November 11, 2011

Saving the MHA language

Saving the MHA language
By Jerry W. Kram
The languages of the people of the Fort Berthold Reservation are in danger of disappearing. The number of fluent speakers of Hidatsa, Sanish and Nueta could probably fit in a small bus.
There will be a reservation wide symposium, sponsored by the Fort Berthold Community College, on the effort being made by the Three Affiliated Tribe Boys and Girls Club to reinvigorate the Fort Berthold’s native languages. The symposium will be held at the Parshall Veteran’s Memorial Hall on Wednesday, Nov. 16. It will start with a free dinner catered by Famous Daves BBQ at 5:30 p.m. and the presentation will start at 6 p.m.
The host of the event will be Stacey Mortenson’s environmental science class from the college, said Izetta Hopkins. Hopkins is the coordinator of the language preservation project. The symposium is being funded by the National Science Foundation.
“Dr. Mortenson’s students were broken into teams to deal with some environmental issue and preserving languages is definitely one of those issues,” Hopkins said. “The team I was invited by was Scott Baker,Kristin Mason, and Melissa Baca. So I agreed to do a presentation on what we are doing.”
Hopkins said the core of effort to save the languages have been the identification and recruitment of six “master speakers” who are among the remaining fluent speakers of the three languages. They are Edwin Benson, Cory Spotted Bear, Delores Wilkinson, Dancing Eagle, Lida Bears Tail, and Delvin Driver Jr. Each of these six masters has been paired with an apprentice who spends 20 hours or more a week with the master speaker, communicating without using English. It is a technique called immersion.
“I am hoping that all my language masters can be at the presentation,” Hopkins said.

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