Rare Chukchansi speakers record, preserve language

Coarsegold, California (AP) 8-07

The few remaining speakers of the Chukchansi language have begun preserving their tribal words and songs using electronic translators first developed for military use.

The unwritten Chukchansi language has long been spoken by residents of the Madera County foothills, the traditional territory of the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians. But like many other American Indian languages in California, it is considered nearly extinct. Just six tribal members are sufficiently fluent to teach it to others.

“We’re recording our language ... to save our language,” said Jane Wyatt, 62, of Coarsegold, who has been teaching the language at the Wassuma Round House culture center. “I learned because my grandmother raised me. That’s all we spoke.”

Tribal members gathered near the tribe’s busy Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino in Coarsegold to try out the “Phraselator,” an electronic translator developed by the Banning-based Thornton Media Inc.

Seventy tribes in the United States and Canada have purchased the hand-held translation devices, which also are used by U.S. troops to translate Farsi in Iraq and Afghanistan, said the company’s president Don Thornton.

The tribe will use the units to start a language preservation program, said Picayune Rancheria tribal administrator Cornel Pewewardy.


Information from: The Fresno Bee, http://www.fresnobee.com