I thought, at one time, that learning my native language was out of my reach. I am too busy and too far away from home my homelands to learn. But a recent discussion with a good friend of mine has made me feel otherwise.
I will certainly not claim to be an authority on Lingít or on learning a new language; but I will share the process I am following to teach myself to the best extent that I can. First, there are a few things that make my situation unique. I no longer live in Lingít Aaní, so I do not have easy access to fluent speakers. I also do not have the time to attend a distance course; I can only practice in my spare time (usually late in the evenings, after other obligations are taken care of and I have time to myself.) Finally, I took introductory, informal Lingít language classes with Anna Katzeek in high school. I have not practiced since then and now at 32 I thought I had forgotten everything. Once I started learning again I realized that the most valuable lessons I learned from Anna were pronunciation and how to read Lingít. This has enabled me to decode most texts; and if I have access to original recordings and transcriptions (see below) then the sky is the limit as far as I’m concerned.
Tlingit.info is an invaluable resource and the site’s author, X̱ʼunei, who is an assistant professor of language at UAS, has a complimentary youtube channel. Between the resources on Tlingit.info and the youtube videos you will have a lot of what you need to at least get started.
I am dedicating one hour a day to learning Lingít. My goal is to be proficient in the language within 5 years, and perhaps fluent within 10. I don’t really know how realistic those goals are, but it helps to hold that time frame in my mind.
I start every session by practicing Lingít sounds. It’s a complex language, and my mouth, throat and tongue are not used to making these sounds. Following along with this video makes an excellent warm up, and it is only 15 minutes long.
In addition to (or sometimes instead of) the above video, I follow along with the video below, which is an introduction to Lingít sounds using words. This one is extremely helpful. It gives the context in which these sounds are made, and starts to build vocabulary. Pay attention to the way the words are written. Understanding how they are written and what sounds the letters represent will pay off when you start looking at transcriptions of Lingít recordings and associated translations.
Next, on the Tlingit.info resource page you will find a link to a *.pdf version of Lingít X̱ʼéináx̱ Sá: Say It in Tlingit! by Nora Marks Dauenhauer & Richard Dauenhauer. This is a book of useful phrases. If you have a good understanding of pronunciation then you can decode these phrases and commit them to memory. Even better, buy the book and associated CD which has recordings of a native speaker saying the phrases.
Haa Shuká, Our Ancestors: Tlingit Oral Narratives is required reading. It is valuable for understanding our heritage as well as learning our language. If you combine the Lingít transcription of these oral narratives with their English translation and listen to the original recordings (not provided with the book) then you have a powerful combination. For instance, Táaxʼaa — Shaadaaxʼ X̱ʼéidáx̱ Sh Kalneek (Mosquito, told by Robert Zuboff) is in the book in Lingít and in English. Additionally, X̱ʼunei has provided the following youtube video of the original recording.
I spend 15 minutes warming up, then spend 45 minutes listening to recordings of native speakers and reciting what they say back in Lingít. I am committing this to memory and memorizing what it means in English. The final ingredient is practicing with other learners and speakers, which I will do when I am back in Lingít Aaní for the summer. Perhaps another tool would be to Skype with other learners and speakers, or organize a regular Google+ hangout.
I have decided that learning my language is important to me. We are rebuilding our tribe; and our language is perhaps one of the most important pieces around which we can work together. Tribes are built from the ground up. They are organic entities that exist somewhere in the collective interactions, thoughts and identities of their members. Lingitx Haa Sateeyi, we who are Tlingit define our tribe. Right now we bump into one another on the street and interact with each other in our homes and in public. We largely speak to one another in English. In doing so we give up a valuable part of who we are, and miss out on a perspective on our Lingít world that can only be explained and thought of in the language that was born of Lingít Aaní. We are losing our native speakers everyday. Others have taken this cause and are leading it; native speakers, language scholars, and learners who are far more proficient at the language than I. I am just a soldier in this fight. But soldiers are what we need; an army of learners to dedicate their lives to becoming fluent speakers. We need to rebuild the lost link. Our generation, which grew up knowing only English, has felt a great emptiness. We have lost out on something and many of us are searching for our identity and searching for one another. We are also equipped with a familiarity with technology that by itself can’t teach us Lingít, but can be harnessed to our advantage.
We need 100 young people to take this path. In ten years those 100 people need to be fluent. Then, those 100 people need to start Lingít language nests all over Lingít Aaní. Then we raise a new generation of native, bi-lingual Lingít speakers. This is how we win. We are rebuilding our tribe, and shaking off centuries of hurt and pain with the healing language of our ancestors.