I Want a Phraselator!

Andre Cramblit andrekar at NCIDC.ORG
Sun Sep 2 16:46:56 UTC 2007

A few American Indians who still speak the ancient Chukchansi  
language are preserving tribal words and songs with state-of-the-art  
electronic translators inspired by military technology.

Jane Wyatt, 62, of Coarsegold, and her sister, Holly, 65, were among  
six tribal members who gathered on a recent Friday across the street  
from the from the Picayune Rancheria’s busy Chukchansi Gold Resort &  
Casino in Coarsegold to try out a newly acquired “Phraselator.”

The electronic translator was developed just a few years ago from  
technology used for military translators, said Don Thornton of  
Thornton Media Inc., based in Banning, Calif. Thornton Media is  
working with 70 tribes in the United States and Canada to preserve  
native languages, he said.

“What’s my name?” he asked the box in his hand. He pressed another  
button and it replied in what Thornton said was Chukchansi.

The Wyatt sisters learned the unwritten Chukchansi language at home  
while they were growing up in the Madera County foothills. Chukchansi  
is one of many native California dialects considered to be nearly  

“We’re recording our language ... to save our language,” Jane Wyatt  
said. “I learned because my grandmother raised me. That’s all we spoke.”

Picayune Rancheria tribal administrator Cornel Pewewardy said the  
tribe has purchased three Phraselators.

The list price is about $3,000 apiece, he said. The devices will be  
kept to begin a language program, supported by tribal funds, to  
preserve the language that has no books.

“The culture and language are hand in hand,” Pewewardy said.

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