Thursday, April 6, 2017

Tohono O'odham: Is Language Dying?

After presenting my topic of the changing food culture of the Tohono O'odham, I reflected on the ways in which Westernization has changed other aspects of Tohono O'odham culture. I remember the concern of the tribal members at the cultural center that the language is no longer widely used in the tribe. The museum displays are both in English and O'odham which can present a problem to tribal members who don't know the language. They are not forced to learn about their culture when they look at their culture's artifacts.Furthermore, the display of English next to O'odham objects highlights a disconnect between tradition and modernization of O'odham ways. The tribe is becoming more Westernized and with it the language is becoming something of the past. Even though the cultural center implements ways for children to learn the O'odham language, is that enough? Is it possible that the O'odham language will be part of the tribe for generations to come?

While teaching children the language is a start, the cultural center should spread this work to the parents as well. Otherwise, a significant number of elders and children will know the language but the language will die to generations in-between. Most of the people who know the language are elders who are reminiscent of the days in which their language was widely used. Idealistically, this knowledge will spread to children. However, if the children know the language and their parents don't, this can be a problem. It is much easier for parents to know O'odham because they can teach their children. However, if only children know O'odham, then they aren't practicing the language at home.

For O'odham to persevere as the language of the tribe, several measures must be put in place. All tribal members(not just children) should take courses on O'odham so that parents can practice with their children. Additionally, O'odham should be more widespread in signage and display, motivating the tribe to continue learning the language. Additionally, a library with  many O'odham resources will make learning the language much easier.

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