Tech linguist to assist in salvaging remains of language, devising
fall, a Texas Tech University professor of anthropology will begin
the difficult task of collecting the remnants of the near-extinct
Comanche language, then creating a way it can be taught in a university
Williams, chairman of the Department of Sociology, Anthropology
and Social Work, will serve as an external evaluator for Numu Tekwapu,
a project to document and revitalize the Comanche language. He will
work with tribe members and researchers at Comanche Nation College
in Lawton, Okla., to record whats left of the language and
create a method for teaching it to students at the college.
project is funded through a $215,000 competitive grant awarded to
Comanche Nation College from the Administration for Native Americans,
a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Comanche language is nearly dead, Williams said. Of
the 13,000 people on the tribes enrollment, we had, at last
estimate, 20 to 25 speakers. Kids arent learning it anymore.
Speakers are much, much older. Its in a really bad way. Part
of my task is to create a digital archive of what we know of Comanche,
the other is to use technology and devise a way to teach college
students the language.
attributed the languages demise to the fact that Comanche,
Kiowa and Apache tribes lost their reservations in the Oklahoma
Indian Territory at the turn of the 20th century. Instead, they
received allotments that interspersed Anglos and other non-Indians
within what had been Indian country. Also, generations of Comanche
children were sent to boarding schools where they were reprogrammed,
often violently, to assimilate to white culture. This created a
lost generation that disrupted the flow of the tribes
culture and language.
is a complex, relatively recent offshoot of the Shoshoni language
that came about as the tribe splintered and moved south from their
homelands in the Great Basin region of the United States, Williams
language, a branch of the vast Uto-Aztecan languages, was passed
on orally and didnt have its own writing system until 1994.
Of the worlds 6,000 7,000 languages, its one
of a handful possessing voiceless vowels. In written
Comanche, these voiceless vowels are represented with underlining.
While they are written, they are almost inaudible when spoken.
couldnt say exactly how much of Comanche has already disappeared
because no records exist of it while it was still in use. However,
he compared it to New Mexicos Zuni language, which, while
still used and undergoing a preservation process, lost much of its
more formal speaking patterns.
we look at the Zuni language, its estimated that it had about
seven different speech levels, he said. The first level
was the most informal and the seventh was the highest, most formal
and sacred way to speak. The top four or five levels of speech are
completely lost. Most people only speak in the lowest registers,
which would have been the most vernacular style of speaking. It
would not signal honor or respect for elders or those who possessed
specialized knowledge or skills.
no telling how much of the Comanche language is lost. And as speakers
get older, they begin to forget and use less of it.
McDaniels, assistant professor of linguistics at Comanche Nation
College, serves as project director. He said the project was spurred
by a need for Comanche language learning materials that are educationally
sound, organized according to a curriculum based on outcomes, and
capable of serving accreditation interests.
resulting product will be a series of interactive, computer-assisted
Comanche language learning modules that require students to match
audio of spoken Comanche with selections of pictures without reliance
on translation, he said.
basically starting at square one, McDaniels said. The
purpose of the current project is to help develop Comanche speaking
skills in students. Everything is sit down and crack your
knuckles type of work. We will need to work hard to develop
interest, enthusiasm and goodwill within the Comanche community,
most especially with native Comanche speakers.