Ancient Tongue (language)

Andre Cramblit andrekar at NCIDC.ORG
Sun Aug 20 05:31:03 UTC 2006

The Herald - Everett, Wash. -
Published: Friday, August 18, 2006
Kids find the words
Tulalip children learn an ancient language that all but vanished.
By Krista J. Kapralos
Herald Writer

TULALIP - Some of the students in the Lushootseed Language Class at  
the Tulalip Indian Reservation are as young as 5 years old, but their  
teachers have given them an important mission.

"I let my students know that their families don't know Lushootseed,"  
teacher Rebecca Posey said. "They should go home and try to teach  
their families. If that continues, then we'll get our language back."

This week, about 50 young tribal members are attending Lushootseed  
Language Camp.

They are learning with game show-style quizzes, with computer  
programs developed by the Tulalip Tribes, and by practicing a play  
that uses English and Lushootseed phrases. They will perform the play  
this morning at the Tulalip Amphitheatre.

Only a decade ago, Lushootseed, an ancient language used by Coast  
Salish American Indian tribes along the northern coast of Washington,  
was a mystery to most Tulalip tribal members.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, tribal children were  
forbidden to speak their native language when they were sent to  
boarding schools, a federal experiment designed to absorb Indians  
into mainstream culture. Knowledge of tribal languages dwindled until  
the words were only distant memories.

In the 1950s, linguist Leon Metcalf traveled to American Indian  
reservations in northwest Washington to record tribal elders speaking  
their native language.

Metcalf recorded whatever they remembered of Lushootseed and also  
offered to deliver recorded messages to their friends on other  
reservations, said Toby Langen, a linguist who works for the Tulalip  
Tribes' Language Department.

"That way, he got a lot of conversational Lushootseed," Langen said.

In the 1960s, linguist Thom Hess picked up where Metcalf left off.

Hess compiled Lushootseed grammar, which was published by the Tulalip  
Tribes in 1995, Langen said. "That's the basis of what we have."

Hess devised an alphabet for Lushootseed, which had never been a  
written language. Now the Tulalip Tribes own rights to a computer  
font for that alphabet.

There is much more work left to do, Langen said. She would like to  
conduct a widespread project that gathers extended families to learn  
together. Once families begin using Lushootseed in their homes, the  
hope is that the language will come to life.

The tribes' Language Department doesn't have enough staff to do that  
themselves, Langen said.

But it's a dream.

"That's the goal," she said. "People here want to see that in their  

According to research conducted by Northern Arizona University, only  
20 tribal languages of the 300 or more once spoken in North America  
are fully vital, and used by tribal members of all ages.

Even those languages, including Navajo and Crow, are at risk of dying  
because younger generations have lost interest in them.

"Our main focus is to keep all these kids interested," Lushootseed  
teacher Natosha Gobin said as children at the language camp swarmed a  
makeshift stage to practice their lines.

At Posey's table, children shouted out answers to questions she asked  
in Lushootseed.

"Salmon!" "Springtime!" "Orca!"

"In Lushootseed," Posey insisted. "Remember, this is our language."

The children closed their eyes or looked at the ceiling, thinking,  
then said the words in Lushootseed.

They remembered.

Reporter Krista J. Kapralos: 425-339-3422 or kkapralos@

Copyright ©1996-2006.
The Daily Herald Co.
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