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Revitalizing Tunica

The language isolate Tunica (a.k.a. Tonica, Yuron) has been extinct in Central Louisiana for over 60 years, but has the potential for revival thanks to a variety of old recordings, as well as the efforts of renowned Native language linguist Mary Haas (1910 – 1996), who worked with the last speaker, Sesostrie Youchigant, to publish “A Grammar of the Tunica Language” in 1941, “Tunica Texts” in 1950 and “Tunica Dictionary” in 1953.

That revival may come now, as on behalf of her tribe of 1,174 members, Tunica Tribal Council member Brenda Litinger recently sought the help of Professor Judith M. Maxwell, head of the Interdisciplinary Program in Linguistics at Tulane University, which specializes in minority languages. The Endangered Language Fund rejected Maxwell’s grant proposal, however, a special interest group of students meet weekly. Fortunately (for revitalization efforts), a 2,000 employee casino/hotel in Marksville, LA allows the body of Tunica descendents to remain in a centralized location rather than relocating for work. As a community, the Tunica have already created a new children’s book based on the language, in fact, 650 copies of a book with the tales “Deer and Turtle” and “Fighting Eagles” were given out at a recent powwow, and read aloud. They also put together two Tunica prayers with the help of Tulane faculty linguist Nathalie Dajko. Fortunately English has all of Tunica’s phonemes, with the exception of tirlled /r/ and some minor variations in articulation. Many inquired about language learning classes!

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mathias

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