Tuesday, December 18, 2007

At a Loss for Words

From 'Natural History Magazine':

The Native-American language Salish–Pend d’Oreille is on the brink of disappearing.
More than half the world’s 6,000 languages will be gone by the end of the century.

By Sarah Grey Thomason

John Peter Paul, a rugged, dignified man, was extremely ill during the summer of 2000. He was ninety-one years old and suffering from stomach cancer. Still, every week he insisted on wheeling himself into the (Longhouse) on the Flathead reservation in northwestern Montana. There, he and other elders of the Salish and Pend d’Oreille tribes would gather in meetings I had set up to expand and fine-tune the dictionary of their language and the collection of texts that we had been working on together for many years.

On one occasion in midsummer, when John’s illness reached a crisis point, he refused to go to the hospital because he didn’t want to miss our scheduled meeting the next day. As a result, he had to be rushed to the hospital in desperate condition the next morning. His fierce dedication to the task of documenting and preserving his language almost cost him his life.

Other elders I work with share his dedication to their language and the culture it expresses. Some are Pend d’Oreilles, like John; the rest are Bitterroot Salish (also called Flatheads). Although they are different tribes, they share the same language—which is called, logically enough, Salish–Pend d’Oreille—albeit with minor dialect differences.

But like so many indigenous languages on every populated continent, Salish–Pend d’Oreille is on the point of vanishing. Fewer than thirty fluent native speakers remain, and nearly all of them are elderly. The great majority of the roughly 6,000 Salish and Pend d’Oreille tribal members do not speak their ancestral language at all.



michael morrow said...

My consistent response seems to be coming more frequently, "So Michael What the hell you going to do about the astute, vitally important, mostly radical observations and insights you are having, dreaming about, waking in mid-night to? I feel, I see, focus getting more and more finely tuned. "What the hell you gonna do about
it, Michael?" As many of you know, I'm not one to be at loss for words....but, all I can do at this time is dance, write, see, see, see, and report. Yeh, bring change, IT becomes me...
Anyone know how to get a hold of Ashley/Cade? If you see her let her know I'm looking to hear from her.

Scott Abbott said...

she's got a blog called
i think.

Torben B said...

There is a link to her blog on this blog. Her blog is called birdonthelawn. Just scroll down on the main page and you'll see it to the right.