The Navajo Nation and Language
The Navajo Nation and Language
Navajo is a member of the Athabaskan family of languages spoken in the southwestern United States by the Navajo Nation. Its native name is Din?izaad. It's unique in that most of the other Athabakan language family members are from the north.
It's also ranked as the most highly spoken Native American language of all, with a 178,000 speakers. Unlike numerous other tribal tongues, the use of the Navajo language has actually grown over time, not declined.
The spelling for Navajo came from the Spanish language. Literally, it is a Pueblo Indian word meaning "farmlands". It is speculated that this name was given due to the Navajo nature of settling and farming.
The Navajo peoples' traditional name of Din?izaad is translated "the people" (what most Native Americans call themselves). The Navajos refer to themselves as Navajo as well, particularly when conversing in English.
To describe the whereabouts of the language further, Navajo is spoken in the Four Corners states of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. It is a language widely spoken by not only adults, but Navajo kids, too.
More than fifty percent of Navajos speak it in their homes. It is a language that is actively passed onto offspring, and thus, the language is a form of daily communication for the Navajos.
The Navajos of the past lived in domed earth houses called hogans. The men hunted, warred, and ruled, while the women farmed, cared for the livestock, and performed domestic duties.
Artwork also had gender roles by way of males producing jewelry, and women crafting rugs and clay pots. Today men often farm, and females can join the military.
The Navajo language is comprised of four vowels: a, e, i, and o. Vowels come up short, long, or nasalized and employ high to low, rising to falling tones. Combinations such as short/nasalized/low tone can be made.
Tones are very popular in the Navajo speech, rounding out practically every word, adding up to a very lively language. The sounds of Navajo are similar to Apache languages, but different from any others outside of that group.
The subject-object-verb speech is packed with complex verbs. Each verb mandates at least one prefix, with a maximum of eight. Navajo accounts for the verb types imperfective, perfective, progressive, future, usitative, iterative, and optative.
Verbs can vary depending on the shape of the subject; the verb for example for holding a ball is not the same as holding a twig.
The Navajo language is quite hard for non-natives to comprehend due to the exact manner in which subjects relate to each other. Such relationships could seem meaningless to foreigners, but are strikingly significant to a Navajo.
They have a take on life that is very connected to a bigger world. Instead of saying, "I'm thirsty," a Navajo would say, "Thirst is hurting me". In this way, some say the language paints pictures in your mind.
Jacob Lumbroso is a world traveler and an enthusiast for foreign languages, history, and foreign cultures. He writes articles on history and languages for and has used Pimsleur courses to learn various languages.
Filed under: Navajo Culture
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