Culture, Science, and Indigenous Languages

Regarding Ivonne Vizina’s presentation in the Webinar:
It was a great experience to hear your voice, Ivonne, today and I thank you for sharing your knowledge with us! I was touched by your emphasis on native languages as the most authentic way to discourse on indigenous knowledge. From what I heard, I understand that native language carries the knowledge of the land, the science of place, and the worldviews of indigenous people. What you shared reinforces what I have been learning over the years working with many wonderful native colleagues and friends. I must admit that in the beginning, I had no idea what the difference between a “noun based vs. verb based” language was, or what was meant by “native language expresses the worldview of a native community.” It took me a long time to begin to understand, and I am still learning. The fog in my understanding started to clear after I began to learn a little of Yucatec Mayan language, one of more than 30 Mayan languages still spoken today by more than 7 million people in Mesoamerica. Learning and speaking with elders, particularly, in the Yucatan, helped me understand that the language allows people to connect deeply with place, because the language is dynamic and reflects a relationship with the ecology of the land and the sky *of that particular place*. A simple, everyday greeting makes a direct allusion to the lineage of the person with his/her ancestors, so when they greet you, they not only connect with you for than instant, they are evoking all of their relations including the land. Words connect with other words from a worldview, not by chance: Nah, nal, na’ (home, corn, mother) are etymologically connected because they are cosmologically connected. Blue/green (yax) as a color does not differentiate between the two hues because it describes the yax che or tree of life, the ceiba that inextricably connects the green of the Earth and the blue of the Sky. None of this is easy to translate into English, and translation is superfluous for those who speak the native language. I always tell the youth we work with that the best thing they can do to preserve their culture is to learn their native language, it preserves everything, including the science, the worldview, the connection to the land, the lineage with their ancestors. It is the most important effort they can dedicate towards keeping their native identity strong. Thank you for reminding me of these understandings and for reinforcing them through your thoughtful and profound presentation today. I will share some of this with the youth during our webinar in the hope that they will be inspired to go to their elders and continue to learn more of their language. After all, the language is already within their genetic memory, they just need to open their hearts to it, it will come.

Nip ‘olal ti’ tech, kiichpam Ivonne

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