Navajo Code Talkers Honored, as well as the Navajo Language

Navajo code talking veterans Chee Willeto, Keith Little (president of the Navajo Code Talkers Association), and Bill Toledo were honored with medallions from Las Cruces official during a special Memorial Day ceremony. Wreaths were thrown in the Rio Grande for those who died, and flags were posted at the graves of many at Hillcrest Memorial Cemetery, where a recording of taps was played. Fewer than 50 of the original 400 Navajo code talkers of World War II are living, and only one of the original 29 remains, in poor health.

Navajo code talk is very different from the Navajo language, because it used ordinary words as slang for military terminology. Check out the 2002 hit Windtalkers for a sample. From a recent Chillicothe Gazette article by Loren Genson (about 3rd graders from Tiffin Elementary School of Chillicothe, Ohio learning about American Indian culture through the Feast of the Flowering Moon Ceremony) Navajo was particularly suited for the job:

Although primarily Choctaw men were used for their code talking during World War I, Navajo was more commonly used during World War II because of its complexity and because there was no written form of the language.

As for the Navajo language, lots of middle-aged and elderly Navajo speakers speak Navajo better than English – so much so that 33 students were recently selected to earn free certification to become Navajo-English interpreters in the courts and medical facilities of Arizona and New Mexico through the University of Arizona’s Navajo Interpreter Training Institute – however, only about 5% of young ethnic Navajo speak Navajo. Fortunately, efforts to revitalize it are underway; Rosetta Stone’s latest released Endangered Language Program software was for Navajo, and Margaret Speas of UMASS is continually gaining media recognition for her efforts in studying and helping revitalize what is truly a difficult language for English speakers to master:

“You can know how to say something like I am picking up a box,’” she said, “but you don’t have any idea how to say something like, I’m picking up a handful of cherries.’”

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One Response to “Navajo Code Talkers Honored, as well as the Navajo Language”

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