Saving Native Languages

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15 thoughts on “Saving Native Languages”

  1. Chokma, hello –
    I am a speaker of Chickasaw, an endangered American Indian language with approximately 100 living speakers. I teach a combined junior high and high school class at Byng, Oklahoma. It is a fully accredited world language course for the purposes of graduation. I use TPRS as my primary method of instruction. This blog and Ben’s materials have been immeasurably helpful in my struggle to figure out this TPRS thing. Here is a link to a story about the class:
    chokma’shki – thanks
    Joshua D Hinson

  2. Dear Joshua,
    There is a Ning dedicated to the Alaska language network, which is made up mostly of teachers from the Alaskan rural school districts (off road).
    If you’d like to find out more, I can put you in touch with the person who runs the network. I know they have teachers as far as Australia joining in on their discussions.
    My address:

  3. “His (Hinson’s) passion for learning and teaching the Chickasaw language is based on his conviction that culture and language are inextricably linked and preserving one necessitates preserving the other,” the release said.
    There’s a mouthful.
    Josh, Michele et al – I would like to offer any materials and training I have at no cost (except for shipping) to anyone working at saving native American languages. Josh if you want to get on a Flashmeeting maybe with me and Michele let me know at or Michele at her address above. Let’s try to meet in the next few weeks. When I first heard about TPRS years ago, I remember specifically thinking about how this could impact native languages, and it is thrilling to know about what you are doing Josh. Let’s go from here. Chokma’shki.

  4. THIS is one of the many things I love about the TPRS community!!! Truly generous people who CARE enough to help out of the kindness of their hearts and do so because they are passionate about this method and preserving and sharing language and culture.

  5. I teach languages because languages make me healthier. In some strange way, they repair my soul each day. Expressing myself in the French language gives me respite and solace from something. In that way, languages heal me. That is probably because languages contain great, almost etheric, beauty. I love the very notion of languages.
    Languages can heal America. We can now allow the full flow of energy from the essential first languages, the Native American languages, that were once so freely spoken on these lands. Those languages can heal us. We can feel connected to those vibrational sounds that were first uttered here in North America. Those sounds can heal. They have healing in them.
    It will make us healthier. All of us, all of America as it has become, will benefit if we teach the old languages. It will make a link with a disconnected part of America. Hyperbole? Too melodramatic? No. I am of the opinion that sound never disappears, but hangs around in the air, and so the languages like Chickasaw that Josh is bringing back can never be totally destroyed. Josh’s email stunned me. He is actually using a method that works to teach a language that is on the very edge of disappearing. Look at the timing on this!
    Now, because of what Blaine has invented, I truly believe that the repair job, the bringing back onto the auditory, hearable plane of Chickasaw and the other (may I say sacred – are they ultimately derived from Sanscrit?) languages can now happen. As a TPRS teacher, I feel in my heart that being a part of that change – the change to bringing back the old Native American languages – would be enough, alone, and forget all the rest, all the modern language stuff, that would otherwise define a career as a language teacher.
    You may know that Susan Gross is from South Dakota. She has told me that, as a child, she used to wonder about the greatness of language and think about it while staring at a globe. She specifically told me that. She told me that she was fascinated that so many languages were spoken all over the globe and that she yearned to learn each one.
    Susie would look at her globe and think about these things. And maybe, on some level, since she was sitting on Indian land, maybe she was not just thinking in spatial terms about all the languages of earth on her childhood globe, but also, maybe she was hearing the faint sounds from centuries before that still played about on some hidden vibrational level in the South Dakota air, that lay hidden just beneath her feet in some distant way.
    I once was driving to Denver from South Carolina, and I was in Kansas, on the western side. Indian land. I was in one of those moods where I couldn’t stop driving, and, at four a.m., finally pulled over to a roadside rest and put up some blankets to shield the soon-to-arrive morning sun. The blankets were Indian style blankets. I slept.
    When I awoke, an Indian had visited me. He had been lying inside a hollowed out log with his face and upper body visible to me. He was in the log to teach me something, and his face was stern and intent. He conveyed to me that many Indians had been massacred on this land in Kansas. He told me many things. He told me that if I did not learn to relax and get in touch with nature (the hollow log that enveloped him), then I could never be happy.
    It was one of the most profound feelings of my life when I woke up fully. I couldn’t even tell which of it was real – this Indian brave or me in my car. For this, I know that the language he spoke can be brought back, because he is not gone. There is only a big ass Wal-Mart where his and his families’ teepees used to be. But he is not gone.
    Susan Gross and this Indian brave have been my teachers. Before what Susie and Blaine have done, it was simply out of the question to bring these languages back up to the hearable level from the place of seeming disappearance to which they had retreated. But now, with Josh’ email, comes the promise of the return from the hidden, seemingly lost, vibrational level to the hearable level of such languages as Chicasaw and Lakota.
    Is the REBIRTHING OF THE NATIVE LANGUAGES not a worthy healing for all of us? To bring these languages back via TPRS? NO OTHER WAY WORKED until the arrival of this way of teaching. We know this to be true. Teaching single words of Chickasaw or Lakota, teaching ABOUT those languages has, I am 100% certain, brought about the despair of the elders of those and all the tribes. But now, we have a system, an approach, a strong young blast of new energy, the way Josh has chosen, to bring the culture back via the language. Let’s repeat that – the culture returns via the language, as Josh said.
    No one has offered that until now. Let’s crack this thing open. Let’s tap back into our own true history – it must be our history too if we are the ones who destroyed it. Since we live here now, it is the only respectful thing to do. The first words I want to learn in Chickasaw and Lakota and a ton of other Native American languages that I won’t even be around to hear, are “We are so sorry. Please forgive us. May we return into balance with you. May we speak with you in your language, and not make you speak to us in ours.”
    America can now fulfill its astounding promise in yet one more area. It can, if it wants, again become the Land of Many Tongues. So what if there is one overiding language? It can still have many languages. (We will be healthier if it is that way.)
    It will all happen when young children (whose roots are in the deepest parts of what is now called America, and who wander about on their lands sometimes and look around under rocks for dads and the old ways) begin, as in Josh’s classes, to hear their ancient languages spoken to them in meaningful and interesting ways by their elders, those who hold the keys to the culture because they speak the language. When these children start their first little PQA games and their first stories, they can begin to comprehend and start the process of bringing it all back. It will go faster with them, because they know why they are doing it.
    The pendulum swings back. It must. Chickasaw and Lakota and all the others are not lost. They only seem so. They still reverberate across the plains. The faintest echoes of echoes of echoes of those who lived here for so long before us can now be heard again. Listen.
    Listen. Stop watching T.V. and listen. Listen to Josh doing a TPRS Chickasaw lesson. It must, in some way, reverberate with the Chickasaw spoken 500 years ago. On some level it must be true, especially if time is bent. Listen for that.
    You few who hold the keys, those of you in Oklahoma who learn what Josh is doing and begin to do that with your own students, those of you who are to bring pride back into the heart of these native American children. I say that you can do it. Please contact me for some materials, such as I can offer in all humility.
    I also call on anyone who produces materials about TPRS to make it possible for those materials to go out IMMEDIATELY at no charge to all those who hold the keys to the old ways. This is a emergency. Let’s get going. Alaska and Oklahoma are starting this out (anything that Michele touches starts rolling downhill into action).
    Let’s start tuning our ears to what was. The sounds are still there. It is time to bring them back. It is time to listen.

  6. Ben,
    You may have quite the set of requests on your hands, since I forwarded your note to the leader of the network I mentioned. They meet on Monday evenings on E-Live through our university, and she’s going to announce your offer! The languages they are teaching are: Aleut, Alutiiq, Iñupiaq, Central Yup’ik, Siberian Yupik , Tsimshian, Haida, Tlingit, Eyak. Ahtna, Dena’ina, Deg Hit’an. Holikachuk , Upper Kuskokwim, Koyukon, Tanana, Tanacross, Upper Tanana, Gwich’in and Hän.
    If you want an inspiring story, go check out this page: TPRS in the Yupik immersion classroom…
    So exciting! I had no idea that this was going on in my state, and only found out because I was looking for the language list!

  7. A couple thoughts: 1.) John McWhorter has some interesting and realistic opinions on Language Change. In my opinion, trying to change anyone else, other than by one’s own example, it ain’t worth the worry. 2.) Twext offers a simple new tool for anyone who wants to make written records of endangered language. Twext simply aligns chunks of definition or translation with chunks of text, to make a text more comprehensible. It’s pretty simple; it works with any unicode language online. Reportedly Hebrew and Hawaiian are two languages that have been resurrected, thanks to the availability of recording technologies.

  8. Oops there may have been a tone of poo-poo in my comment I wanna clear up. One of the key hopes in Twext is to participate in recording and teaching words that are loved but in are danger of being abandoned forgotten. Another key hope is to provide us with an interface to compare how ideas are put together in different languages. Any of the many languages referenced on this page, if it can be written in unicode, can be twext translated to more common languages such as English or Russian. If anyone teaching any language has any question how twext might help in the service of language instruction, I’d be delighted to answer.

  9. Chokma –
    Thanks to all and especially Ben for posting this topic to the blog. I’m sharing with other Indian language educators here in Oklahoma all I can about TPRS in the hopes that maybe they’ll pick it up and use it too. I’m still not very good at the TPRS game but my poor teaching in a superior method is much preferable to the alternative. I’ve got kids now that are actually creating in the language, without prompts from me, little stories and scenarios. They aren’t always grammatically correct but they are communicative, bold and unafraid, which is all I care about.
    In the acquisition of a truly difficult, polysynthetic language like Chickasaw, I hold these kids up as a real triumph. My intuition tells me that Chickasaw would be right up there in difficulty with Chinese, Japanese and Arabic, if not more so. An ACTFL proficiency rating of Advanced High would probably require upwards of 3000-4000 hours of instruction. The likelihood of an ACTFL rating ever being developed for Chickasaw is low, and certainly not very high on my list of priorities.
    chokma’shki –
    Joshua D Hinson

  10. I’ve wanted to work on Ojibwe (the language group near Bemidji) and Oneida (from near Green Bay), but can’t seem to find the time. (There are 21 other languages on my to do list, too….rats.)

  11. I was so intrigued last year when Michele posted about a hospital visit in which she met someone who said she used to teach with TPRS but now she uses ASLA because the kids learn so much faster… ASLA’s focus is on saving native languages around the world. According to the website, in the 2 day workshop, participants get what they need to teach for a year. (but I think you have to be a fluent speaker of the language you’re wanting to save…) Has anyone checked into this? It might be a really good resource…

  12. Two things for you all to look at, regarding language extinction:
    Curt Rice, linguist at the university in Tromso Norway, (who I know through Concordia Language Villages, where his wife Tove Dahl is dean of the Norwegian program), spoke on language extinction at the rededication of the Concordia Languages peace site in summer 2009. The 9 minute speech is decent, lovely and worth a look bzw listen:
    In the video, Dr. Rice outlines the process and rate of language extinction, who it matters to, how it is analogous to species extinction, and what scientists are doing to document and combat it.
    However, Dr. Rice also argues (but not in this particular speech) that too many folks link death of a language with death of a culture: those deaths don’t necessarily go hand in hand. In the right circumstances and with the right advocates, cultures can survive, even if the languages associated with them expire.
    I asked Dr. Rice (on Facebook) if he could recommend any books on the topic. He suggested K. David Harrison’s “When Languages Die: The Extinction of the World’s Languages and the Erosion of Human Knowledge “. I haven’t read it, but Dr. Rice characterized Harrison as “kind of a cowboy” on the subject. Hmmm. That alone has got me curious. I did see “When Languages Die” on amazon, so it’s available….

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