In her new book, Trip of the Tongue: Cross-Country Travels in Search of America's Languages, author Elizabeth Little maps the many and varied languages of America, from Navajo to Norwegian.
Little, a Harvard graduate, spent two years traversing the United States looking for languages that are struggling to survive.
“I put, I think, 25,000 miles on my poor, long-lost Subaru that has since been consigned to the afterlife for cars,” she told Jackie Lyden, guest host of weekends on All Things Considered on NPR.
NPR notes that in the book Little says fluency in Navajo at one reservation school district has dropped from 89 percent in the early 1980s to only a few percent by the end of the decade. The author postulates that being less geographically and technologically isolated could be one reason for this decline.
“Once there is more television, you know, cable television and the Internet, and once younger members of the tribe have more ability to be exposed to the English language, the heritage language really drops off pretty quickly,” she told NPR.
But there is hope because there are people fighting for their languages. Technological advances have been helping them in their quest. A number of apps have been popping up on iTunes for a variety of Native American languages—one example would be Navajo Toddler, created last year by Isreal Shortman. It offers flashcards in six categories that show the word and a colorful picture representing the word, which is also spoken to hear pronunciation.
There are plenty of other efforts to preserve the Navajo language as well. Diné College, a tribal college in Tsaile, Arizona, offers a Navajo Language Program to prepare language teachers for certification, and the Navajo Language Academy, a nonprofit out of Window Rock, Arizona is dedicated to the study and promotion of the language. Another nonprofit, Navajo Language Renaissance, is working with Rosetta Stone to preserve the language. Those are just some examples of the many efforts to save the Navajo language.
For more information on Trip of the Tongue, visit Bloomsbury Publishing’s website.