once as diverse as the people who spoke them are falling silent
around the world.
our own state, indigenous languages like that of the Mojave tribe
are considered endangered, and linguists at ASU are working to save
Center for Indian Education at ASU, created 51 years ago as a research,
teaching and outreach effort, works with the Navajo Nation, Gila
River Indian Community and others in the state.
are about 175 to 200 Native American languages still spoken in the
United States said Teresa McCarty, the co-director for the Center
for Indian Education at ASU.
those languages, only about 20 are still being passed down to children
as first languages. Most of these Native American languages are
spoken by individuals beyond childbearing age many of them
elders over age 65 putting the languages at risk of being
a language becomes silent, unless it has been well documented through
video and audio recordings, it is extremely difficult for that language
to be spoken in its original form.
trying to learn a language you have never heard spoken," she said.
possible for the language to be learned again using texts, like
bibles, originally written in or translated into the Native American
language, she said. This is why community-based programs across
the U.S. are working hard to continue to speak the language.
the center was created, one of its primary goals was to prepare
teachers to be more sensitive to cultural differences between Native
American children and non-Native teachers.
the years, the center has worked with many different schools in
different Native communities to help promote retention of indigenous
languages and cultures.
a worldwide movement and the center is an important node," McCarty
Center for Indian Education has facilitated workshops for both learners
and speakers at the Fort Mojave Indian Reservation in northwest
Arizona, California and Nevada.
Mojave has about 22 elders who speak some Mojave, McCarty said.
Diaz, a linguist and the program coordinator for Fort Mojave's language
recovery program, said the tribe does not differentiate between
fluent speakers and partially fluent speakers because they want
as many people as possible to be involved in the process.
tribal council for Fort Mojave is working in partnership with the
center on its language preservation and revitalization efforts.
"It's a testament to how badly people want to do it," Diaz said.
is working to preserve the language by recording conversations among
the elders, learning the language herself and working with elders
to teach it in conversational and cultural settings, like making
pottery or cooking.
February, 12 core learners at Fort Mojave have rallied around the
elders to help build the program. These 12 are committed to learning
the language so they can pass it on to their own kids and other
people in the community, and they will help teach in the tribal
are many other community-based efforts similar to Fort Mojave, but
it's one of the youngest in Arizona. Navajo language revitalization
efforts began in a Window Rock public school in 1986 on the Navajo
reservation. At Fort Mojave, the learners are adults around age
30, Diaz said.
take part in classes every week with elders where they practice
conversational Mojave in a group setting. They also have practice
breakout sessions on their own.
these sessions, they discuss dialectical differences in the speech
of different elders, since Mojave is spoken differently at Fort
Mojave than in Parker.
Scerato, a staff member at the cultural preservation project at
Fort Mojave, said there were probably always differences between
the Northern, Central and Southern Mojave tribes but they became
more after the Southern Mojave were forcefully relocated by the
federal government in 1865 to a reservation in Parker. Scerato tries
to help everyone understand that the differences in the dialect
are not errors.
learners also practice short phrases like "Mat mithaava" and "Mat
ithaamotm." These phrases mean "Are you angry?" and "I am not angry."
learners said there have been many benefits to learning the language,
but an unanticipated effect was the intergenerational relationships
and understanding learning the language has built.
elders] were afraid to speak it in front of people as much as I
was," said April Garcia, an education administrator for the Mojave
tribal government and learner.
said learning the language helps her build a stronger relationship
with the elders in her community and gives her a better sense of
strengthens who I am as a Mojave woman, as a friend, as a sister
and as a member of the community," Garcia said.
Diaz said one of the major goals of the program is to bring Native
songs and language into the Fort Mojave day care. Introducing Native
language into schools near reservations is one of the keys to bringing
a language back.
and her team are currently working to introduce simple songs and
lullabies to the tribal day care program.
iivi, iimemipuk iime kwatharap
" is the beginning of the modified
version of "Head, Shoulders Knees and Toes" song the group will
it takes many years, other languages like Hawaiian were brought
back from the brink of extinction, beginning with "language nests,"
"language nests" are family-run preschools designated for learning
the Native language. In the preschools, only the Native language
is spoken, which McCarty described as language immersion.
are immersed in the language spoken by elders, learning it naturally
as children formerly did at home," she said.
Eunice Romero- Little, a professor of applied linguistics who works
with the Center for Indian Education, facilitates workshops to help
communities that want to promote their language.
are a few schools that have been able to use a bilingual enrichment
approach for language revitalization in Flagstaff and Window Rock
on the Navajo reservation, even though bilingual education has been
effectively banned by "English for the Children" legislation in
Arizona public schools, she said.
state law was passed in 2000 and states that reading, writing and
other subjects must be taught in English. Bilingual education is
allowed in schools in which 90 percent of the children already speak
are abiding by the same laws and they are accountable to the same
standards" as other schools, McCarty said.
voluntarily enroll their children in these schools because they
want their children to have the opportunity to learn their heritage
language and culture. Research, McCarty added, shows that students
in these schools perform as well as or better than their peers in
Mojave reservation is a long way from bilingual education, although
Diaz said the local schools are interested in implementing a program.
Susan Penfield, program director for the Documenting Endangered
Languages program at the National Science Foundation, said studying
endangered languages around the world helps linguists and scientists
understand how people in that culture think and how they live.
linguistic diversity we will never know the capabilities of the
human mind," Penfield said.
of Night: The Lost Creation Songs of the Mojave People
Listen to online. http://www.npr.org/programs/lnfsound/stories/000225.stories.html