Native Americans Work to Revitalize Traditional Languages

It was almost a century ago that a young Lakota Indian, James Emery, was sent away from his home on South Dakota’s Rosebud Indian reservation to boarding school in the central state of Kansas. When he returned several years later, he was alarmed to notice changes in the way his language was being spoken. Folks had begun to shorten words, a phenomenon that linguists call “clipping.”

“Once you start clipping words, soon it becomes commonplace,” said his grandson Randy Emery, a cultural resources management specialist in Rosebud. “And every time that expression is used, you lose a little bit more of the language.”

Fearful that the Lakota language would someday be lost forever, the elder Emery began recording native speakers whenever he got the chance.

“He started recording on old Edison cylinders,” said his grandson, “then he went to reel-to-reel and eventually cassette tapes.”

By the end of his life in 1977, the elder Emery had amassed hundreds of recordings of some prominent Lakota, including survivors of the historic battle of Little Big Horn. Today, those recordings are housed in South Dakota’s Black Hills State University and serve as a valuable resource for language preservationists.

Read more: Voice of America

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