endangered native language of Brighton residents will get a reprieve
from extinction when the first Creek language dictionary is printed
in book form early next year.
Tribal Council recently approved an agreement with University
Press of Florida to publish Este Semvnolvlke Enponakv, The Language
of the Seminole People: An Outline Grammar and Basic Dictionary
of the Florida Seminole Creek.
The project, founded by Brighton Cultural Programs director
Lorene Gopher, is nearly 20 years in the making.
"I went to a culture workshop in the early 1990s and realized
that our people were losing the language. We still had it, but there
was no way to maintain it," Gopher said. "If we don't do what we
can to preserve our language, then when it's gone, it will be totally
Gopher, Jenny Shore and world renowned linguist Julian Granberry
began a campaign to list, define and phonetically express
Creek words that for centuries had been passed orally. The language
is named for those whose ancestral bloodlines hail from lands near
watery passages in regions that became Georgia and Alabama.
Paul Backhouse, director of the Tribal Historic Preservation
Office and Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, said language is the "heartbeat
of the culture; the central thing that makes a culture. When it
disappears, so does the way of thinking the very pattern
According to a 2010 report from the United Nations Educational,
Scientific and Cultural Organization, only about 175 of the original
300 reported Native American languages still exist. Five of the
top 25 most endangered languages of the world are Native American.
Backhouse, who is serving as publication coordinator, said early
translations of Creek to English were problematic because they were
made by colonizing and missionary English who recorded what they
thought the Creeks were communicating. In the case of the Creek
dictionary, words were presented to language-fluent elders and then
fit to English.
Many new words, such as computer and astronaut,
had not yet evolved to 21st century Creek vocabulary, so they were
created by elders for succinct and final translation. New words
include czto soponakv for television, which literally
means metal to talk with, and estzketz for airplane,
which literally translates to something to fly with.
Lewis Gopher, tribalwide cultural events specialist and head
of culture education at Brighton, said only about 20 elders speak
Creek fluently. But there is hope, he said, adding that the language
is part of Brightons Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School curriculum,
which makes the dictionary a vital classroom component.
Its entirely needed. On a personal basis alone,
I will be able to learn on my own and my kids will have a book in
school, said Lewis Gopher, the son of Lorene Gopher.
About 3,000 words are ready for the dictionary, which will list
words from Creek to English and from English to Creek.
Backhouse said the completed manuscript is to be delivered to
the publisher Sept. 1.
Royalties will be paid to the Tribe for use by the Tribe.
But the dictionary comes with some controversy, Lewis Gopher
said. Tradition holds that language is provided by the Creator,
the Breath Giver, and not meant to be written on paper or available
to the world. To do so could bring harm.
Now here we are, ready to be published and my mother is
sick and aware of the consequence. What a sacrifice she made to
preserve our identity that goes much deeper than modern buildings
or the Red Barn, Lewis Gopher said. The depth of her
work will go on to the next century.
MUSEUM MISSION & HISTORY
MISSION STATEMENT: To collect, preserve, protect and interpret Seminole
culture and history - inspiring an appreciation and understanding
of the Seminole people. MUSEUM HISTORY: "We have lost priceless
knowledge of our people because we failed to properly document and
store these documents. Therefore, I believe it is time to develop
a museum where we can do these things and share our culture with those
who wish to know a little about the Seminole." --James E. Billie,
Chairman, Seminole Tribe of Florida