A correspondent writes: “Here are a couple of videos from a guy I’m a big fan of, Zeke Zahir, a speaker of Puget Sound Salish (Lushootseed).” The first is a thirteen-minute talk by Zahir (his father was from Afghanistan) about how he came to learn Lushootseed (xʷəlšucid) and discussions he had with Vi Hilbert (taqʷšəblu), according to Wikipedia the last speaker with a full native command of the language. The second is a half-minute exchange in Lushootseed between Zahir and a little girl about cereal; all the dialogue is transcribed and translated in captions (perfect for learning a language), and it’s a lot of fun to see “ʔəcəda! OMG!” If you enjoy it, there are others like it in the list of videos on the right.
The talk is well worth watching; I’ll quote a few bits. When he asks taqʷšəblu if it’s appropriate to pay the language he’s learning as you would pay a medicine man, she says: “We pay Lushootseed with our mind. We give it our mind. That’s how you pay the language.” Later he says, “When you listen to those stories and you work with those stories and you start translating and transcribing those stories, and learning how to tell those stories, your mind changes.” The last segment is about the much-discussed topic of the influence of language on how we see the world; he says that indeed there are words and concepts that are hard to translate, but “the ultimate is that there are actual realities, that are real as this table, that exist in one language but not in another. And that’s very powerful. Because you’re literally living then in two different worlds…. So we’re very limited when we’re monolingual. We think we know a lot, we think we know how to talk about anything, but we don’t.” I like the last sentence a lot, and of course it applies to more than just knowing languages. (Thanks, Yoram!)