Language Barrier

I read some rant online about an Indian that was mad that he was asked if he spoke Indian. He was upset at the question because he speaks Hindi, and there is no such thing as an Indian language. I was amused when an Indian ask me if I spoke Mexican, as there is no Mexican language. This is like asking if you or I speak American. Well, but is that really a stupid question?

Distribution of North American Languages

The above map of North America, Anahuac, found in wikipedia breaks down the regions where major Native American language groups reigned. The map clearly shows that there is no single Indian language and that a American language never existed. There are several interesting points in the map. The first and perhaps more subtle point is that the West coast from the Pacific Northwest to Southern California is occupied by many language families. I guess we can think of that region as the American Balkans.

The largest and most studied language group spoken in the American West was Uto-Aztecan. Nahuatl spoken by the Aztecs and the many Hopi dialects are part of this language family. Uto-Aztecan was spoken from California, Utah, and Texas all the way to Old Mexico in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan and beyond to Aztec controlled territories in Oaxaca and El Salvador. Nahuatl is still a very vibrant language spoken by millions of people, mostly in Mexico. After the conquest many Nahuatl stories, legends, songs, and poems where written down in Nahuatl using Roman characters. You can still appreciate the beauty of this language by studying side by side the Nahuatl and English versions of poems such as those attributed to the poet king Nezahualcoyotl.

Another interesting thing to notice from the above map is that the Eskimo-Aleut language family spreads out to cover thousands of miles but with an East-West axis along the frigid cold of the arctic circle.

But perhaps the most interesting anomaly is how the Navajo arrived in the American Southwest. The Navajo language is part of the Na-Dene language family which is mainly concentrated in Alaska and the Northwest territories of Canada. The Hopi record the arrival of the first few Navajo in the American Southwest after the arrival of the Spanish and now the Hopi live as a tiny tribe completely surrounded by the Navajo Nation; the Navajo themselves are surrounded by Uto-Aztecan speakers.

A lot of observations can be made from the above maps. The unfortunate truth today is that many of the Native American languages are dying. It is important to try to preserve the cultural uniqueness of all of these languages.

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