From the Endangered Language Program: Chitimacha Release

We’re still sailing high from our celebration earlier this year. The completion of our fourth Rosetta Stone Endangered Language Program product is another major milestone for our little team. Since 2004 we’ve been working with indigenous communities on similar projects. But this milestone is like no other.

Students learning ChitimachaEvery project we take on is unique, of course. But our work with the Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana to develop Rosetta Stone software in their language has been out of this world. For one thing, the language itself has been dormant for almost 70 years, with no surviving native speakers. Linguist Morris Swadesh recorded the last two native Chitimacha speakers in the 1930s. The tribe’s cultural division retrieved those wax cylinder recordings along with volumes of field notes and began the long and arduous process of bringing their language back into usage among their members.

Needless to say, there were lots of challenges. Like faded and cryptic handwriting. Scratchy recordings. Missing pieces to the puzzles of grammar and phonology. And no words for computer (qucpamamix), newspaper (nikimti naakxt), TV (qamwejigi) or bathroom (hana ni yupuyna). There were tough choices to be made and decisions that cannot be reversed. But at every step of the process, Kim Walden and team members Rachel Vilcan and Sam Boutte from the Chitimacha Cultural Department rose to the challenge, and the product of their dedication will be treasured by many future generations of Chitimacha.

Without a doubt, it’s been the dedication of the Chitimacha themselves that not only motivated us to take on the project, but inspired and challenged us to persevere in our day-to-day work with them. It is a determination born of a painful history, to be sure, but one that has shaped them into the vital and enterprising community that they are today.

dsc1851b1Now to the work of putting the Chitimacha Rosetta Stone software into use in Chitimacha schools and homes, on and off reservation. Will the Chitimacha kids be motivated to learn? Will older tribal members take to this new form of technology? Through a continuing partnership with the tribe, the Endangered Language Program staff hopes to ensure that the Chitimacha Rosetta Stone software increases language fluency and contributes to the restoration of Chitimacha as a spoken language.

We’re a growing team, with lots of ideas . . . and a big dream that our work with the Chitimacha tribe, and others like them, will do just a little bit to change the world through language learning.

Click the play button below to listen to the original wax cylinder recording of one of the last two Chitimacha speakers, Ben Paul, in the 1930s.


Marion Bittinger

Marion was fascinated with languages from an early age, and has been learning ever since. She is a 1979 Modern Languages graduate of Elizabethtown College; and 1981 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with an M.A. degree in Ibero-American Studies. Teaching Spanish occupied the early years of her professional life, but she’s been a part of the Rosetta Stone family since 2003. Marion loves to travel and read, and would love to learn the endangered language of her own heritage, Pennsylvania Dutch.
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