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American In~ians • Alaska Natives • Native Hawaiians
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1661-63.LEADERSHIP Speaking of Tongues What's Lost When We Lose a Language? by Deborah Coffin The first romp/ete bible. and written in the Warnpanoag (W6panaak) language (seep. pttnted in America. including both Old and New Testaments. 56) .
Children of immigrants often voluntarily give up the language of their parents in a desire to assimilate..u .eduJ~aHdi Ihe American Indian language Developm~nt Institute(AILDI) has provided effective traini. News stories. which inclLldes cultural preservation and revitali~ation. The eligibl~ areas and languages and fields of study must demonstrate a contribution to USnational security. but in the number of words making up the language as it gains a foothold in many countries. Obviously. The American Indian Language Development Institute . inadvertently strand. Arizona.wards. Knowledge of history is one thing that might be lost when a language is lost. and faulty worldviews. now it's English.nding is lost when we lose a language? It's a question that linguists have argued about for years. broadly defined. something has changed. not only in range. www. circa 1975.www. But it's not a simple thing to understand what that might me. to broaden their minds. Awards for International Study. Australian referendum granting personhood to the abotigines. offers fellowships of up to $30.org/boren_fellowship The Boren. Todav. funded by the National Security EdlJcation Program (NSEP).M:W. anthropologists and geneticists in a race against time to discover as much as they can about the knowledge and stories of these and other indigenous people and to document their languages before they are lost forever. population migration. But with a language dying out every two weeks. for students through the Morris K. public health and engi~eering issues.000 years. Dixon noticed startling coincidences between some of the landscape details described in aboriginal myths and scientific discoveries being made about the same landscapes dating back 10. Most of those are unwritten and are spoken only by a handful of elderly people. ~ www. including such areas as environmental degradation. television programs. only eight years after the.borena. as well as private foundations. A four-week residential summer program atthe University of Arizona in Tucson.its primary mission ha~ been to advocate indigenous language right~ and to ensure linguistic and cultural diversity.000 to US graduate students who want to add language 5tudy or proficiency as a component of their graduate education. and because no one is expecting to hear much from Fellowships.watsonfellowship. might be one of the best guarantees the human species has to ensure continuity.ram ~. Ud~ll Nativ€ American Congressional lnternsbip or Scholarship Program. These scholarships are sponsored by the US Department of State. Morris K. German used to be the language of science.ng of Native American langllage educators.iie. Both programs seek future leaders from among Native American and Alaska Native students in ?everal categories including those who have demonstrated commitment to careers related to tribal public policy. Since th€ establishment of AILDI. The·Benjamin A_Gilman Scholarship. disease. recent college graduate from North Carolina. practitioners and researchers from across the US.org The Bt. Only a little over 40 years ago.000 funding for a post-gri1duate international independent ?tudy year ilnd is available to faculty-nominated students at select schools. The languages of Australia and the Americas are among those disappearing the fastest. young. those same governments.a. fund linguistic experts.org The Watson fellowship provides $25. there's urgency to the question.and four-y@arcollegesand universities. The Watson Fellowsh'ip ~ www.field.In (ongressionallnternship or ScholarShip Prog. There are countless reasons why languages change and why they di~ out and it's been happening since the beginning of time. for one thing. What other sorts of knowledge passed down through generations have yet to be discovered? And what if the different languages in the world represent different ways of seeing and so represent different ways of responding to the world? Cultures over time have risen and fallen in response to changes in climate. natural catastrophes. Udall Native Americ. enlarge their perspective. Half the world's languages have been lost OVer the past 500 years. This prcqramis committed to encouraging pa rtkipation in study abroad by those who have been traditionally underrepresented. half of the world's languages are no longer spoken by children. painful boils.udalLgov Internships and scholarship of up to $5. Different Worlds Encounters with other cultures are said to change people. Linguistic diversity. red-headed and very sunburned..an unless you've experienced it. offers six credit hours atthe graduate and underqraduate level that can be applkable toward tSL and other state endorsements or any other university program.njamin A. he's in the desert where a watering hole means a damp spot scarcely distinguishable from any other patch of dirt for hundreds of miles around..crg 53 . guaranteeing their eventual extinction. and various parts oHhe world. Currently. like plant and animal diversity. Scholarships and Other Opportunities There are a number of opportunities for both graduate students and undergraduate students who think they mo)' be interested in studying linguistics or who may want to explore language and wllUm/studies to /Jroaden theirweer and academic options within another STEM.000 are available. It's gained technical terms. www. aborigines were categorized as flora and fauna in the Australian govern" merit's census. The English language is growing..lrldividLJa)s studying linguistics and interested in language documentation might lind their ilPplicdtion at the top of the pile-so far no one has ever applied in that field. Hostile cultural disruptions like those experienced by the Australian aborigines and Native Americans are one reason. and are administered by the Instituteof lnternational £d ucation.Canada.W hat besides underst. Worms have entered his skin creating itchy. ed in the Australian outback for some eight months with little more than a broken down Land Rover to remind him of anything remotely familiar. Winds of Cimnge • Spring 2010 • wocrnag. Gilman Scholarship provldes awards for undergraduate study abroad and is open to students receiving federal Pell Grilnts at both two. The Boren Awards for International Study . SOl!th America. So let's go back to Australia. Imagine yourself in the shoes of a tall. Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs. What's different now is the rate of that loss. Australian lingulst R. books both popular and scholarly report the losses as they mount.arizona.
Her research.What we have learned is that people who speak different Ian" guages do indeed think differently and that even flukes of grammar can profoundly affect how we see the world. the way Hopi treat the concept of time. "1 keeped my hand in my pocket. However. among a group of aboriginal people called the Warlpiri who still lived as they had for thousands of years. which awards $25. he unexpectedly found himself with a broken Land Rover deep in the outback. independent curator. that language shapes thought to a degree or that it organizes how we actually see the WOrld. or in a foreign country and it must be something that would normally be dificult to obtain a grant to implement. The project must take place overseas." he wrote. theoretical linguists argued about his ideas. had a huge impact on the field in his short life while also working as a fire insurance inspector." Something like that. visit t http://news." an irregular form of the past tense in English. That's pretty much what happened to an American photographer. Lera Boroditsky. Theorists following the universalist paradigm disagreed with the hypothesis.html Language OlscDverie. he must be blind. you know. were able to find water in the inhospitable desert and had an uncanny ability to see things in the landscape that to the young man were completely invisible. FIe notices that they refer to some of the older men by the same name. seeks to enhance their capacity for resourcefulness." Languages Learned and Languages Lost Almost without exception. It was kind of embarrassing. structure that speakers internalize and of which they are mostly unaware. as a result of his time in the desert among the Warlpiri. Todav. an English language speaker and linguist who died in 1941 at the age of 44. "the idea that language might shape thought was considered at best untestable and mare often simply \~Tong_Research in my labs at Stanford University and MIT has helped reopen this question . The young child's mistake is actually an indication that the rules of the language have been internalized. So much for impressing anyone with his grade point average. the word is often used to describe someone with a facility for languages. Then it dawns on him that those old men called Waringa Marlaha actually seem to be senile. children learn to speak the language of their parents or caregivers with incredible fluency before the age of five. Earlv in his travels. So that's when they assigned a little kid to sort of help me around so 1 wouldn't step in the fire or sOfnethl'ng." 1he Watson Fellowship is a program designed to offer students a POSt" graduate "wanderjahr" or wandering year.nsf. Saying. assistant professor of psychology. call him something that sounds to his ear like Waringa Mar1aha." She studies the building blocks of language acquisition in infants. for example.000 to graduating seniors. They hunted kangaroo with boomerangs. Linguistics is a broad term that refers to the scientific study of language.gov/discoveries/disuumm. no one is looking for him. filmmaker and writer who unexpectedly spent some eight months among the Warlpiri people some 35 years ago." for example. suggests that even something as fundamental as spatial concepts may be Influenced by the language One speaks. "They could recognize each other's footprints. imagination. For several decades after his work appeared. different ways of world-making (the Whorfian hypothesis). The fellowship today. there is renewed interest in th~ idea. openness. she says. and leadership and to foster their humane and effective participation in the world community.. he became a big believer in a theory about language known as the Whorfian hypothesis: generally." instead of "kept.him for a year." for a time (and still in some circles)' they were discredited. They looked at each other as if to say. visit: www. he figures it means "old one" or "wise one. The projects are quite wide ranging" including anything from studying Philippine nose flutes to interviewing Holocaust survivors. All languages have a. Pr'E~viO[i5lyhought extinct. so for a few months at the beginning. Linguistlc Relativism Benjamin Lee Whorf. Young linguists receive funding and awards from the National Science Foundation for research like Marianella Casasola's "documenting the connections between language input and human thought processes. A 22"yun-old at the time. which came to be called "linguistic relativity. "All observers are not led by the same physical evidence to the same picture of the universe. His companions. naturally." he recalls.jsp?cntnjd=108161 &org =NSF 54 Wind5 of Change • Spring 2010 • WQcmagorg . His ideas sparked the imagination of scholars and authors and led. insisting that the most important aspects of language and cognition are universal. is not the kind of mistake a young native speaker of English would make. some of whom have septums pierced with bones. He learned the Hopi language and became fascinated by what he perceived to be fundamental differences in. causing some students Resourt~s Video To listen to the last speaker of an Australian abcrlqinallanquaqe. Word order is another aspect of language that native speakers understand but mav not notice (hat they are follOWing ru"les of speech.com'/news12007l09/070918-australia-video. You can hear a young child who speaks English make mistakes that demonstrate an awareness of these rules. In general discourse. to the notion that the variety of languages might correspond to entirely different ways of seeing.nationalgeographic. "My pocket my hand keeped 1. wow.s For morel ntcrrnatlon on language discoveries. "1 could see nothing. but speakers of other languages who learn to speak Eugltsh often make word-order mistakes. The young man who found himself in the outback of Australia with the desert tribe participated in a cultural exchange beyond any thing the Watson Fellowship had in mind. his sojourn was funded by a Watson Fellowship he'd been awarded to spend a year after graduation hom college photographing landscapes in Australia. neuroscience and symbolic systems at Stanford University writes.
she says. who was still an undergraduate at the time and she says their friendship helped her in her decision to commit to the discipline as well. ~ ~ 12 0 >.000 speakers leet as of 2005. though man)' Native American languages have been among those that are in the greatest danger of being lost. Today. BEC reporter Alastar Lawson announced on February 4 of this vear that the last speaker' of one of the world's oldest languages." Unlike the situation overseas. language workers within their community. who died in 2001. Back in the 1970s. through the leadership of some extraordinary Native American linguists. He also changed the field of linguistics through his commitment to training native speakers of endangered languages in the science of linguistics.who might have a facility for the discipline to overlook it. meaning and context. Mac/vrthur Foundation "genius" grant award winner and Tucson poet laureate. Zepeda learned English only when she entered school." The reason._ . had no one to speak to in her native language. a woman who lived on the Andaman Islands off the coast of India.' She was an undergraduate student at the University of Arizona when Ken Hale came there to help create that university's linguistics department.. Zepeda notes. the changes in a language over time. every two' weeks. '1:5 -c > z ::0 F w :JC 9 « 0 >'" '" i:< ::0 0 u . Two of the women in the program. In the months he was lost in the desert. subdisciplines. as well as documentation of languages that are considered endangered. a language is lost. on average. "ranks among the most populous of the native Australian languages." she says. This loss is being repeated around the world where half of the 6-7. he explains.. Hale. For 30 years. "I never was at all fluent. depends on who you're talking to. Today. He's the one. .000 languages spoken today are expected to 'become extinct over the next 50 years. the way languages are learned. became close to Zepeda. "One of their sources of funding was a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the grant was to support Native American graduate students to go into theoretical linguistics. Zepeda directs the American Indian Language Documentation Institute (AILDI). linguistics is a field with many. just basically being on their own in developing their support [Within their tribes and from their tribal leaders] slowly. tribal people here. A Genius Grant for Linguistic Leadership One of the oldest and best known of the programs in the country training Native Americans in the skills to document their own languages was launched in the late 1970s and is directed by Ofelia Zepeda." "Populous" for an endangered language like Warlpiri means 3. the young American says. The tribe is divided into clans. a Hopi and a Navajo. So when she came across a couple of books in her native O'odham published by the University of Arizona Press at about the time she started her undergraduate studies there. 8 0 Ofelia Zepeda directs the American Indian Language Documentation Institute (AIW/) at the University of Arizona. reclaim and document their own languages. each responsible for certain pieces of knowledge. the way it is processed in the brain. to have role models pursuing graduate studies focusing on their' native languages. there were few to no Native Americans pursuing degrees in linguistics. Kinship structure is embedded in the language. lative American students often already speak two Ian· guages and there are great academic careers in linguistics looking for just such people. Warlpiri today. Tohono O'odham. something he never really understood until much later. he discovered in hindsight. One American who did know something about the Warlpiri back then was' the legendary linguist and polyglot Ken Hale who began compiling a comprehensive dictionary of the language in the 1970s. While the ability to learn languages is very helpful and often an academic requirement. he says. "Most of the language work that I've seen across the United States is really bottom up. according to UCLA's Language Materials Project.(lrg Winds of Change 55 . Bo. a cadre of Native American educators and activists are working within their tribes to revitalize. She was inspired. often interrelated. 0. She sought out an anthropology professor who had worked on the O'odham Reservation and asked him to teach her to read and write in her own language. from individual teachers. where outsiders go in and document a language. who met Ken Hale as an undergraduate. I never was correct either. its sounds. its structures. even those with not much more than an eighth • Spring 2010 • WQcmag. Regents professor of linguistics.. had died. she says she was stunned to realize she couldn't read them. John D~ and Catherine T. she says. who introduced her to Hale during his tenure at the university Native language documentation and revitalization projects have become a grassroots phenomenon.. is credited with spearheading the study and documentation of Warlpiri and many ative American languages.! "'J. The word for an object. Boa Sr. Linguistics focuses on the structure of language.
Then. including her young daughter. California. Iinguists struggle to figure out how Wampanoag may have sounded when working from the written texts. the new evidence supports the Single ancestral population theory. there were other documents to work from as well. But because the language was set down in writing so long ago. oh. land bridge in the Bering Strait. We've been promoting this for a long time. Zepeda says that ill addition to federal funding. have been seeking the skills made available by programs like AILDl. the fanner a linguistics professor at Swarthmore College and the latter director of Oregon's Living Tongues Institute. It was the first one printed in America." With so much funding Out there right now. "It's hard to know what the peepie actually feel about what's happening with their language once they go through trying to bring it back. "They can do some very significant work. "It's a tremendous effort to want to take something like that on." she explains. With the help and sup" port of others in her tribe. it is a web of history that binds all the people who once spoke the language. "Theoreticallv. Mashpee. Otherwise. in 1661-63. referring in part to a bible." Aristar's comments refer to recent scientific evidence supporting the theory that the ancestors of Native Americans emigrated to the New World in a single migration across OJ." Though it's hard to know how long it will last given the current economic climate.s a fredwlCc wriler v. "Of course. to speak and pray in the ian" guage Zepeda says she's been following the progress of the Wampanoag language reclamation project with interest. And their history. she has been teaching people. that's the way they see it" FOr the Wampanoag language pro} cct. where they lived. for lack of a better word.i. train in the Linguistics for Native American Communities Course at AILDI. Wampanoag is the Anglicized spelling of Wopanaak Jessie Little Doe Baird. a group of geneticists studying a unique variant or allele called the "9-repeat allele" claim that they "have put the matter to test: Virtually without exception. you know. when scholars bring up the land-bridge discussion. Because we know where we came from and the bridge is not our story. "A language is not just words and grammar. all the things they did together. 56 Winds of Change • Spring 2010 • wocmag. worked at MIT with Ken Hale.'ho lives in Berkeley. Anytime this comes up. then you sort of throw out the window all the different tribes' origin beliefs. "I know for O'odham when there are certain practices that haven't been done for a long time and somebody decides. as they travel to some of the remotest corners of the earth iii what seems like a race against time to document endangered languages. Last year. let's bring it back. as they become more aware of this situation." Language studies could be used to flesh out that story. become more involved or want to become more involved." explains Anthony Aristar in an interview with Science Daily. But as Zepeda had trouble reading O'odharn though she spoke ir. "vVhich we think is a healthy thing. "private foundations have become interested ill issues or language and linguistlc diversity and have put funds forward. it's going to be hol- low." In fact. a Massachusettsarea language that had not been spoken for ISO years. Sounds Not Heard in 1\1. Zepeda states. They can put this together with genetic and archeological data. there are lots of endangered language projects but no central clearinghouse to manage them. they're really alone. they can reconstruct how we are all related.They had so much documentation to work with.org . who met Zepeda and attended the AILDl summer program as a student. linguistics and language documentation have even become the basis for public entertainment." Zepeda comments. written in the language of the Wampanoag people of Massachusetts and ironically destined to aid in extinguishing it as a spoken language. there's always a debate.' So if you bring it back. Ar istar is a professor frorn Eastern Michigan University's Institute for Language Information and Technology -ir linguists have enough left of a language. such as deeds and other correspondence. how they moved from one place to another and how they interacted with others. PBS documentaries such as The LingUists follow David Harrison and Greg Anderson.Two Oine students." notes Ofelia Zepeda.10 Lifetimes One of the more amazing stories of Native American language reclamation involves Wampanoag. and tell us where our ancestors were. A comprehensive online database is in the works to help direct funding to the most seriously endangered languages. a verv valuable one. grade education." -:Deborah Coffin i. Benny Hale and Fern Seaton. 1 think tribal people. the old people will say things like 'it's lost its. all the knowledge they imparted to their descendants. she says they are fortunate to have related languages nearby as well as practices they're incorporaring. power.
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