What do we lose when a language ceases to be spoken?

Why should we care when a language goes dormant?

How does language serve as a vessel for cultural knowledge and traditions?

These were just some of the questions facing our TLAM class this week. In discussing the state of indigenous languages of America, we were faced with a grim reality of colonization manifested in the boarding school era. This period, we learned, severely hampered the transmission of language skills to subsequent generations of Native American people. Many elders were taught that their languages were not a source of pride, as it had been for generations, but a source of shame. As a result of the enduring trauma of this era many elders did not pass on their linguistic knowledge to their descendants, causing many languages to become dormant.

Luckily, we learned of many hopeful programs aimed at reversing this trend. Immersion schools, Master-Apprentice Programs and the Breath of Life movement are just some examples of concerned and motivated individuals reclaiming their heritage languages. Through the work of dedicated people, the class began to realize, significant gains in reversing this loss of cultural knowledge could begin.

In making an argument for the preservation of indigenous languages, guest speaker Sarah Lundquist was instrumental. Sarah presented Hoocąk as an example of a language with rich morphology and complex manners of expression, a language more than capable of encoding the deep cultural knowledge of the Hoocąk people. It is this incredible capability of expression that makes indigenous languages worth preserving. It is the author’s hope that, as a class, we have grown in appreciation of indigenous languages, and that we may now be more willing to lend a hand wherever possible to spread their use.

-Jeremy Biedny

Week 3: Indigenous Languages & Storytelling