Project aims to protect vanishing language

June 6, 2011 at 1:16 PM

FORT WORTH, Texas, June 6 (UPI) -- Linguists at universities in Texas and Oklahoma say their Breath of Life project is helping American Indian communities bring back disappearing languages.

The project, a joint effort by the University of Texas at Arlington and the University of Oklahoma, features workshops in which linguists mentor American Indians so they can better recover endangered languages, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported Sunday.

"We are growing field linguists," said Colleen Fitzgerald, chairwoman of UT Arlington's Linguistics Department. "We are transferring knowledge to community members so they can teach their own languages."

One workshop participant is Hutke Fields, who says he hopes for the day when younger generations of the Natchez tribe in Oklahoma use his people's native tongue at ceremonies, while sharing oral histories and during everyday talk at home.

It will be an uphill battle, he said, noting that out of about 10,000 members of the Natchez tribe in Oklahoma, only six people still speak the language.

"We'll lose it if we don't use it," said Fields, who attended a Breath of Life workshop last year.

The project allowed his community to computerize a dictionary and research, he said.

"I grieve daily over the loss of cultural values," said Fields, principal chief for the tribe. "It takes a community and economy and people who want to preserve."

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