From firstname.lastname@example.org Thu Jan 3 08:00:08 2002
Date: Wed, 2 Jan 2002 21:59:43 -0600 (CST)
From: Carol <email@example.com>
Subject: Linguistic expert says ancient Indian languages are dying
(01-02) 14:22 PST RENO, Nev. (AP)William H. Jacobsen Jr. remembers hearing the 6 p.m. whistle blow daily in Carson Valley.
It was the sound of segregation.
When the whistle went off, the Indians had to get out of Minden and
Gardnerville, said Jacobsen, a retired University of Nevada, Reno
professor, renowned linguist, author and pioneer in the study of
The whistle is gone. The Washoe tribe remains, and so does Jacobsen. He is recognized as the foremost expert on the ancient and complex language of the Washoe tribe that has occupied Carson Valley and surrounding areas for thousands of years.
As a graduate student at the University of California in the 1950s, Jacobsen came to Carson Valley to learn Washoe, or Washo, the spelling most often used by linguists.
For centuries, Washoe had been a spoken language. Jacobsen learned to speak it fluently. It wasn't written down. Jacobsen wrote it down.
He's responsible for the writing system we are using, said
Laura Fillmore, former director of the tribe's language
He's a brilliant linguist.
Jacobsen, who retired from UNR's English department in 1994,
published a book,
Beginning Washo, in 1996 based on his
life's work, which started when he wrote a 700-page dissertation
on Washoe grammar.
William Jacobsen has devoted four decades of research and
scholarship to the analysis of the Washoe language and is recognized
as its foremost linguistic expert, Warren L. Azevedo, a former
anthropology professor at UNR, said when the book was released.
All recent students of Washoe culture are indebted to him for his
generous guidance in accurate translation of terms and texts, and for
his role in standardizing written Washoe.
Jacobsen recalls the praise and smiles.
I kind of fooled Azevedo, Jacobsen said with a
I'm not as good as he thinks I am.
But Jacobsen, who came to Carson Valley when the road between Gardnerville and the Washoe community of Dresslerville was unpaved, doesn't smile when he talks about the future of the tribe's language.
It's going to die, Jacobsen said.
He expects the Washoe language to be overwhelmed by English, the dominant language that surrounds it, in much the same way that other tribal languages have been lost.
It's hopeless, said Jacobsen, who lives in Reno, still
writing and lecturing on Washoe and other endangered
Languages are dying like flies all over the place.
Older members of tribes speak the languages, Jacobsen said, but it's difficult to teach them to children when they spend most of their time hearing and speaking English.
In California there were 100 languages, Jacobsen said.
most are dying out.
Spanish and white settlers, Jacobsen said, started the process of killing the native languages. Television, economics and popular culture, he said, are finishing it. Everything is done in English.
Some kids want to, Jacobsen said of learning tribal languages.
It gives them identity and uniqueness. Others don't. They want
to do what's good for them economically.
Jacobsen said when Fillmore surveyed the Washoe tribe several years
ago, she found 65 members, mostly elders, who could speak the
language. That number, Jacobsen said, has dropped to 30.
removes the incentive for the kids, Jacobsen said.
They have fewer people to teach them or to talk to if they do
learn. But Fillmore hopes the trend can be reversed.
I have taught
a handful of elders literacy in their language, she said of
I taught 50 students based on Jacobsen's work. My hope
now is that when these children come of age, they will become
Despite the death sentences he pronounces on old languages, Jacobsen remains interested in them.
Along with Washoe, Jacobsen has written a book about the language of the Makah tribe that lives on the tip of Washington's Olympic Peninsula.
Jacobsen, who studied 12th century French and Spanish as an undergraduate at Harvard, has taught a class at UNR in Sanskrit, a language of India that dates to the fourth century B.C.
All languages are difficult, whether they're tribal or not,
Jacobsen, who started with Spanish, then learned French and Latin in
high school. Sometimes, Jacobsen can't remember all the languages
I haven't counted lately, he said.