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Native languages in the United States are in the throes of a prolonged and deadly crisis. For the past 400 years, Native Peoples and their languages have been steadily and undeniably disappearing. Though the historical fate of Native Peoples has been reluctantly acknowledged, less is publicly known about the associated fate of their languages.

In recent years, this expanding crisis has reached a deadly climax. Of the many hundreds of languages spoken in North America before the arrival of Euro-American colonizers, only a handful, perhaps a dozen, can be considered viable enough today to survive.

The map below illustrates how Euro-American settlement between 1600 and today displaced Native Peoples and eradicated their languages. The map reveals how deliberate American policies and tactics resulted in nothing less than the linguistic cleansing of the native nations from the land that became the United States.

Khéya Wíta ikčé wičháša tĥaíyapi kiŋ waníl áye. Hékta waníyetu opáwiŋğe tópa hetáŋhaŋ ikčé wičháša na tĥaíyapi kiŋ hená áwičakĥehaŋ atákuni šni áyapi. Eháŋni theĥíya wóakhipĥa kiŋ čhiŋkéšniyaŋ oyákapi, éyaš iyápi kiŋ tókhel šilwákhipĥa héči hé Mílahaŋska oyáte kiŋ óta slolyápi šni.


Aléčhalake s'e iyápi kiŋ hená líla tĥeĥíyela ĥči úŋ. Wašíču kiŋ hípi šni haŋni léčhiya iyápi opáwiŋğe tóna yukĥéya úŋpi na waŋná toná napógna luhá oyákihi iyéčhel čónala tĥokátakiya ní kte okíhiphiča.


Ómakĥa 1600 hetáŋhaŋ tókhel wašíču kiŋ ikčé wičháša na tĥaíyapi ĥeyábwičhayapi kiŋ hé é čha makĥóčheowapi kiŋ lé pazó. Mílahaŋska tĥawóečhuŋ kiŋ uŋ Khéya Wíta ikčé wičháša oyáte oyás'iŋ waníl áyapi na tĥaíyapi kiŋ nakúŋ atákuni šni áye.

 

 

 

Native Language Loss: Pre-European Contact to Present

Adapted from: Gerlach, Arch C., The National Atlas of the United States of America, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Geological Survey, 1970; U.S. Dept. of Interior, Indian Lands in the United States, BIA Geographic Data Service Center, Dec, 1998.;Sturtevant, William C. Early Indian Tribes, Culture Areas, and Linguistic Stock, Smithsonian Instituion, Washington,D.C., 1967.; and Strutevant, William C. (Ed.) Handbook of North American Indian, Vol. 17, Languages, 1996. Ives Goddard, Vol. Ed."

 

Native languages are important for the same reasons language is important to any group. It is a fundamental human right of expression - a right that arises out of thousands of years of linguistic cultivation, wherein each generation carefully passes on its language to the next. In so doing, it passes on the culture as articulated in things like prayers, stories, songs, values, sayings, proverbs, and metaphors to each subsequent generation. Thus, each nation uses language to embed ideas of culture, history, philosophy and belief. Language is ultimately the core expression of a people's existence.

Native languages are all linguistically and semantically unique. A great many ideas can only be accurately expressed in one language and not another, and this is very much the case with Lakota.

Lakota is unique from languages like English because of the intimate way it is tied to the pre-reservation world. This world was closely associated with living in small groups, living close to nature, traveling a good deal across large areas, and having a rich spiritual life.

Lakota cultural attributes are reflected in the language. For example, Lakota is rich in ways to describe the many subtle aspects of social behavior revolving around areas of feigning interest, pouting, courting, and many others. Moreover, in Lakota, nature is used as the primary source for the metaphor models. Physical appearance is often tied to nature, for example, someone could be "Skinny as a crane," or "Ragged as a turtle." Lakota is also very good at emphasizing the finer attributes of travel. A person can be considered to be coming or going to or from specific places in many levels detail. Lakota greetings themselves reflect this tendency, wherein English "welcome" is literally Lakota - "Good that you came," And "goodbye," is "Travel well." The language also closely linked the land to the people through geographical names and stories.

Lakota philosophical and spiritual concepts often tie together these realms. A word like woímnayankel, expresses notions of awe, humility, and interconnectedness. A Lakota speaker might use this when describing the experience of the northern lights (aurora borealis). The word expresses the humility that a person feels when confronted by the awesomeness of nature while also feeling intimately connected with it.

 

Tókhel oyáte keč'éyaš tĥaíyapi waŋkátuya glawápi kiŋ héčhel Ikčé wičháša nakúŋ tĥaíyapi kiŋ hená waŋkál gluhápi. Hé ečhákel wóiyowaža tĥáwapi, waníyetu kĥotkópawiŋğe óta heháŋyaŋ iyápi kiŋ ičháĥ aú na iglúwaštešte aú, na wičhóičhağe iyóhila íyokhiheya úpi kiŋ hená iyápi kiŋ wičhák'upi. Héčhuŋpi s'e wičhóuŋ na wičhóĥ'aŋ kiŋ nakúŋ wičhák'upi. Wóčhekiye, wičhóoyake, ohúŋkakaŋ, olówaŋ, wóopĥe, wóeye na wóiyačhiŋ wičhák'upi. Héčhetu čha oyáte iyóhila tĥaíyapi wóilagye. Na iyápi kiŋ mahél wičhóĥ'aŋ, wičhóuŋ, eháŋni wičhóoyake, wóksape na wówičala hená oyás'iŋ yukĥé. Héčhel oyáte waŋ tĥaíyapi kiŋ hé tĥóuŋ héčha.
Ikčé oyáte tĥaíyapi kiŋ íčhitĥoktĥokeča. Líla wóiyukčaŋ óta iyápi waŋ él eyá-phiča, éyaš tĥókeča okíhi-phiča šni. Na Lakĥótiyapi kiŋ nakúŋ héčhetu weló.

Lakĥótiyapi na wašíčuyapi kiŋ líla íčhitĥokeča, ičhíŋ Lakĥótiyapi kiŋ eháŋni wičhóuŋ él aíkĥoyagye. Wičhóuŋ kiŋ héhaŋ oyáte kiŋ thiyóšpaye-tĥuŋtĥuŋyaŋ úŋpi, makĥá ikčéya úŋpi, théhaŋyaŋ iglákapi na áwičakĥeya táku wakĥáŋ ohólapi na wačhékiyapi.

Lakĥóiyapi kiŋ Lakĥól wičhóĥ'aŋ aíkĥoyake. Lakĥótiyapi kiŋ uŋ oyáte kiŋ tókhel oĥ'áŋpi kiŋ hé tónakiyakel eyápi na kĥápi. Tuwéke č'éyaš táku tókĥuŋ-kapiŋ naíŋš wačhíŋkĥo naíŋš wíyokhiya na ísaŋm óta. Naháŋ nakúŋ Lakĥótiyapi kiŋ makĥá oúŋčhağe na makĥóčhe kiŋ wóilagya wíyačhiŋ. Héčhel owáŋyaŋke eyá makĥá oúŋčhağe uŋ iyáčhiŋpi. Héčhuŋpi s'e tuwá "Pheháŋ s'e tĥamáheča" naíŋš "Khéya s'e upíĥči" eyápi. Nakúŋ Lakĥótiyapi kiŋ él ománi-wičhóiye líla óta. Tuwá léčhiya ú naíŋš hí na héčhiya yá naíŋš í, naháŋ nakúŋ letáŋhaŋ hečhíyotĥaŋ iyáya naíŋš hetáŋhaŋ lečhíyotĥaŋ hiyú; naháŋ kú naíš glí, na glá naíŋš khí, na letáŋhaŋ hečhíyotĥaŋ khiglá naíŋš hetáŋhaŋ lečhíyotĥaŋ gličú. Na wóškaŋ wičhóiye kiŋ hená líla-ĥči ísaŋm óta. Nakúŋ “Taŋyáŋ yahí” eyápi na “Taŋyáŋ ománi yo/ye” naíŋš “Tókša akhé” eyápi. Nakúŋ oyáŋke čhažéyatapi na wičhóoyake kiŋ uŋ iyápi kiŋ makĥóčhe na oyáte kiŋ íčhičaške.

Lakĥóta wóksape wóuŋspe na Táku Wakĥáŋ ohólapi kiŋ él hená oyás'iŋ aíkĥoyake. Héčhel wóimnayaŋkel eyápi kiŋháŋ táku óta kĥápi. Tuwá glahéya Lakĥótiyiŋ na haŋwákĥaŋ tĥaŋíŋ waŋyáŋke čháŋnašna heyé. Táku waŋ wówapĥetĥokeča iyéčhel čha héčheča waŋyáŋkapi čháŋnašna iglúhukhuyakel úŋpi na hé wičhóiye kĥápi kiŋ hé é, naháŋ nakúŋ kičhí ówaŋžila úŋpi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Revitalizing Lakota, One Child at a Time
©2004 Lakota Language Consortium Inc.