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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America



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Study of Ancient Local Languages Seeing Revival in North County


by BRUCE KAUFFMAN North Country Times


SAN MARCOS ---- Palomar College teacher Linda Locklear became a student again this summer, enrolling in a class in Luiseno, a language indigenous to San Diego County and believed to be the first spoken here.

It's the second summer she's studied the language in a formal Palomar course, a course the 30-year veteran American Indian studies professor lobbied for years to get in the regular curriculum for credit. A unanimous vote of the Palomar board of trustees in December 2001 put Luiseno, a language spoken in North County for centuries before Europeans arrived, into the catalogue.

Now the movement is building to develop an entire new generation of people who speak this ancient language of several North County and Southwest Riverside County tribes, including the Rincon, La Jolla, Pechanga, Pauma and Pala. Luiseno, educators said in interviews this week, is spoken now by a sparse few and needs to be nurtured.

And along with offerings this academic year that will advance the skills of those who took introductory Luiseno, the college for the first time this August begins a formal, for-credit course in Cupeno. It is among 90 to 100 pre-European languages native to Southern California, and the language spoken by a tribe known as the Cupeno who were forced in 1903 to leave its land in Warner Hot Springs and resettle at the Pala Reservation.

Both Luiseno and Cupeno are now to count toward meeting the requirement in both the California State University and the University of California systems that students learn a foreign language in order to graduate, said Steven Crouthamel, the chair of the American Indian studies department at Palomar.

At Cal State San Marcos, senior Shalene Molina is getting university credit for her study of Luiseno. She will have taken three ever-more advanced classes at Palomar by the time her undergraduate course work is done at the end of the fall 2004 semester.

A human development major who lives on the La Jolla Indian Reservation, Molina, who describes herself as Luiseno, Cupeno and Diegueno, said Luiseno should survive to serve as a living expression of American Indian culture.

"I just don't want the language to be lost," she said by phone from the reservation Friday. "It's important to carry it on."

Molina is one of 425 students who have studied Luiseno and Cupeno in 16 non-credit and for-credit classes at Palomar since 2002, college officials said. Trial runs of the courses go back to the mid-1970s. By 2005, said professor Locklear, a plan to add Kumeyaay, the language of Los Coyotes, may be realized.

Said Locklear, who took the course with her 6-year-old grandson, Narsall, "I can count to five (in Luiseno), I know my colors, and I can tell a story."

The story is one that linguist Eric Elliott, the sole Luiseno teacher at Palomar, aims to have his students passing on in the original from generation to generation. In English, it would be called "Mr. and Mrs. Tiger and the Frog."

The story, as Elliott related it in an interview Thursday, involves a boastful frog who is caught alone with Mrs. Tiger by her husband. The male tiger examines the frog's every tale and finds them to be full of falsehoods, including the frog's claim to have been a decorated soldier who can beat anybody up.

"Do anything to me," the frog pleads with Mr. Tiger after being thoroughly unmasked, "but don't kick me into the pond."

And that's exactly what Mr. Tiger does, as the frog swims off and survives because of the wiliness of his plea.

It's about the eternal battle between truth and falsehood, said Elliott, and a worthy vessel to carry the intricate Luiseno language and instill its sounds and words in children.

Elliott, 43, a part-time professor at the college and a married father of three who says he's very aware that he's a white man, taught the course for the first time in 2002 "live" at the Palomar Education Center on the Pauma Reservation. But after he was named to a full-time teaching post at the Pechanga Reservation, the Chula Vista resident turned to the World Wide Web and online classes as a way to solve the grueling problem of his commute.

In 2003 and earlier this year, students heard Elliott teach the language spoken via audio stream after they linked to their electronic classroom from the college Web site at For the fall semester, online video of Elliott holding forth will be added. "This is pretty revolutionary," Elliott said. "I don't know any place except Palomar that's trying to get these courses out there, especially in Southern California."

Elliot studied with the late Villiana Hyde, a native speaker of the Rincon dialect of Luiseno who in "Yumayk, Yumayk" (translated as 'long, long ago') wrote down the fairy tales and various histories that were spoken and passed down through the generations. Her first book, "Introduction to the Luiseno Language," was published in 1971.

Elliott expects to be working with a 19-year-old Palomar graduate and UC Riverside Native American studies major named Paul Miranda this fall semester as Palomar offers Cupeno online for the first time. Miranda, who grew up on the Pala Reservation and calls it home, said he would be the first Cupeno person to teach college-level Cupeno in the region.

Miranda says he will draw from a English-Cupeno dictionary, complete with Cupeno legends, that has been in his family "a long time," a work by the late Rocinda Nolasquez called "Mulu'wetam." It's all the more important that the language be revived, Miranda said, because, along with the other indigenous languages, it was suppressed.

"There was a story about one girl who spoke Cupeno in class and the nun took her tongue and put it on a frozen pole and a piece of it chipped off," Miranda said.

Palomar's Locklear, a sociologist and a Lumbee Indian from the southeast part of North Carolina, said preserving languages such as Luiseno and Cupeno is vital because the words reflect the special views of the world held by those peoples.

"You can't pray the same way in English," she said. "The songs are not the same, the world view is not the same. The language is really kind of the heart of the culture and, without the language, your culture is really deprived."

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