Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Losing Power: The Effect of Language Loss in Native American Communities

Losing Power: The Effect of Language Loss in Native American Communities

Kate Frederick

The recent surge in language revitalization programs in many Native American societies can be attributed to the integral role of language in each Native community. Using Bourdieu’s linguistic capital this paper examines the role of language and its connectedness to power in the community. By examining two Native groups, the Cherokee Nation and the Hopi, this paper exhibits the differing roles of language in each community and how linguistic capital can affect personal power and prestige. More specifically, the question is how each community perceives the role of language in identity and power; in terms of individual prestige, monetary wealth, and religious influence?

Beginning with a glimpse into the past of each group, it becomes clear as to where language loss occurred in the differing histories. Mufwene’s linguistic ecology helps explain such language loss and its relatedness to an inhospitable environment; and Bourdieu’s linguistic capital elucidates the need for competitiveness on the linguistic market in order for a language to survive. Further, ethnographies and language revitalization program’s research were used in order to fully comprehend the current role of language in each society.

The findings of this paper were less obvious than expected. The role of language in the Cherokee Nation is more of an identity marker, a way to define oneself as a member of the Cherokee community. Power comes in the form of a cultural association with being Cherokee. Conversely, in the Hopi community, having the ability to speak Hopi, and to speak it well, gives one an extreme advantage in the community. The institution created by kiva talk, allows for a consistent perpetuation of the Hopi language, and gives it linguistic capital to be traded in the market.

Both of these communities are experiencing a change in their language and its role; the Cherokee are trying to regain their language, while the Hopi are quickly losing theirs. Further studies should be conducted on the newest generation of Hopi and Cherokee as they grow into community leaders. Will the less fluent Hopi children create a less integral role for their language in the community? Will the increasingly more fluent Cherokee children begin assigning a more prominent role for their language in their everyday lives?


April 23, 2010 - Posted by | abstract

1 Comment »

  1. what are the Cherokee people doing now-a-days to make sure that their language stays with them?

    Comment by kasy | November 9, 2010 | Reply

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