I’ve had fond feelings for PRI’s The World ever since they interviewed me back in 2008; it seems like every time I listen to the show there’s something interesting, and today it was very much of LH relevance: How the Miami Tribe got its language back, reported by Carol Zall. You can listen to the show at that link, or read the transcript; here’s a snippet:
“I remember very specifically stumbling across these language materials, several pages of what I believed to be was Myaamia language,” Baldwin tells our podcast, The World in Words.
The pages had belonged to his late grandfather, and while Baldwin had no idea where they’d come from, he was intrigued. He wanted to find out more about his ancestral language, but there was a lot happening in his life at the time: After 10 years working in construction, Baldwin had gone back to school to get a college degree. And he and his wife Karen were expecting their first child.
Despite all that, Baldwin made time to travel to Indiana and Oklahoma to see if there were any remaining speakers of the Myaamia language. He couldn’t find anyone, but his curiosity had been piqued, and he decided to try to learn the language anyway.
Baldwin embarked on the challenge together with his wife, Karen. There was no dictionary or “Teach Yourself Myaamia” book, and there weren’t even sound recordings of the language. But somehow, they made a start.
They began with words — household items, animals, the names of birds — taped to their walls and kitchen counters, or carried on pieces of paper in their pockets to be consulted throughout the day.
The Baldwins’ efforts might have stalled without outside help, but in the early 1990s, Daryl Baldwin crossed paths with a graduate student from the University of California, Berkeley, who was doing research on Myaamia. The student, David Costa, was delving into archives and had uncovered a vast store of documents about the language, including dictionaries compiled by French missionaries in the 17th and 18th centuries. Prior to Costa’s research, linguists had believed that there weren’t many records of the language.
After his unexpected finds in the archives, Costa went looking for native speakers.
Needless to say, I love that stuff. Thanks go to Bonnie for calling me in to listen!