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LaXayfN nayka shik: Hello my friend

June 9th, 2004 · No Comments

Tuesday’s Seattle Times described how Once-dying Chinook language finds future in voices of children, including the teaching program Tony Johnson developed. I especially liked this proof that the language education program is working

Now the Grand Ronde program is so successful, he said, children here use Chinuk-wawa to keep secrets from adults.

“When they don’t want parents to hear about something, they switch over,” he said.

It reminded me of my own childhood – except that it was my immigrant relatives who would switch into German when discussing my Christmas presents…

How much work it has been to preserve their identity in language…

Johnson, the son of a tribal chairman, has found that preserving a language must be undertaken on many fronts. In addition to creating an alphabet, he has designed a computer program so the Chinuk-wawa characters can be typed.

He teaches 4-year-olds at the tribal day-care center and has shared meals with the few remaining tribal elders who still remember the language, gleaning from them Chinook words like taqwfla, (hazelnuts), salt-tsfqw (salt water) and tilixaN (friend).

Interesting to see what casino money can do…and what kind of commitment it is:

The lucrative Spirit Mountain Casino, on the Grand Ronde Reservation, makes the language program affordable.

Other tribes with casino money frequently inquire about the tribe’s success, but the program is a commitment not just of money, but of time and tenacity, Johnson said.

Still, he hopes other tribes will want to learn Chinuk-wawa, and that students he’s teaching now will “grow up and marry each other and raise Chinuk-wawa-speaking households. Or become linguists and come back here and do what we’re doing.”

Johnson was so determined that Chinuk-wawa would live on through his own son, Sammy, that he began talking to Sammy and singing him Chinuk-wawa lullabies even before the baby was born.

To lose one’s language is to lose one’s culture, Johnson said.

I liked this insight into illness:

While the phrase “I have a backache” almost implies in English an ownership of the condition, in Chinuk-wawa the words mean “there is a sickness living in my back,” implying “an animosity to illness,” Johnson said.

On the Seattle Times link there is an audio clip, and vocabulary words. I’m always happy to learn another way to say Nayka qat mayka.

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