The Daily Times
FARMINGTON — Rosetta Stone, creator of the renowned language learning software, on Tuesday released its Navajo version, the first large-scale language revitalization project for the dialect.
Navajo, traditionally an oral language, still is spoken by more than 100,000 people, making it the most common American Indian language north of Mexico.
Yet use and fluency among the younger generations is on a decline with about 50 percent of Navajo age 17 and younger unable to speak their native language at all, according to data from the 2000 U.S. Census.
The software is the result of thousands of hours of work and hundreds of volunteers who provided expertise, photos, audio recordings and cultural support to the project.
Launched in December 2007 through a nonprofit group of Navajo educators called Navajo Language Renaissance, the project sought to revitalize what is considered to be an endangered language.
“Navajo is very hard to learn,” said Lorraine Manavi, language professor at San Juan College. “It’s difficult when the concepts and sentence structures are dramatically different from a person’s first language.”
For native English speakers, for example, learning Navajo is less about the words and more about rearranging the sentence structure and putting the verb last.
Instead of saying “the bird is sitting on a tree,” Manavi said, the Navajo translation would be “the bird, the tree, on it, it
sits.”Similar software, which is immersion-based, not memory-based, has assisted English speakers to learn other difficult languages, such as Russian and Arabic, said Marion Bittinger, manager of Rosetta Stone’s Endangered Language program.
“We’re excited that the Rosetta Stone Endangered Language Program can play a role in encouraging younger generations to use the Navajo language,” Bittinger said in a prepared statement. “We’re optimistic our work with indigenous groups will be a step toward reversing the tide of global language extinction.”
Navajo is one of five endangered languages adopted by the Virginia-based Rosetta Stone. The company already has produced language-learning software in 30 languages.
Rosetta Stone launched its Endangered Language Program in 2004 to help revitalize native dialects. The program has completed software programs for Mohawk, Alaskan Inupiac and Labrador, an Eskimo language.
Manavi, who teaches Navajo language classes at the college, was on a team of linguists, editors and native speakers who developed the first Navajo language software available to anyone with a computer.
The first two levels are complete, Manavi said. Navajo Language Renaissance will own and market the software, with a goal of getting it into every school on the reservation and in border towns. The software will not be part of Rosetta Stone’s commercial product line.
Manavi said she hopes to use it in the classroom, but that it will not take the place of her regular curriculum.
“This is another supplement,” she said. “It’s a beginning process, but we need more training on it. I haven’t really seen the product or how it works, so we need to look at it before we use it in the classroom.”
The software also comes out the same month the Central Consolidated School District offers its first Navajo immersion class for kindergarten students.
Alysa Landry: firstname.lastname@example.org