Saving California Languages by Katharine Whittmore

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Katharine Whittmore is a journalist whose work has been published in many of the country's leading magazines. While editing "American Retrospective Series", she became interested in the loss of Native American cultures and their languages. She was sad and alarmed by the rapid disappearance in this century if indigenous languages not only in America, but worldwide. She believes that 90% of world's language will become extinct by the century's close. In "Saving California Languages", Katharine relate in details how California Advocates are trying to save, teach, and protect indigenous languages. The California Advocates sponsors the Master-Apprentice Language Learning Program, which brings together a few dedicated advocates, surviving speakers of scattered, nearly extinct tribal languages and students wishing to learn the languages. The emphasis of participants in these programs is not to record, and analyzes a language, but to learn, absorb, preserve, and pass it on, along with whatever remnants of culture is left.

Notorious Advocates Members: Carol Korb a graduate of Humboldt and Leanne Hilton a linguistic professor of University of California at Berkeley. They will visit three Master-Apprentice teams in central California, to see how they are faring.

The Masters are usually elder members of a tribe, often one of a handful of speakers left.

The Apprentices are mostly younger adults.

An apprentice of Yowlumni named Matt The Purpose: The apprentice will learn the language which takes about 500 hours of intense instruction and then teach it to a group of tribal children. Those children will grow up and hand down their knowledge to the next generation words and words of values and culture.

About 90% of all worlds' languages are considered threatened including Australian aboriginal dialects and even Basque and Breton because they are not officially taught in school.

Languages: Yowlumni, Wukchumen, are a couple of moribund languages, which are depending on Master- Apprentice matches for survival here in California. Yurok language which have no terms for north, south, west or east, because in their region are only mountains and streams.

Hupa and Yurok are as different as English and Chinese. In Karok, there's no word for apology, for the concept of integrity of the individual is paramount in many Indian languages. In Wuntu, the word son doesn't exist, I am sonned is the closer approximation. One really important motivation to learn a language is the idea that it may contain values superior to the values of mainstream mass society. Then there's Mono, Chukchansi, Hupa, Karuk, Wintu, andYahi.

Method: The Yowlumni language has an English-Yowlumni dictionary, which contain many verbs, because it's a remarkably difficult language to acquire. In advocates-sponsored language immersion camps the teacher never lapses into English to make things easier and because of this many quit out of frustration.

A renowned Yowlumni's apprentice named Matt has the ability to summon the tribal past through meditation, and dreams. He wanted to pray to his ancestors, but they didn't speak English, so he decided to learn their language Yowlumni. This language is very demanding and requires an intense need to learn it. The language is simple and it is based on common sense, it has a direct and easily observable effect in increasing fluency, and it doesn't take a ton of money, equipment, or expertise to implement.

Matt quizzes himself everyday, trying to make up daily sentences. He will stay until he can say something in Yowlumni about everything he sees. He then will go inside and begin his next lesson.

There are no props when it comes to learning indigenous languages, they learn as children do, through sounds, not relying on the medium of the written word, or tapes, or translations from English, making them nonlinguistic languages. They will use pantomime instead of English, pointing to desired objects.

Reason for disappearances of languages: California's history and topography gave rise to such verbal abundance, due to its enormous, fertile, and climatically enticing area. Native Americans moved across North America from west to east, migrating first over a thin blade of land that later slipped under waves of the Bering Strait. In California, there was plenty of room and time for tribes to develop languages astonishingly very different from one another.

Few of the reasons why indigenous languages are disappearing are because of the increased in literacy, since most governments can't afford to print textbook in multiple languages. In America for example where most people speak English, it's hard to save strings of unintelligible sounds. They think that it lacks cachet. When Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World in 1492, there were about 10,000,000 Native Americans scattered from coast to coast and by 1910 with the disease, displacement and violence. They were about 300,000 Native Americans left, and by the nineteenth century 150,000. The Gold Rush from 1840 to 1850, that 150,000 dropped to about 30,000 because each Indian killed represented $5.00 to a hunter. The Gold Rush is the reason why we don't see tenacious Indian cultures in California.

There are about 30 Wukchumne left in the world; they were hit hard by the Gold Rush.

Scholars believe that 200 out of 350 languages survived today. Of those 200, near by the nineteenth century 80% are no longer passed down to children of each tribe.

In California, there were about 80 languages before the Europeans settlers arrived and there's a remaining 50 languages from which 30 have no living speakers. The Francos family is trying to save the Wukchumne language and their traditions by weaving them into their lives. They won't utter the name of a deceased relative for a year after his death. Darlene will carry a pouch of tobacco as her grandmother did, giving a small snuff offering to the land in exchange for its gifts, a little sage for incense, a few acorns for traditional Wukchumne soup. At home, everyone speak Wukchumne as much as possible. The children know their stories and perform dances and skits at tribal meetings.

"Yes, we must know the white language to survive in this world. But we must know our language to survive forever."