officials from the Michigan Department of Education, no other public school system in the state is currently offering a “Native American” language course for credit toward graduation.

January 14, 2008

Umatilla, Walla Walla, and Nez Perce

Language of the elders

Preserving the sounds and identity of their American Indian cultureBeginning in 1996, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation adopted an ambitious language program to preserve the old tongues from becoming extinct.

Each weekday, a small selection of tribal elders representing all three languages gathers informally to socialize and help one another re-extract the old words and phrases from their memories. While the group started with about nine elders, two have since died.

With the help of descriptive linguist Noel Rude, Ph.D., the tribes have begun to amass a collection of recorded and phonetically written texts of the native dialects, transcribed interviews with the present tribal elders. From those, Rude has continued to expand the dictionaries and figure out the language grammars.

While that work continues, the tribes have begun to build curriculum to teach the languages, now foreign, to the newest generation.

January 12, 2008

Hymns in Native languages

A place to call home

Indigenous church raising funds to finish siteThe tune is familiar, but the words are different.

Thirty members of the Lawrence Indian United Methodist Church are singing “Amazing Grace,” using a hymn book that has the words in Kiowa.

The congregation just got done singing hymns in Cherokee and Creek—to represent the tribes of those who are filling the pews this Sunday.

“Native Americans,” member John Judd says, “like to worship with other Native Americans.”

January 08, 2008

Last three Oneida speakers

Tribe's matriarchs speak to nation's past

3 Oneida elders know the language of whispers and are helping to keep it from dying outHinton is one of three remaining elders who speak this vivid tongue, surviving matriarchs from the last generation to communicate in Oneida. Most members of the Wisconsin tribe today know basic vocabulary but can't use it in conversations.

In a final push to revive their language, the Oneida people are using a federal grant to put digital recordings of the elders online and to provide full-time jobs for eight people to learn to speak the language.

January 06, 2008

Software for learning Navajo

Saving a language, preserving a cultureManavi is part of a team of linguists, editors and native speakers launching a year-long project to develop the first Navajo language learning system accessible to anyone with a computer.

The software will be owned by the Cornville, Ariz.—based organization Navajo Language Renaissance, and will be used to supplement Navajo language classes on and off the reservation. It will not be part of Rosetta Stone's commercial product line.