Monday, January 05, 2004

Dáwkanaʔ ah Hasínay!

According to the Intertribal Wordpath Society, only about 25 people are native speakers of Caddo, the language I used in the headline to this entry. Dáwkanaʔ ah Hasínay! means "Speak Caddo!" which is something not too many people are doing these days.

Elizabeth Seay's new book, Searching for Lost City (or ᎦᏋᎯᏒᏣᏂᎥᏂᏳ ᎸᏅᏒ ᏝᎾᎦᎿ ᏟᏐᎱᎩ, to replicate the cover's mimicking of Cherokee syllabary) , dives into the efforts of the Intertribal Wordpath and other groups looking to preserve/promote/revive Native American languages. A journalist by trade, Seay's book is in the same vein as Helena Drysdale's Mother Tongues: Travels Through Tribal Europe and Mark Abley's Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages -- a writer interested in lesser-used languages, but not a linguist. Some may find fault with the weaving of travelogue and language information, but as a genre, I really like it.

Of course, being interested in a language and actually using it and contributing to its revival are very different things, as Seay notes. She does spend some time learning Cherokee, but the real problem isn't interesting her or me but in interesting children who have the chance to regain communities that use the language in everyday life. At one point, Seay encounters a pair of Mississippi Choctaw teens who speak the language at a Culture Shock Camp performance, but their status as Choctaw-speakers seemed to be something that excluded them from the broader community:
"It's really cool that you have your own language you can use to each other," I [Seay] said. They shrugged miserably. I was torturing them. ... Still, I went on: "Do other kids think it's cool?" They didn't even shrug this time. The fact they were standing by the refreshment table was probably a bad sign.
Actually, chapter about Culture Shock Camp is one of the more interesting ones. Instead of language classes (which can be effective in teaching people a language), they are weaving bits of Oklahoma Seminole into hip-hop, which can give the language a certain cachet among fans that could spread further into the youth culture creating a demand for learning the language. A similar thing is being done by Massilia Sound System to promote Occitan.

Of course, this is not to dis the efforts of the Kiwat Hasinay Foundation and other organizations that seek to preserve/promote/revive lesser-used languages -- the formal efforts to document and transmit the language are needed alongside the pop culture efforts to make the language more relevant to the everyday life of the people who could be using it are both necessary.

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