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So that languages ​​do not die out

So that languages ​​do not die out

The extinction trend of languages and ​​tagalog to english translator in the United States continues. There is a process of cultural assimilation of immigrants, linguistic ties with their native countries are cut off after just a few generations.

Historically, this process was customary and even purposeful for many colonialists from Europe. However, things take a completely different turn when Native Americans themselves begin to lose their native language. They were born on this land, this is the citadel of their cultural and linguistic identity. When a language ceases to be spoken even in the territory of its origin, there is a threat of its extinction.

To counter this development, the Arizona State University Center for American Indian Education (CIE) is working in the Southwest Tribes. The aim of this activity is to document and revive the language and culture of indigenous peoples. The center collaborates, for example, with the Fort Mojave Indian Reservation, which is located along the Colorado River in three states: California (Needles), Arizona (Mojave Valley) and Nevada (Laughlin).

Natalie Diaz, coordinator of the Fort Mojave Language Recovery Program, has been recording and transcribing the Mojave language for three years now. In 2009, she approached the CIE, which sponsored the Mojave Language Summit at Arizona State University. Their joint work led to a grant from the National Science Foundation of the Center for Education for the American Indian and Fort Mojave to support the restoration of languages.

“Since there are very few native speakers left, our main focus at this stage was the documentation process,” says Diaz. “We are working hard to record as much material as possible on audio and video media.”

One of the directions of the program is the preservation of the “bird song” of the Mojave, which is traditionally performed on holidays. According to Teresa McCarthy, one of the leaders of the CIE, these songs are part of oral folk art, through which the values ​​of Mojave culture are transmitted to new generations and an understanding of how important it is.

Another task of the grant is to document and restore the song cycle, which began to be lost with the weakening of the role of the Mojave language. In addition to their cultural significance, these songs also contain unique aspects of the Mojave language itself.

“Bird songs are sung in the Mojave language, so during the documentation process we transcribe the Mojave in English so that we can write it all down,” says Larisa Warhol, a junior researcher at the CIE. “But they also contain special“ song words ”that are used only in these works. These words are from the Mojave language, but they are unique for each specific occasion for which the song is sung. ”

It is extremely important to have time to document these songs, because there is only one person left who is fluent in this art – 84-year-old Hubert McCord. A key figure in the recording of the songs was also 76-year-old Dolphina Yrigoyen, a native speaker of the Mojave language and one of the last hapuk, as the women who sang along with the main performer were called.

These two people are spearheading the song project, and it also employs 20 other Mojave elders who contribute experience and practice in performing such songs.

Singing has traditionally been considered a male activity, and as part of the program, a group of young men was organized to study with McCord. Among others, it included Tyrone Thomas Jr., McCord’s great-grandson, Jesse Alvarado (American actor. – Note. Per.) And Ruben Schaeffer.

However, the program managers have somewhat deviated from the standard training scheme for the sake of greater efficiency in transferring song experience to the younger generation. Historically, those who were supposed to learn songs originally spoke the Mojave language fluently. And the generation of modern singers needs not only to listen to the song – in order to sing it, they need to understand the context, that is, a preliminary analysis of the song and the language itself is necessary.

“They listen to the song, they sing it, but we added a third aspect: they also have to be able to interpret it,” says Diaz. – On what occasion did you sing this song? What do specific words and phrases mean? ”

Departure from traditional teaching methods is a necessity, not a feature of the Western education system. There are so few native speakers left who are fluent in the language, and Mojave elders, realizing the importance of preserving their language by every means possible, put aside their personal opposition to non-traditional language learning methods such as audio and video.

“We are fortunate that our elders are forward-thinking people,” Diaz explains. “Recording on audio and video media is very unusual for them, but they put the needs of the community and the problem of the survival of their native language above their own way of life. They understand better than we do what can be lost along with the language. ”

The wary attitude towards Western teaching methods is understandable. Some of the Mojave elders have had painful periods in their lives at public Indian boarding schools, set up as part of a Native American education program for European American standards. Schoolchildren were stripped of their cultural identity, dressed in a European manner, and punished for communicating in their native language.

“The only obvious goal of all these boarding schools was to instill in all students unfounded ideas about the inferiority of their mother tongue and cultural heritage and

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the superiority of the English language,” McCarthy complains.

“It is always difficult to accept a person who is not from our community, especially when it comes to such a sensitive topic as the struggle to preserve their native language. Our elders put their trust in scholars from the ASU team and welcomed them into our language community. This means that in these people we saw a great hard work and a respectful attitude towards us. In addition, the elders understand that they have less time to solve this problem, ”admits Diaz.

The program is not intended to bring the Mojave language into classrooms. It is designed to raise its significance, putting it on a par with English in the life of the tribe.

“We want young people to be able to write in this language, use it in SMS messages, Facebook posts,” says Diaz. – This language, his every word, phrase carry so much in themselves. It contains so many different values ​​and lessons that it is simply impossible to convey them using English. The main goal is not only to teach people to speak and think in this language, but also to learn to live in it. ”

Thus, in a sense, the restoration of the linguistic heritage is also an attempt to revive some aspects of the Mojave culture that have lost their force. This circumstance is reflected in the language and legends of the Mojave, in which the birds do not “sing”, but “cry”. According to legends, birds were once humans. And now they mourn the life they once had, just as the modern Mojave tribe mourn for lost traditions. But they are working to get them back.

“This is directly related to what we are trying to preserve and restore – the identity of our Mojave tribe,” says Diaz. “Knowledge of the language is the very essence of the concept of” being mojave “, since it is language that can explain our way of thinking and our feelings, it contains all the experience and everything experienced by the Mojave tribe.”

Making such an ideological shift is not an easy task. McCarthy sees language restoration as part of a healing process that involves learning in communities about the history of oppression of their tribes, resulting in the need to restore their native language.

“While allies at ASU are helping to meet the challenge, the bulk of this difficult task rests with the communities, which is exactly what Fort Mojave does,” McCarthy adds. “People are making great efforts to bring back or restore their native language. And this is not a matter of weeks, months or even years. The process stretches over generations. ”

Participants in the Fort Mojave program and CIE scientists are currently working to establish a fund to receive a larger grant from the USSF for the Endangered Languages ​​Documentation Program.