OPINION: Reviving languages is tough in face of technologyThere have been a lot of reasons that caused the Native languages to diminish and in some cases to disappear entirely.
By: Tim Giago, Syndicated columnist
There have been a lot of reasons that caused the Native languages to diminish and in some cases to disappear entirely.
The first was the deliberate efforts of the government, the church and the new settlers to remove the obstacles that would deny them unfettered settlement of the Western Hemisphere. The most adept country at eliminating the language and customs of the indigenous people was Spain. When Spain invaded Native nations from South America to California, the first thing it did was to separate the children from their parents, use the parents as slave labor — even separating husbands from wives — and begin a process of total immersion in the religion and language of Spain.
As the parents died off, so did the language, and the children, having been forcibly separated from their parents, had no access to the language, and the first generation of children raised under the auspices of Spain began to speak Spanish only. Most of the people of Mexico, for example, are Indians with Spanish surnames who speak only the Spanish language. This happened throughout South and Central America.
The new country called the United States took the lessons of Spain seriously. The U.S. set about eliminating the customs and language of the Indian tribes by following the proven methods of the Spaniards: separate the children from their traditional teachers, their parents and grandparents, force them to speak English only, and coerce them into accepting a new religion by catechists skilled in the art of mind control.
For the most part, this forced system of assimilation worked. Many indigenous tribes succumbed to the pressure of the new government and fell victim to assimilation, loss of language and traditional customs.
There is now a national Indian movement to revive the language. The success of this movement is dependent upon the youth. If they do not embrace and support these effort, they will come to naught. And what is the new and greatest enemy of this movement? The answer is simple and frightening: It is technology. Why technology? Walk around any elementary or high school on any Indian reservation and watch the youngsters on their cell phones texting. And then there is Facebook and Twitter. Several Indian students were recently asked this question: What language do you use when you text, etc.? Their unanimous answer: English.
Computers can be used effectively to revive the language, but so many youngsters of today are much too busy on Facebook, playing all kinds of games on their cell phones and computers or texting their friends, all of this in English, that getting them to learn their own Native language on a computer is becoming nearly impossible.
Modern technology can be a boon or a bust, depending on how it is used. Hackers have attacked major banks and even the U.S. Defense Department, so government agencies, major corporations and even small businesses have to be on constant vigilance against these insidious hackers. Blogs that would bring instant lawsuits if they were printed in a legitimate newspaper can slam people with ugly rumors and innuendoes with impunity.
And finally this technology is in the hands of the Indian children and young adults, and it is pulling them farther and farther from their roots, their traditions and their language. One Native teenager said she texted all day long and found it much easier to text in English, so much so that she saw little reason to learn her own Native language. Is this thought process becoming commonplace in Indian country?
This is the fear some Native linguists have about the new technology. They fear that the young students often choose the easiest way to communicate and if using their Native language is too difficult, they will revert to English only.
If there are Native American educators out there facing this same dilemma in their schools, what is the answer to solving this problem of modern technology?