Lost Language Day Reservations

David Cheezem dcheezem at alaska.net
Tue Jun 4 04:09:01 UTC 1996

Dear Colleagues,

I am glad that David Nathan used the phrase "in its present form" when he
expressed those reservations about LLD.  The idea of a "something" language
day" is still in the "brainstorm" stage, and although efforts are being
made to create an international steering committee, no such official
organization exists as of yet.

These discussions are very helpful for me.  I have much to learn, and I
hope readers of this list will continue to deal critically and patiently
with this evolving idea.

In a separate message, I am posting a *draft* "call for interest" for that
international steering committee.  I think the language deals with the
spirit if not the letter of most of the concerns that have been expressed.
If not, I hope more comments and suggestions will pour in.  We need more
feedback and more participation, especially from indigenous groups and

This is how the idea came about:

I was very moved when Karl Teeter and Dave Wells wrote of their
experiences, watching  languages pass into oblivion with the passing of
their last known speakers.  I was first struck with the sense of emptiness
that that loss entails - the sense of collective memory being wiped out, of
the loss (and yes, "destruction") of knowledge and community.

At first, I tried to respond to this feeling as a poet, and I am still
working on a poem with these lines:

              You taught me that there are many deaths
              death of sand and death of water
              death divisible and death complete.

But soon after I started working on this poem, it came to me that there
could be a different kind of  response -- more direct, more political --
and it was in that spirit that I first made the suggestion.

I did not mean to imply that indigenous peoples should be coerced into
monolingualism, and I never intended to obscure the the context of
destroyed languages.  I also agree that it is not enough to "mourn" the
passing of languages or cultures.  With the mourning there must be
something postive to support,  and a day of observance and education such
as this one must also include information about efforts to reclaim and
protect cultures.

I do feel that to combat the forces poised to atttack indigenous peoples,
we have to have an educated public on.  I do not want to soften the message
in any way.  I want impact.  I want people who know nothing of the issues
(that the people on this list are so familiar with) to respond, to rethink
their prejudices, and to call for an end of policies that disrupt and
threaten indigenous lives.

My own reservations about the alternative title, "Destroyed Language Day"
have nothing to do with softening the blow; they have more to do with
sound.  In English, at least, the three words together do not "sing."  I
know  this sounds trivial -- and  will let go of this idea if absolutely
necessary -- but the way the words sound really does  affect   how they
will reach people.  Maybe there are some other alternatives we haven't
thought of yet?

All the best,

David Cheezem

David C. Cheezem
Suite 2B
Sleepy Dog Coffee Building
11517 Old Glenn Highway
Eagle River, Alaska  99577
dcheezem at alaska.net

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