Journey to Find Indigenous Languages in Trip of the Tongue

Linguist Elizabeth Little recently released Trip of the Tongue, a book regarding the different indigenous languages throughout the United States. A graduate of Harvard with a degree in Social Studies, Little has an interest in languages and previously published Biting the Wax Tadpole: Confessions of a Language Fanatic. She spent over two years to write Trip of the Tongue and traveled 25,000 miles in a Subaru to speak to native speakers of a variety of dialects.

Languages highlighted in Trip of the Tongue range the gamut, starting with those who are familiar with Navajo in the west coast to those who speak Creole in Louisiana.

“I was interested in, not just the new arrivals to America, but also in those communities that have been in the United States for hundreds of years. Or, in the case of Native Americans, hundreds and hundreds of years,” remarked Little in an National Public Radio (NPR) interview.

During her chat, Little explained the influence that technology can have on indigenous languages.

“Once there is more television, you know, cable television and the Internet, and once younger members of the tribe have more ability to be exposed to the English language, the heritage language really drops off pretty quickly,” Little said in the NPR interview.

Little also discussed the growth of the Spanish speaking community, how more heritage speakers are retaining their mother tongue than in the past, and the importance of promoting languages besides English in the U.S.

“The formation of our whole consciousness is framed by… language,” commented Little in the NPR interview. “So when you take that language away, or even if it’s forced out of a child or out of an adolescent… that must be an incredible psychological trauma.”

To learn more about Trip of the Tongue, read about the interview here and an excerpt from the book here.