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7. Overheard on the Web

Hopi Radio

in REVITALIZING HOPI, by Jim Wilce, Northern Arizona U , writing in the Society for Linguistic Anthropology’s newsletter (March 1998)

Were the Hopi language to become moribund, the tragedy would surely be felt by those who trace their academic ancestry to Benjamin Lee Whorf. The Hopi Tribe's current efforts to revitalize Hopi, however, are manifold; the Hopi Foundation helps channel these efforts. Hopi education officials continue to develop a Hopi curriculum for the schools on the reservation, and a variety of language revitalization efforts form a central part of the work of the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office. Meanwhile, Emory Sekaquaptewa of the University of Arizona's Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology, and Northern Arizona University's Anita Poleahla are working with Hopi students on projects that include language revitalization. Perhaps the greatest enthusiasm, however, is being stirred by one effort that is about to reach fruition- a new public radio station dubbed Hopi Radio.

By December 1998, Hopi Radio- a project of the Hopi Foundation- will be broadcasting from Third Mesa in northern Arizona. According to Radio Project Director Rosanda Suetopka Thayer, the Hopi Radio Board and the Hopi Foundation have raised over $100,000 toward construction and operating costs, qualifying for a grant from the U.S. Commerce Department. Hopi Radio, which is located in Navajo County, submitted a proposal to the County Board of Supervisors for $10,000 from their yearly county budget toward the Radio Project's operations, and the request was unanimously granted. Each of the twelve Hopi villages are also being asked to contribute.

Programming is currently being planned and developed. Professor Sekaquaptewa has served as narrator for the promotional video created by a filmmaker who serves on the Hopi Radio Board. Sekaquaptwewa's linguistics students will soon begin preparing Hopi pedagogical materials for broadcast and will develop strategies for using these same materials with Hopis living off the reservation. Doran Dalton, Chairman of the Hopi Foundation and also a member of the Radio Project Board, says there will certainly be broadcasts in Hopi of news and activities on the reservation.

Not all of the station's programming will be in Hopi. A recent survey indicates that there are enough Hopis monolingual in English that programming will be bilingual, although a central goal of the Project is to encourage more use of the Hopi language in everyday contexts.

Speaking for herself, Northern Arizona's Anita Poleahla reports having overcome her fear of speaking Hopi (a fear instilled at a BIA boarding school), forcing herself to speak Hopi around her office. Poleahla has begun to address tribal meetings in Hopi.

At the non-traditional end of the spectrum, the language could contribute to the lyrics of popular Hopi reggae bands like that of Casper Lomayesva- "The 602 Band, which performs "reggae from a Hopi Third Mesa perspective." The band helped raise funds for the Radio Project in a December concert publicized by Tim Shinabarger of the Arizona Daily Sun, whose reportage led this author to the story.

For more information about the Hopi Radio Project, contact Rosanda Suetopka, Project Director, c/o Hopi Foundation, Box 705, Hotevilla, AZ 86030 or call +1-520-734-2358.

Jim Wilce, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, Northern Arizona University, Box 15200, Flagstaff, AZ 86011-5200, USA

fax +1- 520-523-9135 office ph. 520-523-2729
email jim.wilce(at)

American Indian News from Russia and Mexico

Gordon J Bronitsky wrote on 12 Apr 1998.

First American Magazine is the largest circulation magazine dedicated to American Indians published in Russia, with readers throughout Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Eastern Europe, and Tazhikistan, Kyrgizstan, Uzbekistan and elsewhere. Bronitsky and Associates is a firm which works with American Indian individuals, communities and organizations throughout the United States (including Alaska) and Canada to bring to the world the best that Indian America has to offer.

First American Magazine asked Bronitsky and Associates to work with them to bring American Indian artists, musicians, etc to Russia to begin a long-term cultural exchange. They hope to bring the best of traditional Indian America to Russia, probably beginning with a tour by Clem Holy Eagle, a Lakota hoop dancer who will be touring the neighboring country of Finland in October. It should also educate the Russian public about contemporary Indian America, through contemporary dance, jazz, painting, hot glass art, Indian-owned tourism, and more. In part, this opportunity stems from the successful tour of William Yazzie, a Navajo storyteller and fluteplayer, to Belarus in 1996, the first American Indian to tour that country.Mexico:

Bronitsky also announce the signing of their first client from indigenous Mexico, the Teatro Loil Maxil, a Tzeltal and Tzotil Maya theater company from San Cristóbal de las Casas in the Mexican state of Chiapas. Chiapas has been the site of an ongoing dispute between indigenous peoples and the Mexican government. This will allow Tzeltal and Tzotzil Maya to present their own stories in their own voices, their own words. Plans are underway for a European tour in the summer of 1999.

This drive to present Indian voices to the world began with the publication in Ireland of Rex Lee Jim, a Navajo language poet, in Navajo, English, and Irish in April, 1998. On a summer tour of Ireland in 1998, the author will read from his works in Navajo and English, accompanied by an Irish poet who will read Mr. Jim’s work in Irish translation.

Bronitsky and Associates, 3551 South Monaco Parkway, Suite 195, Denver, CO 80237 +1-303-695-8896 FAX +1-303-368-5868
e-mail: kzfg69a(at)
European Office: Horst Eilers, Bronitsky and Associates, Via Masone 3, 24121 Bergamo, Italy Tel/FAX +39 35 236554

Maori and Hawai’ian Language Nests

On 2 March 1998 Aggie Brockman, of Yellowknife, NWT wrote:

I'm wondering if anyone has recent information or any evaluation of the language nests in New Zealand established to bring back the Maori language? They seemed like such a great idea 10 years ago, but I'm wondering if they have increased use of the language.

Next day, Peter J Keegan replied:

I have been involved in a research project (commissioned by Te Kohanga Reo National Trust)that located some of the original cohort (1981/1982) of kohanga reo (language nest) students to ascertain the impact of kohanga reo on the lives of these students.

Some of those students have lost their knowledge of Maori language, but still have positive attitudes to Maori language & culture. One of the main reasons for language loss is that there was very little Maori-medium education available at that time (bilingual programmes etc.) beyond kohanga reo (kohanga reo caters for 0-5 year olds only).

We are sure that kohanga reo have contributed to an increase in the use of the Maori language - but we don't know if the number of Maori speakers is increasing or not ! It is important that to remember that kohanga reo are one of a number of Maori language revitalization initiatives making an important contribution.

Hence language nests are still a good idea. However, language nests in a vacuum will not increase the number of speakers in any endangered language.

Further details on the current state of Maori can be found on my web pages.

And Rosemary Henze Henze(at) added:
I believe the efforts to revitalize Hawaiian have produced some pretty remarkable gains in number of speakers who can speak Hawaiian as a second language. (through Hawaiian immersion schooling and Punana Leo preschools, modelled after the Maori Kohanga Reo). Whether these students are actually using Hawaiian in the community is less evident. You can contact No'eau Warner for more detailed information Noeau(at)

What Language is Revitalized After All?

The above exchange led to a further debate on the Endangered Languages List.

On 3 Mar 1998, Bob Richmond of Knoxville TN added:

The great success story in revival of an endangered language is undoubtedly Israeli Hebrew. This was a minuscule speech community in 1880, with about four million native speakers today (including a fair number of monolingual speakers), the fourth largest Semitic language in fact.

I have often wondered what the experience of Israeli Hebrew has to teach people trying to sustain the world's many endangered languages.

After some discussion of whether the community which revived Hebrew as a living everyday language was a generalisable situation, the debate went off in another direction:

Bob Rankin, University of Kansas, rankin(at) put in:

… There is also the interesting hypothesis of Paul Wexler that modern Israeli Hebrew should not be considered the descendant of ancient Hebrew but rather should be looked upon as a relexified (N.E.) Slavic language. I am not in a position to defend this view (in fact I attacked it when he implied something similar for modern Romanian about which I *was* equipped to speak), but he seems to believe that the structure of the modern language is really Semitic only in theory and that the syntax is thoroughly Slavic down to idioms.



There is a point to this digression however. Consider the difference in trying to teach, say, an Algonquian language (a) in all its morphological glory and (b) as relexified English. Obviously progress will be slow and painful in the former case but fast and possibly quite successful in the latter. Wexler empahsizes the great rapidity with which Slavic-speaking immigrants to Israel learn Hebrew.

This doesn't mean we should try to "revamp" endangered languages (although the thought does occur in the case of long-extinct languages), but it may explain part of the success of Hebrew. If Wexler is anything close to right, I think we must be careful in citing Hebrew as a precedent in language revival…

Then the tale was taken up by Sheila Shannon

I completed a nine-month ethnographic study of Irish revival among English speakers last year (working with Padraig O Riagain at the Linguistics Institute of Ireland). I visited 15 All Irish schools throughout the 32 counties (meaning I also went to Belfast) and talked to anyone who would talk to me. These are public schools (funded by the government including the British government in the north) in which Irish is the medium of instruction . The culture of the schools is thoroughly Irish as well -- sports, music, the everyday language, etc. Over the last twenty years the number of these schools has grown dramatically -- 11 primary schools in 1972 to over 130 today…

As Rosemary Henze said of Hawaiian, however, how much these students of All-Irish students use Irish outside of school remains to be calculated. I argue that the important thing is that these children are completely engaged at school, do well, and do it all through the Irish language and culture. Every school I visited had principals, teachers, students, and parents who were thrilled to be there. In one high school parents lined up outside the office I was in to be interviewed.

One issue that emerged, which reminds me of the Israeli Hebrew story, was that the Irish these children acquire is not "standard" Irish. It is Anglicized among other linguistic things that happen with the acquisition of a second language like fossilization. But one language activist, a native speaker himself, said that even if the Irish of these children wasn't the Irish of his grandfather at least it was a "living language."

Victor Golla vkgolla(at) rounded it off:

… languages are not "objects" to be "saved", but processes of social interaction that define particular social groups. If no significant social boundaries set a group off from the ambient society, no amount of effort by linguists and educators is going to preserve a language, except as a documented artifact.

But the reverse is also true. Once a social group achieves sufficient cohesion and independence (as Israel did decades ago, and as the "natural" ethnic components of the EU are now doing) there is no stopping language being used for identity purposes, but the nature of that "language" is a socially negotiable fact, not a historical or cultural-heritage one except in the most general of senses. Either way, linguists and other scholars are peripheral and largely irrelevant, except when we play at being social activists. Our real job is to document and reflect, and, from time to time, to provide tools for communities, and the individuals that make them up, to use for their own social purposes.

Some Principles for Practical Orthography

Trond Trosterud wrote (Endangred Languages List - 12 May 1998):

I have been working with this problem in different settings, and have come to the conclusion that the following principles should be guiding the work of language planning, thereby replacing the unanimous "Roman first/computer first" view with a "language first" view:

First priority is given to the needs of the languages in question. All phonemic distinctions should be kept in writing.

As for existing written languages, they should not need to adjust themselves to existing computer systems. On the contrary, the standardizers must see to it that the computers adjust to the existing languages, so that the users do not need to change their habits. This is especialy crucial in the case of minority languages, where there is enough unstability already, without unneccessary disputes over changing graphemes.

3. New written languages should restrict themselves to the grapheme repertoire of ISO/IEC 10646-1
Unicode.charts/normal/Unicode.html), possibly also to ISO/IEC 8859-1 (=Latin 1:, i.e. the C0 and C1 sets of the above), the most important Internet standard), or (when creating cyrillic-based etc written languages: to 8859-5 (
emono/latincy.jpg) etc).

When there are more phonemes than there are symbols in the basic (Latin or Cyrillic or Arabic or..) alphabet, this can be solved in three ways:
a. by modifying letters by diacritic marks
b. by using digraphs
c. by creating new letters

All three techniques have been utilized. From a computer technology point of view, a. and b. are to be preferred. 10646 already consists of most of the diacritic possibilities that will be needed.

Comments on these principles:

Ad 1:
Written languages are powerful instruments. If this principle is not respected, the written language will come back for a revenge. Thus, a bad orthography that fails to distinguish e.g. between long and short vowels, between different tones, etc., in cases where these distinctions are phonemic (systematically utilized to distinguish between word forms), may come back and take their revenge, so that younger speakers fail to learn their languages properly. I have seen several instances of that in the Soviet Union. Russian orthography does not mark stress, but stress very seldom is the only cue to distinguishing words (the context fixes it). I guess that they figured they should treat the diacritic length marks of minority languages as they did with Russian stress marks: Use them in dictionaries and perhaps in primers, not otherwise. Today the young speakers have often lost the fundamental length distinction.

If the new Akha orthography has other means of marking tone, fine. In norwegian, we have appr 5000 minimal pairs of the type "lande" (to land) "landet" (a land). The final t is not pronounced, but the forms are different, since they have different tone. Thus, the distinction can be marked in many ways, but when it is systematic it really should be marked (well, perhaps it does not necessarily have to in Norwegian, but that is a different story not relevant here).

But if Akha is a tone language (as I understand from Matthews earlier remarks) and this distinction is not respected, then that is BAD, and should be corrected. Look to Vietnamese. They have both the software and the linguistic groundwork you need (evidently the missionaries did get something right, at least in the 1600 c.!)

Ad 2:
Contrary to what people speaking 7-bit-languages (a-z) may think, it is possible to cope with other grapheme repertoires. I know only two a-z languages: English and Indonesian, And, and this is important, threatened languages (like human patients) need stable conditions in order to recover. In case of a written language reform, there will ALWAYS be some stubborn people refusing to change their habits, and due to human nature many of them will be old, and again due to the ecology of the language , many of these oldtimers will be the ones that have the best knowledge of the language (when language loss is going on, that is). Thus, I would really think twice before changing anything. If the old orthography is REALLY BAD, and if the people supports the new (or if a new orthography can eliminate several orthographies for the same language , then OK). But NEVER change orthographies because of computer problems. Give them Macintoshes instead :-) .

Ad 3:
With tabula rasa, new graphemes should of course be chosen from within the already standardized repertoire. Latin 1 has many vowels but few consonants, so very often latin 1 is not enough. With ISO/IEC 10646 around the corner (already there in Windows NT, you only have to purchase the fonts) I do not see the need to stick to Latin 1 at any price.

Ad 4:
Czech chose the first, English the second and Russian the third of these options. New letters should not be created any more, since there are enough of them already. The one-phoneme-one-grapheme-principle makes the best written language (leaving the issue of dialect variation aside, which is a different discussion), digraphs should thus be avoided. One should take into account the orthographic principles of the surrounding languages, and where e.g. English is the majority language , a new written language should probably write the postalveolar fricative as "sh" as well. This must not go too far, though. English marks a subphonemic distinction between [k+] (written k) and [k-] written c), there is no reason to impose that one on a new language as well. More grave examples come from Russian, where the palatalizing conventions of the vowel grapheme of the written language was introduced into languages without this distinction, or with quite different palatalization processes.

Bottom line:
Computers should be used for other things than destroying written languages. Grammar rules, and the computer serves, not vice versa.

Trond Trosterud
Lingvistisk institutt, Det humanistiske fakultet
N-9037 Universitetet i Troms, Noreg
f +47 7764 4239
t +47 7764 4763
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