There was an article about a forgotten language used by a Native American tribe in California called the Maidu. What was very interesting within the article relates to the importance of language, culture, and creation.
We get upset about people from other cultures coming to the U.S. speaking their language in preference to English, but for native peoples, the arguments for language preservation are deeper and more personal. Language, more than any other single human creation, is the living artifact of a culture. Constructed over successive generations, it embodies the cumulative memory of a people’s beliefs and knowledge, their stories, their names for things, the conventions that they use to tell each other about the world.
One young man from the Maidu tribe has used his knowledge of Maidu plant names to unlock the secrets of traditional ecology. The Maidu name for “pine tree” translates as “wind-lessening tree,” indicating that the pine was used to shelter oak trees, thus protecting the precious acorn harvest.
If we would take time to investigate the gifts within different languages we would learn valuable things about our lives. How would we know that a pine tree lessens wind in English? We wouldn’t. But this important link to protecting the food harvest is spoken of through words that represent the understanding and knowledge of people with much longer histories than our own.
In Maidu tradition language was one of the first gifts the Earthmaker gave to beings he created. In other ancient cultures, the gift of language was considered equally sacred. Language is a link to heritage – a link that reaches back to the creation of the world.