Learning indigenous languages


#21

Do a search on rewild.info for Chinuk Wawa - a year or so ago I wrote a bunch of examples of why Chinuk Wawa expresses a common indigenous structure.

Does it have trappings of civilized language? Well, even many modern indigenous languages (christianized and/or urbanized) have adapted some civilized trappings, like names for the “days of the week”, and so on. I love Chinuk Wawa because it marks a highly european-impacted native trade language that has gone back to its native roots while at Grande Ronde. I wouldn’t say it has no modern characteristics, but it certainly has the heart of a native language, speaking from my own small survey of indigenous languages. The Wawa existed before Europeans, and still exists after Europeans stopped using it for trade.

Remember: the trade pidgin, differs from Chinuk Wawa as stewarded by folks like Tony Johnson at Grande Ronde.


#22

Hey Willem,

I’m wondering what your thoughts are on this topic now that we both speak chinuk wawa more fluently. Or rather…

Nsayka munk +ush wawa alta. Pus cagwa nayka tiki kemdex ikta mayka tumtum kapa chinuk wawa alta. Mayka tumtum kagwa mayka dumdum ankity pi mayka tumtum +oima dumdum alta?


#23

I’m curious about it now too Peter. And about some of the details as well, like, does the Wawa have “to be”? What about genderfied pronouns? Other aspects that are inherent/endemic to civilized languages? Does it still feel more important to folks to learn pidgins than to try to rewild English?


#24

the nature of creole languages, as newly formed languages, creates opportunities for linguists to study language formation - potentially giving clues about the formation of the first languages. Creoles always have a limited number of morphemes (meaningful units, similar to words, but not quite) but derive unlimited meaning from them. this can be seen analogically to correspond to early language development in humans, as all other primates have a limited number of meaningful units in their communication systems. In addition, creoles’ grammatical structure consistently follows the same patterns of construction, leading some like Noam Chomsky to hypothesize a “universal grammar” that is hardwired into our brains. Im skeptical that it holds up to the evidence from all languages, but nevertheless gives insight into early language. Another good source for this sort of info is looking at the real-time formation of new sign languages, which form when various deaf kids, who had rudimentary sign systems at home (see - pidgin languages) got together and mixed it all together.
Im currently in the process of learning two southern california languages - tongva, which is a “dead” language (no native speakers) and Cahuilla, which has VERy few native speakers left. Despite being only a two hour drive from each other geographically, they are more distantly related than are Norwegian and English. Perhaps we can learn that its ok to not be doing the same thing linguistically as another group? Long live diversity


#25

Interesting bit about pidgin languages. I didn’t realize they gave clues to the rise of (or creation of) more full languages.

Perhaps we can learn that its ok to not be doing the same thing linguistically as another group? Long live diversity

Yes, this is awesome. Here in the NW, the Chinookan villages had up to 10 different languages. Each village was practically indistinguishable from the next. We’re talking villages on the same river! It’s amazing to think of the range of languages, even within a language family (like Dutch and German?).

I'm curious about it now too Peter. And about some of the details as well, like, does the Wawa have "to be"? What about genderfied pronouns? Other aspects that are inherent/endemic to civilized languages? Does it still feel more important to folks to learn pidgins than to try to rewild English?

Funny, that post above I made 4 years ago before I was Chinuk Wawa literate. My spelling is way off. And my grammar is kind of funny. Very English sounding. It’s nice to see I’ve improved a bit in that regard. Yes, I still think Chinuk Wawa does not have a “To Be” verb. It has a verb that functions as the to-be verb, but without the baggage of to-be (as described by the general semantics movement and B-English). There are no gender specific pronouns. One of the best and most used words is “kakwa.” This word can simply mean “in this way”. But it is so much deeper than that. It’s hard to even put it into words in english. One of my teachers translated the word early on to me as, “in this way that has been done since the beginning of time…” which always kind of tripped me out. It isn’t really used in that way, but if you interpret it that way it makes a lot more sense for its usage in the language.

This last winter (you can only tell chinookan myths in winter) we did translations of chinookan myths. I chose “The Raccoon and His Grandmother”. This tale is about a raccoon who doesn’t listen to his grandmother and eats all their acorns. Translating the old myths, along side Chinookan people, gave me more insight into the culture (pre-contact) here than I have ever received from anywhere else. It was a real treasure. I’m so thankful to the friends and community in the language group. It’s hard sometimes accepting that Native people who don’t know you and your intentions will dislike you as a white person interested in their culture, but it is worth it and necessary if we are to show more Native people that we are not there to appropriate, but learn, help, share, and create something new together.


#26

Another thing about language in general and the 'Sapir-Whorf" hypothesis: the way I understand it, the main idea is not that different languages change how we think, but that languages have idiosyncratic ways of categorizing the world and our experiences, just as newspapers and other media frame world events. Its not to say that you cant think outside the ways that are being given to you, but it makes it difficult to see shades of gray when there are no names for the shades (literally and figuratively. like seriously - people distinguish colors better when they know more color terms). So, if we run with the media outlet metaphor, we can say that Modern Industrial English is like the Fox News of languages. Someone smart enough to figure out what they are REALLy saying on Fox can MOStLy tell whats really going on, but not all the time, unless more sources are available for comparison. Chinook wawa may be the Daily Show of languages. Not detailed, but at least its honest.


#27

I love this thread, and I want to see it keep growing and building.

I’ve finally narrowed my long list of ancestral languages down to two I would like to learn. Old English/Old Saxon, and Scottish Gaelic.

Old English for two reasons:

  1. Because I speak modern English and I want to understand the changes the language (and therefore the people) went through as England succumbed to civilization.
  2. Because my maternal ancestors are Low Saxon-speaking Dutch, which does not have accessible learning materials. Also there is no language community nearby to learn or speak with. But Low Saxon originates from Old Saxon, so Old English/Old Saxon is still a way to connect to that ancestry, and there are plenty of language materials, old literature, and groups of people studying the language everywhere.

And Gaelic for two reasons:

  1. Because my paternal grandfather grew up scorning his mother’s native Gaelic, and I want to face that and try to heal that family trauma.
  2. Because the Goidelic language family is the most ancient branch of the Indo-European language tree I can lay claim to–that still has a living language–and of all my ancestry, my Goidelic-language speaking ancestors were the least affected by civilization, (at least until modern times). I want to know how they formed their world from words.

Interested to hear from others about your language choices, and the insights you have found as you pursue them.