August 06, 2011

Resurrecting Tunica

La.'s Tunica tribe revives its lost languageThere were a few old, wax phonograph cylinders with the language recorded on them, but years of wear and background noise made the chants impossible to decipher, said Kathleen Bell, a graduate student who worked on the project.

"The quality was terrible, and the drums more or less drowned out the chants," she said.

The researchers were able to refer to past work by academics. One published a short grammar of the language in 1921, and a linguistics scholar in 1939 worked with the last tribal member known to be conversant in the Tunica language.

Mary Haas, a linguist who worked with a number of Native American languages, worked with a tribal elder, writing down stories and bits of Tunica history. She used the International Phonetic Alphabet, marking stress and some intonations, but not enough to give Maxwell's group the rhythm, timing and the way the language was phrased, Bell said.

The modern scholars used Haas' material to create glossaries and a "more modern take on grammatical properties of the language," Maxwell said.
Below:  "In this Aug. 5, 2011 photo, Brenda Lintinger poses with one of her children's books she wrote in the Tunica Indian language, in her home in Metairie, La. Lintinger decided to do more than learn a new language." (Gerald Herbert)

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