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Every 14 Days Another Language Dies, but Google Reverses the Trend
Google In Space
The Genographic Project of the Smithsonian Institution partnership studies genetic links among world peoples and traces DNA markers in order to map and understand human migration since the beginnings of the human race. One part of this project is the Google Endangered Languages Project.
Language is an important part of culture and of the personalities of the members of that culture. When a language becomes extinct and the last of the native speakers of that language dies, an entire culture is lost to us. Some anthropologists and linguists feel that this is on the same level of importance as the extinction of a species and I agree. Certain concepts exist in only certain languages and other peoples may never imagine these concepts without discovering these languages.
The Smithsonian partners, including National Geographic and IBM, and Google want to prevent the loss of any more languages. To this end, Google, which has pioneered the launch of lunar landers and the mining of the moon and near-Earth asteroids, has instituted the Endangered Languages Project, which you can visit at the link below. The site allows anyone to contribute what they might have that is useful to the body of knowledge about thousands of endangered languages on Earth. If there is such a thing as a Universal Translator as depicted in the Star Trek® franchise, then this project is the first step. Google has planted itself firmly in the era of human migration across the globe and into outer space.
Many languages are considered extinct today, because no full-blooded individuals belonging to those language groups are living. The Ainu language of the Aboriginal Japanese people is extinct. The Eyak language of SE Alaska (related to Navajo) is extinct, although a Frenchman began teaching himself the language through books and traveled to Alaska as an adult to perfect his skills until the last Eyak speaker died in 2008. He is now the teacher of Eyak, but it remains a designated extinct tongue.
Many Native American languages are either endangered or extinct. A few of them are presented below.
The Myaamia Project
The Miami-Illinois language was spoken by many Native Americans in the Midwest, particularly in Ohio, and this fact has led to a special project in Southern Ohio to catalogue the knowledge of this language and to preserve it by teaching a new generation to speak it. This language is also known as Peoria and other names.
Google is working with Miami University in Oxford OH and the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma to bring their native language back into use. This project for the Miami-Illinois language in the Algonquian group began back in 2001, but has expanded. The last full-blooded speaker of Miami-Illinois as a first language is thought to have died in 1962, half a century before this writing in 2012.
Adieu to the graves where my forefathers rest
For I must be going to the far distant west;
I’ve sold my possessions my heart fills with woe
To think I must leave them. Alas I must go.— Anonymous
You can see on the map below how far the Miami Native American group was driven back toward the west in the 1700s and 1800s, sometimes after having sold their lands to white settlers. Ohio itself has no Indian reservations.
The United Remnant Band of the Algonquian peoples that stayed in western Ohio and organized themselves has attempted to purchase back some properties that once belonged to them, with a little success. Much of the land had been sold to white settlers under various treaties, but the United Remnant Band would like to have it back and are willing to pay for it.
One of the most important developments in the last 30 years is the living history farm there, run by the Ross family, of Native heritage. Mr. Ross was a Methodist minister for many years and each summer, he would perform the role of Algonquian Storyteller for state fair crowds around the Midwest. I am happy to have heard him speak those stories. Nearby Yellow Springs, Ohio is home to some other installations and events surrounding the lives of the Algonquians.
The Last Princess
Kil-so-quah (The Setting Sun) was last of the full blooded native speakers and last in the Miami line of chiefs' descendants. She died in or near the Maumee River Valley (Ohio/Indiana) in September 1915.
-- from Little Turtle (ME-SHE-KIN-NO-QUAH), The Great Chief of the Miami Indian Nation, by Calvin M. Young; 1917; Greenville OH.
The Miami Tribe, Migration to Oklahoma
Fox River locations
A state recognized group.
Thsi is the only us federally recognized group of Miamis.
Most of the languages of the Iroquois Confederation are severely endangered, with that of my related ancestors, Mohawk or Kanien'kehaka, only endangered.
The Google language project estimates that 50% of the spoken languages of the world in 2012 will disappear by 2100. If I am going to learn Mohawk, then it needs to be now. Let's look at all of the languages I know my ancestors learned, often after a move out of England (except the Mohawk):
- Mohawk or Kanien'kehaka - severely endangered. A total of 4,040 native speakers of six dialects remained on July 1, 2012. In addition, all of the Six Nations group languages are endangered.
- English - living language
- Irish Gaelic - severely endangered
- Scottish Gaelic - severely endangered
- French - living language
Being able to read but not speak French and knowing only a handful of Mohawk words, I have already lost most the colorful cultures of my heritage. The Endangered Language Project may be able to restore what is lost.
Fascinatingly, evidence exists for a connection between at least one Mohawk dialect and the Zulu language (OSU, 1996). The Zulu peoples migrated from the Congo area to South Africa long ago. Their language is Isizuzu, a Bantu group language, and spoken by perhaps 10 million people.
Where tombs arise and harvest wave
Our children used to stray
We cannot find our fathers’ graves
Our fathers, where are they?— Anonymous
Two Mohawk Governments
Complicating matters of culture and language preservation is the fact that aside from the US Federal Government, there are two separate tribal governments for Mohawk Nation on the Mohawk Reservation that spans land in parts of New York and Quebec. On the American side is the Traditional Mohawk Council and Kanien'kehaka People at Hogansville NY.
On the Canadian side is the Akwesasne, recognized by both Canadian and US federal governments. It is the second group that operates a casino close to the international border. However, it is the first group, the Kanien'kehaka, that has been active in Mohawk language preservation, along with some core individuals on the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario. It is only the second group that is part of the Google project and this needs to be corrected -- Language is more important than a casino.
Mohawk Language Centers, Most Speakers to Least Speakers
St. Regis is a few miles north of the rival Traditional Mohawk Council at Hogansburg at letter F on the map.
As of June 2012, only two (2) native speakers of the Mohawk Language were still living here.
This is the location of the Traditional Mohawk Council and its members are not included in the language count. See clsoe-up map below.
Four Mohawk Kings, 1710
Mohawk vs. Mohawk
Four decades, no Mohawk group at all was recognized at all by the US federal government, disallowing Mohawk individuals from benefiting from associated Native college scholarships (1/12 blood or more), possibly casino income, future reparations in remedy of the Indian Removal Act and related actions, and other benefits. The St. Regis group became recognized and a casino opened on the border.
In the mid-to-late 1990s, the media highlighted problems related to alcohol and drugs on the New York - Quebec reservation. Newspapers published photos of Native reservation police and Native state police struggling hand to hand. Mohawk people began migrating form the NY side of the reserve to the Canadian side, diminishing the already low numbers of Mohawk in the USA. In Canada, the Mohawk Nation is an active political entity, while in the US, it is vestigial but still manages to preserve the language.
Some have asked whether the political divide in the Mohawk peoples will lead to their extinction, however, the Mohawk on the Six Nations Reserve seem to operate above the fray.
Politics and Mohawk Language
- The Kahniakenhaka Mohawk Nation Council vs. the St. Regis Council of Akwesasne Mohawk
The official, long-standing indigenous Mohawk Nation Council of Chiefs (MNCC) represents the Sovereign Nation of the Mohawk (separate from the US Government) that still exists in America. The nation is called Kahniakenhaka.
Four distinct but related groups of First Nations or Native American inhabited Southeast Alaska anywhere from 10,000 - 20,000 years ago. These were the Eyak, Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian groups, the Eyak becoming extinct in 1962. Eyak is one of the Eyak-Athabascan group of languages that includes Navajo. Navajo is also a severely endangered language and if it becomes extinct, we will also lose the history of the Navajo Code Talkers whose Native language helped the Allies win WWII, because the Germans could not understand it nor break its "code".
The Eyak People settled in and around Prince William Sound, northwest of the Alaskan Panhandle, as well as in the panhandle area itself (see map below).
Eyak are now considered extinct, but were apparently related in culture to the Alaskan Athabascan aboriginal groups. The closeness of relatedness by culture, language, and DNA is now in debate, since we have no native first-language speakers alive.
The Endangered Languages Project site already offers several documents and videos concerning the Eyak language and people.
© 2012 Patty Inglish