Native Languages of the Americas
September 2, 2004 2:31 PM   Subscribe

Native Languages of the Americas: Preserving and promoting American Indian languages.
posted by Ufez Jones (13 comments total)
OMG - I totally know the person who does that site. I just told her she's famous!
posted by Karmakaze at 3:35 PM on September 2, 2004

This is a great resource. I'm very impressed by the links to culture/history/religion resources organized by tribe. Well done.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 4:28 PM on September 2, 2004

They've still got a way to go in providing information about all the languages - they really only have info on the Algonquian Language Family and Cherokee. It looks like it will be impressive when they're done, though.
posted by pitchblende at 4:28 PM on September 2, 2004

I spent a while this summer talking to a young Blackfeet man. Much of what we discussed was the effort by Montana Universities to stave off the death of Native languages and culture.

This post to Metafilter makes me cry, with joy. Thank you.
posted by Wulfgar! at 5:27 PM on September 2, 2004

And for the record, Karmakaze, you might want to tell your friend that they prefer "Blackfeet" as opposed to Blackfoot. Kind of like that LOTR Proudfoot/feet thing ... you understand, I'm sure.
posted by Wulfgar! at 5:31 PM on September 2, 2004

I just got my girlfriend a dictaphone so that she and her mom can record and preserve their language. It's good to know that my gf and her mom aren't the only ones trying to keep their language alive.

I wonder, though, how much efforts to preserve some of the languages in a written form will change the languages in the process. So many of them don't have a written form and use sounds that are difficult to manipulate into the mold of the alphabet. Surely it is better than the alternative of extinction, though.
posted by kamikazegopher at 5:39 PM on September 2, 2004

The Technology-Enhanced Language Revitalization website.

"The goal of Technology-Enhanced Language Revitalization (At the University of Arizona) is to establish an informational resource for community language specialists, advocates, and linguists centering on the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in language revitalization."
posted by gudrun at 7:02 PM on September 2, 2004

Keepers of a Lost Language (painless reg required)
This was a great article that appeared recently in Mother Jones Magazine. The thing that struck me was how preserving languages could be so controversial among the community affected.
The question of how many fluent Maidu speakers remain is a touchy one, not least because many Maidu resent the notion that a white ethnolinguist may be the keeper of the linguistic flame. A lot depends on how you define it-does someone speak Maidu if they know a lot of words or phrases? If they're capable of putting together new sentences? If they can think in Maidu? A fluent speaker, according to Shipley, can speak unself-consciously. By that definition, only a handful of fluent speakers remains. But even if you count people whose grasp of the language is limited to words and phrases, there are no more than a dozen speakers left, most of whom are in their 80s.
posted by euphorb at 7:44 PM on September 2, 2004

kamikazegopher: There is something called IPA or International Phonetic Alphabet, which makes it its business to be able to represent any sound that can be spoken. This works best for purposes of recording actual linguistic data. Also, it's standard practice to adapt the English orthography to the language in question; often this is or has been done quite systematically, and isn't as hard as you might think. This is usually what the native speakers use as a writing system.

That said, about half (or more) of what needs to be preserved (syntax and semantics) is independent of how accurate the phonetic representation is. Of course, these are much harder to preserve, since the first requires much more data than the phonetics/phonology, and the second is so complex and ill-understood outside of english/german that we basically have no way to preserve it beyond having semanticists write down a few native speaker judgements about some topic the semanticist is working on. Any detail of the semantics that hasn't been specifically queried (and most important judgments for some reason turn out to be quite subtle) disappears into the void.
posted by advil at 9:24 PM on September 2, 2004

Followup. Here is a page with a full IPA chart on it:

A given language will use only a small number of the sounds on that chart, and there are very very few sounds that aren't recordable using IPA. Of course, for raw phonetic data, nothing beats a high-quality recording.
posted by advil at 9:28 PM on September 2, 2004

Thanks, advil. Very interesting. I'm probably basing much of the opinion that I stated earlier on my own experience in trying to pronounce some of the phonetics of my gf's language. While I normally have an affinity for languages and pronunciation, I have a really difficult time making some of the sounds required, much to my girlfriend's amusement ;-)
posted by kamikazegopher at 10:11 PM on September 2, 2004

Looks great! One question, if non-native Americans speak English, why do native Americans speak American-Indian languages rather than American languages?
posted by DrDoberman at 7:16 AM on September 3, 2004

There are no "native" Americans.
We are all descendants of immigrants.
Or, anyone who is born in the USA is a "native".
Your choice: A or B.
posted by davebarnes at 8:29 PM on September 3, 2004

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