The University of Nevada World Language Department is set to feature a Northern Paiute language track or Numu, beginning in fall 2019.
The class is currently open for registration. A student can take PAIT 111 for the fall semester and PAIT 122 during the following spring semester — both taught by a local Paiute tribe elder. The 200-level courses for Northern Paiute will be offered in the future so students can take four semesters of a language. The class is worth four credits and is offered Monday and Wednesday from 5:30 p.m. to 7:20 p.m. in Edmund J. Cain Hall. The Northern Paiute language will fulfill the second language requirement of many degrees offered at UNR.
Assistant Professor of Anthropology Jenanne Ferguson and Assistant Professor of English Ignacio Montoya collaborated with Christina Thomas, a former Northern Paiute language teacher at Edward C. Reed High School in Sparks and student at UNR. During spring semester in 2018, Thomas, Montoya and Ferguson approached Dr. Cassie Isabelli the department chair of Spanish to create the Northern Paiute language program.
“Language is a central aspect of our lives — it is the medium by which we transmit information and express ourselves, but also by which we relate to others and our shared cultures,” Ferguson and Montoya said in an email to the Nevada Sagebrush. “When people stop speaking a language, all future generations will lose a crucial part of their culture and the ability to understand that culture, as language and culture are closely linked. Language is more than words; speaking one’s heritage language or ancestral language allows for more profound connection to that culture…It is important in that it will allow any student to study one of the languages of the land upon which the university stands, to gain a better understanding of local Paiute culture as well as the language, and to fulfill university foreign language credits in doing so.”
The Northern Paiute language is found in northwestern areas of the United States — specifically in California, Nevada, Oregon and Idaho. The language has four distinct dialects, Koodzabe Duka’a found in Mono Lake, California, Way Dukadu found in Bridgeport, California, Onabe Dukadu found in Coleville, California and Pehabe Paa’away found in Sweetwater, Nevada.
“We’d love to see more [indigenous languages] in the future – but it will depend partly on the interest in Paiute, the approval from the Department of World Languages, and also the approval and cooperation of speakers of the two other main indigenous languages of the region – Washo and Western Shoshone,” Ferguson and Montoya said in the email.
The language is considered apart of the Uto-Aztecan family branch. According to Ethnologue, there are approximately 142 language family branches. There are 58 languages in the Uto-Aztecan family branch. Approximately, there is 0.82 percent of people speak in the Uto-Aztecan family branch or around 1,925,518 people. Around 700 people speak Northern Paiute. Native Words Native Warrior also reported around 500 indigenous languages are spoken in the U.S.
Ferguson and Montoya said they believe more indigenous languages are not taught in schools because, in the 1860s, indigenous children were taken from reservations and placed into boarding schools. During this time, The goal of the U.S. government was to assimilate the indigenous people. Native Partnership reported by the 1880s, the U.S. operated around 60 schools and had 6,200 students enrolled. The children were taught mainstream American culture, English, academic subjects, athletics, arts, trades and Christianity.
“Many parents who had experienced these schools were left with profound trauma; many would no longer speak their languages to anyone even when they left school, and refused to transmit them to their children – they feared their children would have to suffer what they did,” Ferguson and Montoya said in the email. “Many experienced stigma and shame, and so many languages lost speakers over time. Even after the residential school era ended, indigenous languages were not seen by educators as “legitimate” languages, on par with European or Asian languages, and thus not fit to be taught – especially since some were primarily oral languages, or had brand-new writing systems. Racist judgments about their supposed ‘lack of sophistication’ and usefulness were made.”
Taylor Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.