Foundation for Endangered Languages

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4. Appeals, News and Views from Endangered Communities

Linguistics Panel Examines Katrina's Impact on Gulf Coast Languages David Holzman

The mass-migration caused by Hurricane Katrina has the potential to forever alter the distinctive language of New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, as well as that of many other American cities. Linguistics researchers are studying how the storm affects language across the region.

Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, forcing tens of thousands to relocate across the United States. The migration required hurricane evacuees to take what possessions they could, including recipes, music and dialects. The rich cultural characteristics that make New Orleans renowned worldwide, such as jambalaya and jazz, were forced to other parts of the country as a result of the disaster. Also driven away were the many English dialects spoken by New Orleans residents. The topic was addressed recently at the University of Mississippi by a faculty panel and a local scholar during a round-table discussion on "The Displacement of New Orleans Speakers: Linguistic Consequences of Hurricane Katrina."

"Hurricane Katrina creates lots of potential cultural changes to the landscape of New Orleans," said Donald Dyer, interim chair of modern languages. "The dialects and languages of the New Orleans area are just one aspect of the expected changes."

Panelist and UM linguistics professor Allison Burkette said New Orleans residents scattered to more than 700 cities across the United States in the hurricane's wake. That relocation, she said, also dispersed the many English dialects associated with different New Orleans neighborhoods.

"In New Orleans, the dialects are identified with specific neighborhoods, such as the Irish Channel dialect, the Ninth Ward dialect and the Garden District dialect," Burkette said. "There are more, especially considering the varied backgrounds of New Orleans settlers, but these are the most recognizable."

"The future of the New Orleans English dialects is dependant upon who returns to the Crescent City," she continued. "Whatever happens, though, we can expect the dialects spoken in heavily flooded neighborhoods to eventually die off in successive generations if large groups of New Orleans residents do not return to rebuild their communities."

Recent polls suggest that as many as 40 percent of New Orleans residents will not return following rebuilding efforts. Burkette said those who don't return could even alter the English dialect in Houston, Texas, for example, where a majority of New Orleans residents relocated.

"Other cities can expect to see their dialect change if large portions of their population shifted as a result of New Orleans residents seeking new places to live," she said.

Another dialect examined as part of the roundtable discussion was Isleño Spanish. Since migrating from the Canary Islands to areas east of New Orleans in the late 18th century, Isleño Spanish-speaking residents had experienced a recent revival of their language, according to modern languages professor Felice Coles. That revitalization has diminished as a result of Katrina.

"Through social gatherings, newsletters and even a museum, Isleño Spanish was being revitalized, but that's been halted now," Coles said. "The disposable income of the Isleño Spanish-speaking residents used to revive their language is now being used for survival."

During the height of the revival, there were approximately 1,500 Isleño Spanish speakers in the New Orleans area. Since the hurricane, the number has dropped to an estimated 50 people.

"The key to maintaining these dialects is daily close-knit social interaction," Coles said. "When you lose that interaction, then you are in danger of losing the language."

Sponsored by the Department of Linguistics, with support from the departments of modern languages and English, and the College of Liberal Arts, the roundtable also addressed the demise of Mississippi Gulf Coast French.

Although there were only an estimated 50 people who spoke French on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in the early 1990s, Hurricane Katrina has all but killed the language, said independent scholar Rebecca Moreton.

"The French spoken along the Mississippi Gulf Coast was almost gone when Katrina hit," said Moreton. "Now because of the hurricane, we can easily say the language is dead."

For more information on the Department of Linguistics, go to

Bunuba at Large

By Chee Chee Leung, Education Reporter

THERE are nearly twice as many students attending Wesley College as there are people living in the largely Aboriginal town of Fitzroy Crossing in Western Australia. But these two communities, almost at opposite ends of the country, have joined forces in a bid to preserve an endangered indigenous language.

In a trial project to be announced tonight, Wesley College will spend a term next year teaching the Bunuba language and culture to its grade 4 pupils.

It is believed to be the first time the language will be taught to schoolchildren outside the indigenous communities of Western Australia. June Oscar, chairwoman of the Kimberley Language Resource Centre, said there were only about 60 older people who could speak the language fluently.

"If we don't know our language, we don't know our country, we don't know how we live," said Ms Oscar, a Bunuba speaker. "It's a great and fantastic opportunity for both our community and the Wesley community. "With an understanding of the language, a whole new world is able to be understood." Grade 3 student Stephanie Fung is one Wesley pupil looking forward to the Bunuba classes. "It's fun when you learn different languages," the nine-year-old said. "You learn about how they live and what they do."

Wesley College is among a number of independent schools — including Scotch College and Carey Baptist Grammar School in Melbourne's east — that have pursued relationships with Aboriginal communities. The Bunuba language initiative at Wesley is part of a broader partnership between the independent school and the Fitzroy Valley community of the Kimberley region. The town of Fitzroy Crossing, within the Fitzroy Valley, is about 2600 kilometres north-east of Perth.

Wesley pupils and teachers visited the town in August, and a group of Fitzroy Crossing pupils have been in Melbourne since Sunday. "It's nice and cold — too cold," said Edmond Smiler, of the Bayulu Community School. The 11-year-old also noticed that there were many children "of different colours" at Wesley. "You make friends out of them," he said.


  • Carey Baptist Grammar School has developed a relationship with the Robinson River School, in a remote Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory. Student exchanges that started this year are expected to continue, and teacher secondments are under consideration.
  • Trinity Grammar School offers four scholarships a year for indigenous students, in partnership with Melbourne University. Among the recipients for next year are two boys from the Northern Territory.
  • Scotch College offers two scholarships each year to students from the Tiwi Islands, north of Darwin, where boys spend a term as boarders at the school. So far six students from the Tiwi Islands have attended Scotch under this program.
  • Wesley College has established a partnership with the Fitzroy Valley community in Western Australia, which includes student and teacher exchanges, and plans to develop a curriculum to teach Aboriginal languages.

    November 17, 2005

    Fort Gibson Schools to Offer Cherokee Instruction

    The Fort Gibson Public School District plans to offer instruction in Cherokee culture and customs. Assistant Superintendent Linda Clinkenbeard says the district is working to get state certification in the Cherokee language.

    The district has a 40 percent American Indian student population, most of them Cherokee. Clinkenbeard says she believes there should be an interest in the language. A 2002 study by the Cherokee Nation indicated less than seven percent of tribal members in northeastern Oklahoma can speak Cherokee.

    Ngiaka Yalarrnga : Lance Sullivan’s quest to save a language
    National Indigenous Times, Issue 89, Australia, 19 Sept 2005

    The language of the Yalarrnga people from western Queensland is no longer in danger of oblivion, thanks largely to the efforts of former Boulia resident Lance Sullivan.

    While completing his full time studies in anthropology and archaeology at James Cook University, Lance embarked on a project that would see his peoples’ language and culture preserved for years to come. Lance’s book, Ngiaka Yalarrnga (sponsored by BHP Billiton’s Cannington Mine), is the culmination of hundreds of hours he spent listening to and recording older speakers of the Yalarrnga language.

    “I truly believe the youth of today must be taught their mother’s tongue and given the knowledge of their birthright, and that is why I have written this book,” he said.

    “Ngiaka Yalarrnga is also a tribute to the Yalarrnga people who have passed before us.

    “When I was a young man one of the elders told me never to forget who or what I am. She said to me, be proud, talk strong, walk tall, you are a Yurri an Anangu, an Aboriginal man. Our ancestors blood flows through your veins!

    “I hope that both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people enjoy reading Ngiaka Yalarrnga and I’m sure that my book will help reinforce the Yalarrnga language amongst Central Aboriginals,” Lance said.

    Cannington is distributing Ngiaka Yalarrnga to libraries and schools in north and western Queensland.

    Cultural comics for Ahtna

    CASEY RESSLER Frontiersman, Valley Life editor

    Language is a fundamental link to Native cultures, and in Chickaloon, a book project is keeping language front and center for future generations. After creating a CD-ROM package of language lessons for students as part of the Koh'taen Kenaege project, the tribe has created three comic book-style storybooks that are aimed at keeping the Ahtna language fun and educational for students.

    Editor's note: Ahtna, (also spelt Ahtena, or Atna - and also known as Copper River language or Mednovskiy) [AHT] is said by the SIL Ethnologue to have 80 speakers out of 500 population (on 1995 testimony from Michael Krauss). This Na-Dene language, closely related to Tanaina, is spoken on California's Copper River above the Eyak River at its mouth, and upper Susitna and Nenana drainages. There are 8 communities. Speakers are in their 50s or 60s and older.

    "We're trying to integrate traditional Ahtna language into lessons that are fun," said Dimi Macheras, who did all the artwork for the three books, the last of which was released this week. "It's one thing to have tapes with language spoken on them, but it's another thing to have something like a comic book or a CD-ROM to learn from." The third book, "C'eyiige' Hwnax," is available at Fireside Books in Palmer or through the Web site Macheras said that the first two books in the project, "Tsaani" and "Besiin" were very well received. "We printed 150 limited-edition copies, and now we're trying to print 1,000 more because they sold out," he said. "That's what we're hoping for this book, too."

    Originally, the language project was the creation of eight CD-ROMS. After six of those eight CDs were created, two more needed to completed, and the Ahtna language lessons were complete.

    "So we decided to make those last two CD-ROMs actual stories that used the Ahtna language," Macheras said. "And after that, we decided to print the stories."

    For Macheras, doing the artwork for the book was one way to not only put together one of his primary interests, art, but also to give back to his community.

    "The stories are word for word like my grandmother, Katie Wade, a village elder, would say them," he said. "It's nice because I'm a part of the tribe, and this is something that helps the tribe."

    Macheras has been drawing comic book-style graphics for years. He's only 24, but he can point to a simple project he did as an 11-year-old as his first paid art job. He went to Ya Ne Dah Ah, the Chickaloon Village school, for seventh- and eighth-grade. Now, he's hoping to make his passion for art a full-time career.

    He said he's already working with someone in Juneau to illustrate a comic book detailing an "ancient Tlingit story," and he's working on his own book as well. He said he hopes his illustrations end up benefiting rural Alaskans everywhere.

    "It's a lot of fun, and I've learned a lot doing this job," Macheras said. "I'd love to work with other villages designing books that they can use to teach, and to make money for their tribes."

    Niue fights to keep language alive

    Oct 5, 2005

    Teachers of the Niue language in New Zealand say one way to keep their tongue alive is by following the same road as Maori. Niuean people from around New Zealand were in Porirua this week for a four-day conference to discuss and debate the sustainability of their language. Latest figures put the language in a precarious situation with less than 20% of Niuean people speaking the language fluently.

    Co-ordinator of the Niue literacy project Nora Douglas says the efforts Maori have made are a good example in regaining their language. Douglas believes elders have a pivotal role in ensuring their language, culture and heritage is preserved for future generations. She says the elders are a precious asset and must be utilised. Douglas says they are the role models and will help pass the language on to the next generation. Language teachers are also considering developing a Niuean Language Commission.

    Letter from Georgia: Ratification of the ECRML and the position of Mingrelian and Svan

    Dear Representatives of FEL.

    In the near future, Georgia is to sign and ratify the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages. We are very glad about this. Unfortunately, the speaker of the Georgian parliament Nino Burjanadze in her interview to the Georgian weekly newspaper Kviris Palitra (October 17-24, 2005) stated that this charter will not cover the Mingrelian and Svan languages, because the Mingrelians and Svans are not national minorities within Georgia. We don't know whether Ms Burjanadze knows that this charter applies not only minority but also to regional languages. We are disappointed with this statement of Ms Burjanadze. Please support us and don't let some forces separate the Mingrelian and Svan languages from this charter.

    This charter is a last chance to save these languages. We need your moral support. Pleaase contact Mr Hasan Bermek , who will be following Georgia's ratification process, and tell him that the Mingrelian and Svan languages should be protected by the charter too. His e-mail address is: Hasan.BERMEK(at)

    Thanks in advance.

    Best regards.

  • David Rapava ,
  • George Karchava,
  • Zaur Gaxaria,
  • Valeri Gaxokia,
  • Viktor Tsaava,
  • Roland Xazalia.
    (members of the Association for Colchis Culture).