All Things Maine
All Things Maine

Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Living Languages of Maine

Stacey Chase writes in today's Boston Globe about efforts to save the endangered Penobscot languageā€”a subject I've blogged about before.
According to the best estimates, there are as few as five fluent Penobscot speakers among the nation's 2,261 members, about 60 percent of whom live in Maine. Fluency, though, is tough to measure. Some Penobscots, like [State Rep. Michael] Sockalexis, learned their native tongue as children but mostly forgot it; some can comprehend it but feel uncomfortable speaking the undulating, polysyllabic words themselves; some speak a grammatically tortured version of the language; and some know only a few words and phrases.
Of all the New England states, Maine is the only one to have any Native American languages from tribes recognized by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs that are still "living" - in other words, being spoken fluently. Moreover, the languages of all of Maine's recognized tribes are living. The Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, and Maliseet languages - from Maine's Penobscot Nation, Passamaquoddy Tribe, and Houlton Band of Maliseets, respectively - are mutually intelligible. The Micmac language, from the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, is discrete. While all these languages are in jeopardy, the threat to Penobscot, which has the fewest speakers, is especially dire. [Link]
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