Reviving A Dead Language: Shinnecock

A recent Public Radio International article chose to focus on something I can blog about: endangered cultures. In this interview with a Long Island reservation resident, the interviewee (Tina Tarrant) details how she singlehandedly raised a very dead language back to life through implementation in the reservation schools.

Tarrant, the reservation language researcher, explains how by making the simple choice of giving her daughter a traditional tribal name, she realized how important her cultural history could be. Working from a single written language source, she worked to have her tribe of Shinnecock Indians recognized by the federal government in order to begin using the tribe’s language in the education system. In 2010, the tribe was recognized, and the reservation preschool began teaching the language to the children. For the first time in generations, the language is being used in everyday situations.

The best part of this article is when Tarrant’s daughter, Tohanash, describes the atmosphere and attitude towards the language on the reservation:

“It’s very interesting,” Tohanash says. “People are owning it. They’re owning their identity, by just seeing these words on a regular basis and starting to use them with each other.”

There is hope for resurrecting dead languages! It has a precedent, and it’s absolutely possible to do it. We can’t let parts of a cultural legacy go to waste for the sake of easy assimilation into a Western culture.


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