Guest Column: Resurrecting lingual diversity

Sam Greer

Communication is everything. From the moment we are brought into this world, we are striving to communicate with our fellow human beings in deeper, more complex ways.

Language is one of the most fundamental connections people can have with one another; two international students from the same province in China will become overjoyed at meeting another Mandarin speaker on a new campus in an unfamiliar country, even if they have nothing else in common.

When the English settled in North America, the natives were slowly pushed off of their land, consolidated like a pest until they were contained in reservations to which the American government turned a blind eye. There they struggled to adapt to a rapidly changing nation in which their languages were no longer spoken or understood.

Faced with a choice of adaptation and survival or resistance and defeat, American Indian tribes all over the nation began to teach their next generations to speak English. Because this new language was a necessity of survival, the speaking of their traditional tongues began to diminish in frequency; in every consecutive generation, fewer and fewer natives were fluent in their mother tongues.

Now that our nation is so culturally diverse, we often encounter several languages on a daily basis; you might pass someone on the sidewalk who is talking on the phone in Mandarin or hear someone Facetiming her Colombian parents in Spanish. Because lingual diversity is being accepted more readily nowadays, many native tribes of North America have resolved to resurrect their nearly extinct traditional languages.

One such resurrection is spearheaded by a Mutsun woman by the name of Quirina Luna; she is fighting to breathe new life into the language of her ancestors. As one of the world’s only Mutsun speakers, she feels it is her duty to teach her children so that they may hold on to part of their cultural heritage.

Luna has teamed up with experts at the University of California Berkeley to compile information from old anthropological field notes, stories and songs of the Mutsun tribe; with these scraps of her heritage she is piecing together her native tongue.

Teaching young American Indians to speak the languages of their forefathers is vital to preserving their dying culture. As a member of the Cherokee tribe, I am determined to learn some of the traditional language, and in turn teach my children when it’s time.

The colonization of America took almost everything away from the native Americans; land, freedom, and pride. But if each tribe in the U.S. makes an effort to piece together their native tongues, future generations will have at least one part of their heritage of which to be proud.