American Indian Language
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As one of the most unique populations in our nation, American Indians have a number of unique characteristics that are shared across the populace, including religion, culture, and history. However, one of the most important characteristics is dramatically different from one individual to the next: language. When the first European settlers arrived in the New World, there were hundreds of American Indian tribes, each with their own language; many of these tribes also had a unique system of writing. These languages came from a variety of speculated sources, such as:
- One-language migration (few accept this)
- Several different languages from distinct migrations
- Many migrations, many languages
- One large migration with many languages
Over time, though, these tribes experienced a series of catastrophic events, and their numbers were reduced significantly. With this dramatic loss of people came a loss of language; the immediate impact of this is that countless American Indian languages have gone extinct, never to be fully understood or studied.
American Indian Language Morphed
American Indian languages have just as tumultuous of a history with newly-arrived European settlers as do the tribes themselves. Many languages morphed when exposed to European languages by taking in their words, blending the sounds with their own, and, in some cases, forming a new language with shared characteristics. Other settlers maintained a distance between the two languages, but showed a clear respect for American Indian traditions. Records even show that some settlers translated the Bible and other pieces of literature into the languages of local American Indian tribes as a means of developing communication between the two groups. Ultimately, though, many of the American Indian languages were lost, with those that remain forced into oblivion by the sheer fact that only a handful of speakers still remain. Language is thus one of the great casualties of the violent history of American Indians.