Native American Language Could Soon Disappear

And California tribe members may very well want it that way
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 3, 2014 5:02 PM CST
Native American Language Could Soon Disappear
A Native American people in California may soon lose its language forever.   (Shutterstock)

The Maidu are Native Americans residing in California, with estimates of just 4,000 people of Maidu descent still in existence, Encyclopaedia Britannica reports. In her article about the Maidu for the BBC, Caroline Davies visited a distant relative in the Maidu town of Taylorsville, a frontier village that houses 140 people, with just a hairdresser and general store among the private homes. She made a startling discovery during her trip: Only five people in the town still speak the Maidu language, they're all between the ages of 87 and 93, and they may not necessarily want their kin to keep speaking it after they're dead. "Those [who] know the language don't want to speak it," Davies' cousin Trina tells her. "They associate it with difficult times. They don't want to stir up … anything." The apparent reason for this seemingly counterintuitive decision to let their language die: distrust.

As the BBC notes, Native Americans still harbor unpleasant memories of governmental intervention, including bounties placed on their scalps, Bureau of Indian Affairs-ordered boarding schools in which natives were made to speak English, and the Indian Removal Act, which forced Native Americans off their land and into poor urban areas, notes the BBC. The Maidu may therefore be reluctant to share their sacred knowledge with outsiders. "If someone misuses the knowledge you give them, if they use it to hurt someone, you as the person who gave it to them, are responsible for that hurt," Trina explains. Therefore, as Davies puts it, the Maidu community would perhaps "rather turn in on themselves than share their culture with a world they distrust. … [It may be seen as] a noble act of social responsibility by a group protecting itself from the unknown implications of their actions." (Listen to what our ancient ancestors may have sounded like.)

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