Thursday, March 20, 2003

Professor hopes to save dying Indian language

The Associated Press

BOWLING GREEN, Ohio - Sticky notes bearing words and attached to Linette Bacon's body are part of a professor's plan to preserve a dying American Indian language.

A note that reads "akekaae" is attached to Bacon's hair, and stuck to her nose is another that reads "kekFota." The words are written in Mingo, a language that can claim less than five fluent speakers in the world.

Sheri Wells-Jensen, a professor at Bowling Green State University, a group of about 10 students, professors and Mingos hope to revive the language and reintroduce it to tribe members.

"We need speakers if it's going to survive," said Wells-Jensen, who is interim director of the master's degree program in teaching English as a second language.

"If you can imagine being, say, the last speaker of English, being the last person who knows the lullabies, the literature and the stories. It would just be heartbreaking," she said. "I can only imagine how horrible it would be to have your language disappear from the planet."

She and the others greet each other in Mingo, sing songs and practice speaking to each other in the challenging language that is full of nasal sounds. Letters are pronounced differently in Mingo, and the emphasis on syllables is not the same as it is in English.

"Each word is a triumph," Wells-Jensen said.

There are a little more than 50 Mingo families in the tribe that stretched roughly from Kentucky to Canada, but it has been generations since they spoke in their native language, said Georgia Adams, wife of Mingo Chief Mike Adams.

Many don't know it at all or remember hearing only a few words from their grandparents.

Years ago, ruling whites intentionally removed Mingo children from their homes and sent them away to English-speaking schools, she said.

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