It’s been an awful lot of fun having a jin-u-wyne Frontier Partisan trailsman come wandering out of the woods just down the road from me.
Like a couple of kids playing out on the back 40, Craig Rullman and I seem to have developed a fine game: The play and the stakes are the same — go chasing down some faint, brush-choked trail and see who comes back with the most bramble scratches.
Craig has just returned (if he has, in fact, returned) from an adventure into the wild Fenlands of Saxon England. Yes, he read Paul Kingsnorth’s “The Wake” — rather epically, if you ask me — and has taken to communicating on parchment in Kingsnorth’s Shadow Language.
You think I’m kidding? This is what I found awaiting me in the mists of morning two days ago:
I was readen then of the boc all daeg and in the great deorcness of night. Buccmaster of holland it is like no other. Like a cyng of bocs it is to cwellen the others. A boc cnawan what angland was and was macan of angland by the folc of the boc and the esols of ys.
cnawan that tidans are cuman to thu. cnawan it well Cornelius of threows. cnawan it well.
This particular trail, which I have yet to venture down myself, led to discourse on the strange wonders of language — and, for me, a detour onto some rocky and barren ground, where languages go to die…
Some years back, I read a piece in a “progressive” journal whose author’s notion of “making the world a better place” was to encourage her fellow travelers to get over any angst they might feel about dying languages. After all, one language, one world, better communication, better place, right? Now, I recognized immediately that this was intended to be provocative — and it worked. In spades.
I felt a visceral thrill of revulsion that was not far from rage. Something about this felt threatening on a cellular level. It was a completely irrational and profoundly physical reaction — no different at all from the classic fight-or-flight response.
It wasn’t hard to graft a rational argument onto my irrational reaction: If monoculture is a bad thing ecologically, it is a bad thing for the human ecology. Duh. And, the more political argument, with which I was all too familiar: That so-called progressives only value “diversity” when they are on the outside of the power structure. If they are in the driver’s seat, they despise not just dissent, but difference. “We honor diversity as long as everybody thinks, speaks and acts in the correct way.” Believe me, I’ve lived amongst them in a bastion of their power. I know. I watched Peter Matthiessen be savaged by a horde of canting Marxists because he dared to criticize the Sandinistas for their appalling treatment of the Miskito Indians. Only capitalists can be colonialist oppressors dontcha know…
(I realize that many who consider themselves progressives do NOT have this outlook. Not talking about them — but I do think they need to call out those in their “movement” who are, in fact, petty proto-Stalinists).
So… crafting an “argument” was completely beside the point. I HATED this notion of accepting the death of “small” languages, right down to the core of my being, and I hated the author, too.
Which brings us to Cherokee.
The aforementioned Frontier Partisan trailsman sent me a Wall Street Journal piece on the effort to save the Cherokee language from being overwhelmed and lost in the globalized culture of the 21st Century:
As many as half of the world’s 6,000 or more languages could disappear by the end of this century as a result of globalization and the spread of dominant languages such as Chinese, Spanish, English and Arabic, according to the United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture, which tracks threatened indigenous languages. It lists Cherokee in North Carolina as “severely endangered.”
And it ain’t just in North Carolina:
“No one under 50 is fluent in Cherokee anymore,” said Roy Boney Jr., manager of the Cherokee Language Program for the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, where he estimates roughly 3,000 out of about 325,000 Cherokee are fluent. A range of tactics, including Cherokee immersion schools, free language classes for adults, online videos and cellphone apps, haven’t reversed the decline in Cherokee, he said. “We’re at a juncture where if we don’t do something drastically different, it will fade out,” he said.
There’s a rear-guard action being fought by some dedicated non-pros — but success is far from assured.
Gilliam Jackson, 64, a fluent Cherokee, said that when he was younger, ministers preached in Cherokee and choirs sang in the language. He even remembers dreaming in the language—which he no longer does, he said.
Many Cherokee only speak a few words of greeting and perhaps some nouns, such as the names of animals or colors, he said. A few can hold a conversation, but only in the present tense. He thinks the amateurs’ idea of teaching Cherokee is a noble effort, yet he worries it is merely a desperate move.
“It’s definitely, in my opinion, going to be a dead language,” he said.
As far as I’m concerned this is but a symptom of the unraveling so starkly depicted by the Dark Mountain Project. And, dammit, I’m in a fightin’ frame of mind. These globalizing universalizers — left and right — they create a desert and call it “progress.” To hell with that. My sword is drawn. I will not go quietly into the Land of the Bland.