When we were learning how to analyze languages we spent some time in Oklahoma learning and analyzing a smattering of Cherokee. I was sad to find out that the Cherokee language is near the point of disappearing. The unique alphabet is even closer. My generation of Cherokee weren’t that interested in learning their own language, in general they can understand, but don’t know enough to use it exclusively with their children. In general the grandchildren, know what their grandparents are commanding them to do, and can respond some, but will fall back on English for their everyday conversations.
There are many initiatives to restore the language, the culture, the feeling of pride over such a rich heritage. There are museums, there are preschools that invite older Cherokee people to come in and speak with the kids, there are all Native American schools that have courses in Cherokee there are Cherokee language churches, culture fairs, iPhone apps recording projects, and so on. It’s all encouraging; smart people are working on it. Hopefully they will succeed in preserving the Cherokee language.
Here, I can sort of feel that same slide away from the unique language and culture. Sure, the language is still strong. There are still many, many monolingual speakers. Its still the language that kids use everyday in their play (at least in the mountains). But I don’t know anyone under thirty that knows how to play the hauntingly beautiful traditional guitar. Disturbingly, there are several families that choose to use the national language exclusively with their kids. Yes, kids will have to learn the national language to go to school, and its okay to be comfortable in the wider culture. But, I hope they will not eventually leave their unique language behind, that they will strengthen their uniqueness, and not become homogenous.