Native Languages Of North America – [This is a talk prepared by Jack Martin for Randy Moore’s April 2020 Language Model course. The idea is to browse the text below and listen to the audio. There’s also a script below if you’d like to read it.]
Na-Dene language (origin): The most diverse family is found in Alaska and Canada. Navajo and Apache belong to this family.
Native Languages Of North America
Algean languages (origin): The Algonquian languages belong to this family. Cree, Ojibwe and Blackfoot members. Pocahontas spoke in Virginia Algonquian.
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Iroquoian languages (origin): Cherokee and Mohawk are Iroquois languages. Nottoway is spoken in southern Virginia and documented by a W&M professor.
Uto-Aztec languages (origin): Ute (in the north), Aztec or Nahuatl (in the south) give this family its name.
Vowel-consonant relationship (root): red=long; pink = medium height; white = average; Light blue = moderately low; blue = low. Key Idea: The ratio of vowels to consonants varies in North America. The Pacific Northwest (Salician and neighboring languages) have many consonants!
Subject, object and verb order (source): Gray = no dominant order; blue circle = SOV; Red circle = SVO; Yellow circle = VSO; Yellow diamond = VOS. Key Idea: Word order is different in North America. The Pacific Northwest has verb-first languages. Southeast has SOV orders. Northeast is in uncertain order.
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Reverse Conjugation of Verbs (source): dark red = 12-13 categories per word; Red = 10-11; Orange = 8-9; light orange = 6-7; White = 4-5; light blue = 2-3; Blue = 0-1. Key Idea: Verbs in North American languages are mostly verbs.
Position of markers in species (origin): Red=head markers; blue = corresponding letters; Purple = double sign; white = no signal; Yellow = Other. Key Idea: Most North American languages have head markers.
Note: North American languages vary in number of consonants compared to vowels and word order, but have great word morphology (often agreeing with verb arguments).
2. English-speaking settlers borrowed words from Algonquian in Virginia. Search online for common English words from Virginia Algonquian or Powhatan.
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3. Briefly read Nichols and Bickel and examine the following examples to determine whether Muskogee should be classified as primarily marked, dependently marked, dually marked, unmarked, or other. (The first row is phonemic, the second row is glossed and the third is English.)
4. Many North American languages are classified as highly synthetic. The following interlinear text is part of a Muskogee (Creek) story (source). In this example your task is to estimate the average proportion of morphemes in Muskogee in English. (The first line is the spelling of the Muskogee community. The second line is broken down into phonemes and morphemes. The third line is glossed. The fourth is English.) What is your connection to Muskogee? What about English? How do Bickel and Nichols calculate synthesis ratios?
Language is the foundation of culture. People’s lifestyles, history and philosophies are understood and communicated through language. Today, many American Indians speak English, but they consider their traditional language very important to their cultural identity.
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Many of these native languages have now disappeared, but are still spoken by many. If the last speaker dies, the language is lost forever. Adivasis strive to keep their mother tongues alive. Many tribes were able to recover their lost languages using books and articles written about their languages in the past.
Language is central to cultural identity. It is a code that contains the subtleties and mysteries of cultural life. Language determines thought in many ways. JW Richard West, National Museum of the American Indian and member of the Southern Cheyenne Tribe of Oklahoma.
During World Wars I and II, secret military messages were sent in American Indian languages.
Navajo is a Navajo word. Navajos today live in many ways like the rest of the United States. Fortunately, many Navajos still speak their language. About 420 Navajo Code Talkers were active during World War II, the largest number of any Native group. Today the tribe is working hard to preserve their language for future generations.
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Navajo Homeland: Four Sacred Mountains define the Navajo homeland, an area of 27,000 square miles in the four corners of Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona.
Art: Navajo artists are traditionally known for their beautiful textiles and silverware. Navajo artists today are musicians, painters, sculptors and poets.
Tribal Government: The Navajo government operates under the constitution with a president, vice president, council (88 representatives representing 110 tribes), judiciary, police, higher education, and many other programs and services for the Navajo people.
Comanche is the word for the Comanche language. Today, not all members of the tribe speak the Koman language, but it is revered as a linguistic ancestor. The tribe has developed language and cultural preservation programs and produced many language learning materials, including the material you can listen to here.
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Traditional Comanche homeland: The traditional Comanche homeland covered much of the southern Great Plains in present-day Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Kansas.
Importance of Horses: Horses are a very important part of Comanche traditional culture. The Komans raised many cattle and were known for their exceptional horses. They introduced other tribes to the use of horses.
Tribal Government: Comanche government is constitutionally elected and administered. The Comanche government is involved in many programs, including economic development, environmental protection, and education.
Listen to a sample of the Comanche flag song. It is like the national anthem of the Comanche nation.
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Carl Gorman was born in 1907 on the Navajo Reservation in Chinle, Arizona. As the Navajo people identify themselves, Mr. Gorman was of the Black Sheep tribe and was born into the Tower House tribe. It determines the lineage of both his mother and father. English and Navajo were spoken in Mr. Gorman’s childhood home and he learned both languages. As a child, he enjoyed drawing, riding his father’s horse, and tending to the family’s sheep and cattle. She loved watching her mother weave beautiful and intricate traditional Navajo rugs. Carl Gorman studied traditional Navajo practices and enjoyed the beauty of the Navajo land.
You are born into your culture. My culture is Navajo. This is what you live for. Family and Heritage – The roots run deep. Carl Gorman, Navajo Code Talker (Henry and Georgia Greenberg, Navajo Power: Carl Gorman, the Man and His Life, 1996)
Charles Cibitti was born in 1921 near Medicine Park, Oklahoma. The community is part of traditional Comanche territory in the Wichita Mountains north of Lawton, Oklahoma. Mr. Chibbitti grew up in the language of his tribe. His last name Chibbitti means “good hold” in Comanche. Under the current Comanche government, the tribe elects its leader. However, in the past Comanche chiefs inherited leadership positions. According to the Comanche Nation, Charles Chibiti was the last line chief of the tribe descended from ten ancient bears on his mother’s side. Today, the most spoken language in North America is English, followed by Spanish and French. These languages were brought to North America by pioneers from Europe. But North America is a place of many different language groups and some languages are isolated.
There are approximately 296 indigenous languages north of Mexico, of which 269 are divided into 29 families (the remaining 27 are isolated or unclassified). The Na-Dene, Algic and Uto-Aztecan families are the largest of many languages. As for the languages of Mexico, Uto-Aztecan is the most spoken (1.95 million) (more than 1.5 million speak Nahuatl); Na-Dene is second with about 200,000 speakers (of which about 180,000 speak Navaho) and Algic is third with about 180,000 speakers (mainly Cree and Ojibwe). The Na-Dene and Algic have a wide geographical distribution: the Algic currently cover much of the continent from northeastern Canada to northeastern Mexico (due to later migration of the Kickapoo) with two borders in California (Yurok and Wiot); The Na-Dene territories extend from Alaska and western Canada through Washington, Oregon, and California to the southwestern United States and northern Mexico (across the Plateau). Many families have only two or three languages. Demonstrating genetic relationships is difficult because of North American linguistic diversity. Two large (super)family proposals, Penutian and Hokan, are particularly promising. However, even after decades of research, many families survive.
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North America is known for its linguistic diversity, especially in California. The region has 18 language families with 74 languages (compared to European Basque, which has three families: Indo-European, Uralic and Turkic).
Another area of considerable variation appears to be the southeastern United States; However, many of these languages
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