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The state of our Comanche language and the importance of having a tribal language department

Video Segment from Language Revitalization Forum
Presentation by Cathy Parker, Director CN Higher Education

The Condition of the Comanche Language according to UNESCO

To get to the bottom of this we turned to United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), who regularly publish a list of endangered languages.

UNESCO provide a classification system to show just how 'in trouble' the language is:

 

  • Vulnerable - most children speak the language, but it may be restricted to certain domains (e.g., home)

  • Definitely endangered - children no longer learn the language as a 'mother tongue' in the home

  • Severely endangered - language is spoken by grandparents and older generations; while the parent generation may understand it, they do not speak it to children or among themselves

  • Critically endangered - the youngest speakers are grandparents and older, and they speak the language partially and infrequently

  • Extinct - there are no speakers left

 

The Comanche language is somewhere between severely endangered and critically endangered. We must do something to revitalize our language before we reach the level of extinct!

 
Why is it important for us to have a language department?

Language is at the center of our existence as Comanches.  It is the voice of our true identity, ceremonies, stories, songs, and history.  We, as Comanches, are descended from one of the most powerful tribes on the southern plains. 

​It has been known for some time now that our Language has been in a state of emergency.  As of today, we are losing the last remaining elder speakers at an alarming rate.  There are less than 10 speakers that are either teaching and/or working in the community.  The majority operate using their own personal resources.

At this time, one of the top priorities is to accurately document the last of our first language speakers.  Proper equipment, personnel, and expertise in this type of field is a must.  Although, there is a significant body of archived material available, there is no existing digital database by which to access and utilize or expand. 

We believe the future of our language lies with the strength of our children and their passion for carrying it forward.  We also believe that we must do everything we can as a Nation to provide them with the tools and resources necessary so that they can learn, grow, and teach our language for generations to come.

 

By having a multifaceted language department we will be able to:
  • Utilize a network of tribal resources, partners, and stakeholders

  • Ensure that our language is in the best hands with qualified staff who are educated, productive, and passionate about Numu Tekwapu (Comanche Language)

  • Consult with and accurately document our last remaining Comanche elder first language speakers

  • Provide a reliable language resource network for tribal programs, entities, and tribal members to use​​

  • Develop, create content, and manage an online Comanche dictionary and mobile application​

  • Utilize new media technology to develop advanced language learning materials

  • Develop a comprehensive Comanche language database

  • Certify language teachers who wish to teach Comanche in the public school system

  • Certify language teachers who wish to teach Comanche within the tribal community

  • Design our own curriculum for learners of all age groups

  • Provide a place designated for language teaching, learning, practice, and research

 
The importance of language and culture being taught to young children is of the greatest importance.  The first years of life sets the foundation for each child.  The quality of experiences, relationships, and learning will determine the path that each child will experience as they grow into older children and even adults.  Early childhood educators know the first years are crucial in the development of children.  The language that the child hears is the language that they will speak.

According to a comprehensive review issued by the National Education Association,  the notable benefits experienced by children who learned a second language in school are:

  • do better on standardized tests 

  • are more creative 

  • have better self-esteem 

  • do better in other areas of study across the board including improved reading skills, social studies, and math 

  • have better listening skills

  • sharper memories

  • better at solving complex problems

 
Language and Early Childhood