What Was, And What Is: Native American Languages In The US

Categories : Culture , Languages

Native American Language

It’s probably not a easy work and impossible to measure the true magnitude of native American languages and indigenous culture that have been lost on this continent, but there  are many organizations have tried.

For instance, Director of the living tongue “Greg Anderson”,in 2009 told National Geographic that only 5 language families exist in Oregon today — with most of them are comprising only a handful of the speakers — in Oregon 200 years ago compared to the 14 language families. That’s more than whole Europe has combined, he added.

“With loss of the languages in the area, all kinds of wonderful things that speakers used to do with their languages have also vanished, for example, some of greatest works of the oral literature ever produced — the multilingual performances with the different characters speaking the different kind of languages that was found in the Pacific Northwest,” Anderson said.

“The extremely elaborate dances that accompanied the oral tradition are all the time also gone. Large amounts of the local knowledge about the Flora and fauna, ecosystem management, spiritual values, local place names, and so on are all altered, submerged or gone because the original languages that expressed all these concepts are no longer well understood or gone.”

The Columbia Encyclopedia cites a widely accepted estimate that at the time of Christopher Columbus’ arrival, approximately there were more than fifteen million speakers of over 2 thousand indigenous languages spoken across the entire Western Hemisphere.

According to the institute of Indigenous Language, there were once more than three hundred indigenous languages spoken by U.S.A population in the United States, and approximately 175 languages remain today. And they also estimate that without the restoration efforts, there will be at most twenty languages still spoken in 2050. 

With all of that said, for preserving native American languages and the movement to reclaim languages has been underway since the Civil Rights era.

But First: How Did We Get To This Point?

What’s Left Today 

The Preservation Movement x

The effect of European settlement was a damaging one to the Native American culture and language, to put it very balmy. By middle of the 20th century, severely two thirds of the all indigenous American languages (that’s counting south, Central and North America) were on the brink of extinction or had died out. North of the Mexico, it’s estimate that severely 50% of the Native American languages have become dead, and of those still in use and spoken, and more than 50% are spoken by fewer than one thousand people. 

When Europeans first time started to colonize the Americas in earnest, they brought different king of diseases with them like measles and smallpox, as well as a settlement strategy that involved the fighting and the killing off the Native Americans for their land. Their horses and guns gave them a big advantage as did their immunity. Even the spread of the disease, which is considered to have resulted in 75% to 90% of all Indian deaths, and it was not always an accident. Some settlers intentionally gave the blankets to the natives that were infected patients and came from quarantined areas.

After hundreds of years of wars, battles, and atrocities, including the systematic, state-sanctioned genocide of between nine thousand and sixteen thousand California Indians from 1846 to 1873, the situation of the domestic American population was a shell of its former self. It’s evaluated that between 1492 and 1900, the number of domestic peoples living in the U.S. territory decreased  from ten million to less than 300,000.

To be sure, the destruction of the various domestic languages was more than just a mathematical consequence. Indigenous Americans had been systematically removed from their forefathers lands over the years as the result of various treaties or force. They crowded onto limited parcels of land known as reservations increasingly remote, and started in1860s and lasting through the early 20th century, they were also subjected to a program of the forced cultural assimilation, carried out through the government mandated boarding institutes and schools. And at these institutes and schools, the child were forbidden from wearing their tribal clothing, speaking their tribal languages and observing native religions.

despite of everything, today approximately there are still 150 Native North American languages spoken in the United States by more than “350,000” people, according to the American Community Survey data collected from 2009 to 2013. That’s out of 350 total spoken languages within country.

Though many of these languages are on the edge of dying out, some are holding on. For instance the Navajo language is the most spoken Native American language today, with nearly 170,000 speakers in America. Yupik is the next most common, at 19750, which is mostly spoken in Alaska.

However, today the majority of Native Americans speak only English language. Of the roughly 2.7 million Alaska and American Indians Natives counted by the 2016 census, 73% of those aged five years or older spoke only English. That’s down slightly from 73.8% in 2005, though in 2010, that number had dipped to 72.2%.

Via the U.S. Census Bureau

These days, the initiatives and programs aimed at preserving the Native American languages are numerous, but this is the end result of an arduous and slow journey that involved the various kind of legal milestones and the funding victories that worked to restore the sovereignty to tribes.

The challenges are multiple. For one, these are really different languages we’re talking about. Opposite to common error, Native American languages didn’t grow from a single proto-language as the Indo-European family did. In addition, there are many native languages relied on the oral tradition, and there are many written texts were destroyed, so there are small number of existing records from before 1850.

Still, many groups are fearless. One for instance, Parent Languages of the Americas is a nonprofit “dedicated to the survival of the Parent American languages, Especially through the use of the Internet technology.” Its website features a comprehensive collection of online resources and materials about the Native American culture and language.

A program of Living Tongues “Enduring voices”, has done things like provide the appropriate technology and training to the Winnemem Wintu, so they could compile the audio and video recordings in their language.

Stony Brook University, In 2010, together with 2 of the Indian nations, launched a joint project to revive Unkechaug and Shinnecock, 2 lost languages of the Long Island’s tribes that hadn’t been spoken in nearly 200 years. there was a vocabualry list among their tools that Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1791.

In 2009 an article in The Guardian depicted a number of communities that were actively working to revive their languages, such as in Wyoming the Arapaho tribe, which set up a school dedicated to teach their children in their parent language. Across the Great Lakes region tribal collage were offering courses in Oklahoma languages, and in Indian, the Comanche Language and Cultural Preservation Committee developed language courses and a dictionary, as well as recordings of the Comanche song.

The odds of the restoring many of these languages to their former glory are certainly Unfavorable. But aspiration can be found in the smallest things: like CLCPC leader Ronald Red Elk’s account of a young Comanche girl whose first word was “pia,” but not “mother,” the native equivalent.

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