(Native Village Language Library was featured in the May 2002 edition of American Indian Report Magazine. [We are honored.]
by Mark Fogarty
THE FIGHT TO PRESERVE AMERICAN INDIAN LANGUAGES has a
powerful ally in the Internet, where dozens of Web sites devoted to perpetuating Native tongues thrive.
A good place to get a feel for the complexity, diversity and passion for keeping Native tongues from disappearing is the Language Library on the www.nativevillage.org Web site.
Want to see a vocabulary of the Shawnee and Huron languages, published back in 1858? It's here. Want to know what the Alabama language's word for "sacred" is? It's here ("hollo"). Want to hear Ute spoken, or learn Apache? You can (though the Apache lessons will cost you).
In all, there are nearly three dozen Web site links in the library, an eclectic, entertaining and educational mix that ranges from the scholarly (The Institute for Indigenous Languages at www.indigenous-language.org
to the fun (learning how to write your name in Mayan at www.halfmoon.org) to things for kids (a Chippewa coloring book at www.glifwc.org, where they'll learn that "animosh" is the word for dog as they color it in).
Native Village, the non-profit organization that runs the Web site, has a special focus on children, but you don't have to be a kid to be fascinated by its language library. A visit to the link at www.livingdictionary.com, for instance, brings up an Inuktitut dictionary where you type in a word in English and it is instantly translated into the various Inuk dialects. House, for instance, translates to "iglu" in North Baffin and other places, "illuk" in Labrador and "ittiq" in East Greenland.
The proprietors of nativevillage.org, Gina Boltz and Valerie Crow, include in their generous definition of "language" things like dancing, singing, petroglyphs and other forms of non-alphabetic communication, and these sites contain illustrations of Mayan glyphs and rock art that make excellent surfing for both adults and kids.
"Communication is language," says Boltz. "We communicate in different ways." That explains the link to the video demonstration of hula dancing by instructor Luana Haragochi at www.pbs.org/wnet/egg/peeps/ peep-202.html.
"Language equals cultural preservation," says Crow, who is of Creek/ Cherokee heritage. "Too many Indian languages are being lost." She says that some of the Web site links in the Language Library were recommended by readers, some are from listserves, and others are the product of browsing.
The two started their site in August 2000 as an educational and current events source for Native youth, their families and their educators.
Native Village publishes two weekly electronic newsletters -"Native Village Youth and Education News" and the "Opportunities and Websites" bulletin board -and gets 50 to 75 visitors a day. The Language Library draws about 150 visitors a month.
Do they feel the Internet is a good tool for Native languages? "I think it's the best opportunity in the world to preserve languages," says Boltz.
"It's best if you can learn from an elder," observes Crow, but if they can't, the Web "is a good way for people who want to learn their Native tongue."
The site features no less than 18 different libraries. Plants, animals, music and dance, health, environment, education and games all get their own aggregation sites.
Asked about plans for expansion, Boltz says Native Village would love to get an elder into a chat room to speak with children. She points out that there are very few Native languages spoken by children these days, some- thing she'd like to see change.
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