Why Save A Language?

Nov 15th, 2007 | By | Category: 19-2: Our Story, Our Way, Media Reviews

Directed and produced by Sally Thompson, Ph.D.
Regional Learning Project (2006)
The University of Montana
Center for Continuing Education

Review by Tina Deschenie

In this short passionate film, members of the Kainai, Pikuni, Cayuse, Blackfoot, Osage, Hidatsa, Walla Walla, Lakota, and Mandan tribes answer this question for us. They discuss how tribal languages shape and reflect our cultural identity and how, when we lose our languages, we are “cultural blanks.”

Some marvelous stories are told that reflect the origins of specific words or names. Darrell Robes Kipp states, “Intelligent people do not burn libraries. Our languages are repositories of accumulated knowledge from thousands of years. Languages require care.”

A Mandan elder says he has no one living around him to speak Mandan with so he chooses to teach the language to students in school. A mother speaks proudly of her son’s ability to acknowledge his elders in their own language. Another young lady feels motivated to learn her tribal language when she hears children excitedly and quickly learning to speak their language. Throughout the film, young students are showcased speaking their own languages.

To emphasize the value of tribal tongues, some elders share that even birds make their own unique sounds. They insist that we too must keep the God-given gift of our tribal languages. Why indeed should a tribal language be saved? Show this film to those who still don’t get it.

The cover jacket includes questions a facilitator may use that will direct viewers to deeper discussion and perhaps even research.  What are the issues related to languages spoken on our continent?  Why is it important to review what happened to cause languages to die out?  How does language serve as cultural glue?  What do you see through your language or what does your language shape you to see?  Why are Native names and stories important?  Should Native languages be taught in public schools on or near reservations?

This film would enhance any tribal college library collection.

For more information, log on to www.regionallearningproject.org. Tina Deschenie (Diné/Hopi) is editor of Tribal College Journal.

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