Code talkers.

Justin McBride jmcbride at
Wed Apr 30 16:39:07 UTC 2008

I went to a code talker reception in Oklahoma City a year or two ago. I 
heard something I'd never considered before. There have been several 
instances in wars past in which two or more fluent tribal language speakers 
from the same community happened to be in the same batch of soldiers (unit, 
platoon, or whatever). In those cases, speakers were not infrequently called 
upon to communicate by way of their shared language, especially in 
close-fighting situations where the shouting of tactical orders may have 
been overheard by enemy troops that may have knowledge of English. Soldiers 
who did this sort of thing weren't code talkers per se, and have never been 
recognized for their contributions to the war effort.

I recently heard that there were a few Kaw "code talkers," and ever since 
that reception I've wondered if the designation may have actually referred 
to this phenomenon of impromptu tribal language use in combat settings. I 
wanted to ask one of those guys who was supposedly such a talker, Houston 
Taylor, but he recently passed away. I guess these guys, however heroic, 
aren't getting any younger.


----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Rankin, Robert L" <rankin at>
To: <siouan at>
Sent: Wednesday, April 30, 2008 9:54 AM
Subject: RE: Code talkers.

I'd guess that, over time, the "code(s)" could have been broken.  As several 
have said, any language can be reduced to its grammar.  In the case of the 
American Indian languages, they were used as tactical codes, not strategic 
codes, as far as I know.  The latter are used for diplomatic and general 
staff, etc. communications, and it was those that our cryptanalysts had the 
best luck with against the Japanese and Germans.  Even if the Japanese had 
painfully learned Navajo (or Seminole, Choctaw, Omaha, Comanche, etc.), they 
would have had to be able to understand the language spoken rapidly by 
native speakers under battlefield conditions.  How many of us could do that 
with the Siouan languages we've studied for so many years!?  As an aside, I 
don't think the alleged "difficulties" of the Navajo language had much of 
anything to do with its success as a code.

On top of the language there was a fairly simple substitution code with 
different words for various military terms, and they would have had to be 
decrypted too.  All in all, it was a terrifically efficient system, and the 
participants deserve all of the credit that has been bestowed on them, 
however belatedly.

The contribution of the Navajos has become pretty well known, but I think 
someone should try to interview any left who were from other tribes -- in 
any war.  And, if not them, then their living relatives.  There's definitely 
a book to be written there, and who better to write it than someone with 
roots in the Native American community or a linguist?


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