Message #63
From: AzTeC SW Archaeology SIG
To:   "'Matthias Giessler'" 

Date: Thu, 19 Feb 1998 
Subject: Tohono O'odham Language

[ AzTeC / SWA SASIG ] :

Endangered Languages Get Some Help 
By BRIGITTE GREENBERG  Associated Press Writer 
NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) -- Deep in interior Alaska, there are only three 
households where Kuskokwim is still spoken. Just two people in their 70s 
keep the Klamath language alive in Oregon. In northern Australia, about 
10 native speakers keep Jingulu alive. These are among the world's most 
endangered languages, tongues that have fallen victim to social and 
economic pressures that demand people learn more common languages such 
as English.  Linguists predict half of the approximately 6,000 languages 
spoken today will be extinct within the next century, and say at least 
100 are down to one native speaker. At Yale University, a modest effort 
is being made to counter the trend with a fund that helps researchers 
study and help resurrect dying languages, often by compiling 
dictionaries. The Endangered Language Fund, set up four years ago by 
linguist Douglas H. Whalen, is financing its first projects this year. 
Ten projects, including efforts to preserve Kuskokwim, Klamath and 
Jingulu, will each get $1,000. "A lot of communities have been forced in 
various ways to start abandoning their language. I think people often 
don't realize that there's cultural value in their language until it's 
too late," said Whalen. In some cases, languages can be threatened by 
governmental force, Whalen said. "In the United States, for example, the 
native American languages are the ones that were here first and for 
centuries there were deliberate attempts to get those languages to stop
using used," he said. More often, languages die because of the influence 
of more common languages such as Chinese, English or Swahili, a process 
aided by modern communications technology and easy transportation. 
Even with relatively few speakers, a language may survive if it is 
spoken as the main form of communication within an isolated community. 
Conversely, however, a language with thousands of speakers may be 
endangered if all of its speakers are more than 50 years old and it 
isn't used by the younger generation. That is what has happened to the 
Tohono O'odham language, an Indian tongue spoken by roughly 12,000 
people in southern Arizona and northern Mexico. While the eldest 
generation still speaks Tohono O'odham, many of their children refused 
to teach it to the next generation, deferring to English because they 
faced discrimination when they spoke their native language in government 
schools, said Ofelia Zepeda, a grant recipient. "Across the country, you 
have a generation of native speakers who were not allowed to speak their 
languages or who were punished for speaking them," said Zepeda, an 
associate professor of linguistics at the University of Arizona. 
Zepeda will use the grant money to help produce a comprehensive 
dictionary of Tohono O'odham. The value of a community's language can 
only be determined by the people themselves, said Kenneth Hale, 
professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 
"If members of the community recognize or have come to see the beauty 
and strength and complexity and value of their linguistic heritage, then 
they have a perfect right and in fact, a very strong moral right to 
maintain it," Hale said. "When you lose a language, it's like dropping a 
bomb on a museum."
Posted at 6:52 a.m. PDT Friday, May 1, 1998 
Cyber O'odham: ancient language goes on Net
BY BRENDA NORRELL Indian Country Today 
TUCSON, Ariz. -- In this world of heat and cactus, lizards and snakes,
summer rains and edible blossoms, the O'odham language is among the oldest living treasures. With advanced telecommunications, students at Pueblo High School in Tucson are learning O'odham and speaking it to fellow O'odham students in the Tohono O'odham tribal capital of Sells. Besides sharing the written form online, cameras and telephone lines provide the faces and sounds of a living language. These sounds have been spoken here for thousands of years. O'odham language teacher Rosita Whitehorse at Pueblo High School doesn't much care about the Internet one way or another. What she does care about is preserving her vanishing language. ``We are losing the language fast, and the culture and traditions,'' Whitehorse said. But teaching urban students to speak an ancient language is a struggle. Some call it ``Chiefy-talk.'' ``I tell them, `You can't do that to your people. You are disrespecting your own family,''' Whitehorse said. The texts for the high school language class, which satisfies a college-level language requirement, include O'odham linguist Ophelia Zepeda's ``A Papago Grammar.'' Zepeda, poet and linguistics professor at the University of Arizona, is on Whitehorse's e-mail list. Others on the list include the high school teacher's daughter, Marrietta, in Colo., and son, Rubin, across town studying anthropology at the university. ``This morning I wrote to Ophelia in the language and said, 'Good morning. How are you,?'' Whitehorse said. Spelling out ``Good day,'' Whitehorse says, ``Ske..g Tas.'' The final
`s' has a dot under it to signify a dull sound. Along with teaching
language, Whitehorse shares basketmaking demonstrations using desert yucca, beargrass and devil's claw. With local white and red clays, she shares her knowledge of the traditional pottery of the Tohono O'odham, which means ``desert people.'' But she also teaches her students to fight for their lives, education and land in Sonora, Mexico. The O'odham creation legend tells that within Sonora is their place of origin. ``They need to get educated so they can hold onto the land. I tell them, 'You have to go to school to save your people, to save your land. One day I will be six feet under.' ``O'odham language and history teach not only respect for fellow human beings, but hold the mysteries of life. ``It helps them to protect the snake, deer, owl and coyote,'' she said. Students who hear the language at home learn faster. She encourages teenagers to learn the language to communicate with their elders. ``You receive a little lesson from everyone you come in contact with,'' is her message. Trying to impress her students with the necessity of keeping the language alive, sometimes tears fall from her eyes. ``If the people lose their language, they will lose their identity. They will be in the mainstream, falling through the rocks,'' she said.

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