Thursday, June 23, 2005

Native American Languages Disappearing

George Roy, 58, has spent 10 years teaching the Native American language class Ojibwe 101 to students at Saginaw Chippewa Tribal College in Michigan. "The first thing I tell my students at the beginning of each semester is that we're fighting a battle to hold onto our own cultural identity," said the Native American language instructor from the Ottawa tribe. "Language is the glue that holds our culture together ... I think most of us who teach Native American languages and culture in the Great Lakes realize that we're fighting an uphill battle to preserve our own heritage." Most of the 40 Native American languages and dialects used on Midwestern reservations and in Native American families are expected to vanish within the next few decades as tribal elders die. This growing threat to Midwestern Native American Indian languages is only part of a worldwide phenomenon. Linguists say that, on average, a language somewhere in the world becomes extinct every two weeks. Many blame English language television programs and English language computer software. "The scholars tell us there are almost 7,000 languages in the world, and that half of them will probably be lost in the next century," said Bruce Cole, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. He also added that 400 world's languages have fewer than 100 fluent speakers each, and that 74 of them are Native American languages. In an effort to rescue some of these threatened languages, the NEH and the National Science Foundation have announced a $4.4 million program of grants and fellowships designed to preserve both written and spoken elements of more than 70 threatened languages.

In addition to languages, let's hope that other aspects of Native American culture such as art do not vanish as well. To see some beautiful artwork, see Free Spirit Gallery Native American Art.

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