Above is the most difficult subject we’re trying to begin to learn this year. The Baxoje language, of which only a handful of speakers remain.
One of my long term projects has been assisting Jimm GoodTracks with his Ioway, Otoe-Missouria Language Website, which I’ve done for a number of years. He has been compiling a dictionary of the Ioway, Otoe-Missouria Language and is a remarkable individual and resource. We have his books and CDs and have had them for several years but it wasn’t until this year that I felt H.o.p. was really ready to begin learning.
In order for me to learn I needed someone with whom to speak the language or to learn along with me. In order for H.o.p. to learn, he needs me to learn. So we are learning together.
Some will say, “Why learn a language which is very nearly dead?” Why not learn Spanish instead?
Because…because. I can think of many reasons to learn it. Whether we’ll be able to do so is something else.
So, in order to try to bring it more fully into our every day lives (we are still mainly very slowly gathering vocabulary), I have been making comics for H.o.p. that are in Baxoje, which can exercise what he is learning. Above is an example of one of them.
I fell behind last week. I’ve been trying to do one a day. I need to make up for it tonight and tomorrow and get some done.
The iPhone is proving to be a wonderful assist. I spent some time and compiled a glossary of the first Baxoje language book (need to finish the glossary of the second) and put it online as a Google document spreadsheet. When we’re out, I’m able to bring the spreadsheet up on my iPhone and practice vocabulary with H.o.p.
The trick is making it an established part of our lives. We did very well through the beginning and middle of September, working on this daily. But last week I began to feel a little depressed about it all, wondering if all this effort was futile on our parts. Thinking, “Well, we’re not Ioway tribal members. Our Ioway ancestry is distant. Is it somehow presumptuous for me to be doing this with H.o.p.? Could I be thought of as trying to, in a sense to own something that isn’t mine, as I’m not a member of the tribal community? Am I somehow doing a disservice to H.o.p., trying to teach him Baxoje instead of, say, Spanish or French?”
I felt this way for several days and didn’t do the cartoons. (I had done 20 so far.) We still did a little practice, but not much.
But I pulled it all up again today. And I have to keep on my mind, I think, what I told H.o.p. today.
He so far has been cheerful about learning the language, but I had begun playing for him daily old recordings of fluent speakers who have died so we could work on pronunciation (it’s a very different way than English with certain gutteral sounds and aspirating through the nose). He is bored by this and loses interest.
Today I thought to tell him, “You know, this woman you’re listening to, she was one of the last fluent speakers. She is dead now. You’re learning the language from one of the last fluent speakers when you listen to her. This language is a window to a world of your ancestors. She lived in that world. She had possession of a language that the U.S. government attempted to kill. We can’t have possession of the language like that because we weren’t born into that language, we didn’t grow up with it. But we can listen to her and learn from this woman and in learning the language try to build a bit of a window onto that world. Every language mirrors, instructs and even builds a way of thinking, of seeing the world and relating to that world. We can learn something about how your ancestors thought by learning this language from these recordings of one of the last fluent speakers. She knew she was being recorded. It was for the intention of teaching others. She’s continuing to teach and she’s now teaching us.”
H.o.p. replied, “And I can teach it to my children then from when they are little so they’ll know it like one of those fluent speakers?”