What was the broad question that you most wanted to get an answer to during your time in the program?
The question I entered the program with was: How can I resurrect my Tribal language? The last speaker had died nearly 100 years before. Although she left some writings in Mohegan, it was not enough to really start anyone speaking.
What is the current status of this question? Has it been answered? Did it turn out to be an ill-conceived question? If it’s a meaningful question as yet unanswered, please tell us what you think the path to an answer might be, or what obstacles make it a hard question.
The Mohegan language is still unspoken, but the number of breitling replica language resources continues to grow. Our grammar has been defined and the lexicon has grown to about 1100 words…not counting the inflections. A dictionary has been developed and published and we have a website with podcasts that contain short lessons on different areas of the language, as well as lists of things with accompanying audio files. A series of 15 lessons that cover the basics of the language have been developed and presented to a core group of students at Mohegan and in our virtual classrooms in Shinnecock, Unkechaug and Montauk communities on Long Island and their members that live as far away as Colorado and Saskatchewan. The on-line classes have also served far-flung Mohegans in Wisconsin, Georgia, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Florida. But still people aren’t speaking.
My enthusiasm for the language continues. I work on it daily, but the difficulties getting people to use the language continues to plague me. The dictionaries on my desk from related languages are many. My thesis, which includes sound changes from Wampanoag and Delaware languages, is dog-eared. There is a file on my computer with about 3,000 words that have not yet made it to round two of the process to get into the dictionary. The morphology of the language is becoming clearer. And the culture imbedded in the language is starting to show itself more robustly. But still no one speaks.
The Chief, the Medicine Woman and the Pipe Carrier can all rattle off prayers so smoothly that one might think that Mohegan is a spoken language. They make me proud. But had I not translated their prayers for them, I wouldn’t know what they were saying. Not only does no one speak the language, no one hears the language…not even me.
The realization that I have limited years in which to accomplish this goal presses on me, so I occasionally deposit everything thing that I have, hard copy and digital copies, in the Mohegan Archives for safe keeping. If my dream isn’t realized before I die, someone in another generation will have all of my work available to them, and it won’t be four small diaries. It will include the database, the research of the lexicon with thousands of words translated into Mohegan. It will include a grammar, lessons and the plans for an immersion school.
Recently, I learned a language game that claims to get a person fluent in a very narrow, but important, portion of the language. From this basic fluency other vocabulary and grammar can be added. I don’t understand it fully, nor am I sure how to institute this into the workings of the Tribe, but I’m working on it. I didn’t learn this at MIT, but it might be the missing link between learning a language and learning about a language.