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University group works to restore language

A group of students and faculty on campus are joining forces with a group of Native Americans to restore a dying Mingo language. The Mingo are a group of Native Americans that have spread across the country. There are groups in Ohio, Kentucky and Canada. Officially, there are 50 Mingo families registered in the United States.

While the families are widespread, the language is not. Sheri Wells-Jensen, assistant english professor and interim director of the master’s degree program in teaching english as a second language, said the language is disappearing.

“Linguistic extinction is at the level of biological extinction,” Wells-Jensen said. “If we do nothing, 90 percent of all languages will be gone.”

Last year, Wells-Jensen met Jordan Latchler, a linguist who has spent the last ten years learning the Mingo language from one of the last remaining speakers. Together, along with Well-Jensen’s husband, Jason, they have been learning the language to teach to the Mingo.

This work was made possible at Bowling Green by a Partnerships for Community Action grant. This was set up by Sidney Ribeau to establish a relationship between the University and the community.

Through the grant, Mingo speakers have spoken in classrooms on campus. The group also had a powwow on campus, where they sang sacred drum songs in Mingo. The leaders, graduate students, and Mingo have been meeting on Thursday nights to practice the language. They have been meeting for 3 months.

So far, the program has gone well, but it is experimental. The leaders are trying to find out what will work best to teach people the language.

“The language is about as different from English as you can get,” Wells-Jensen said. It is difficult for English speakers to speak the language because of double vowels, glottal stops, and nasal sounds.

They are using songs and games to learn the language.

This summer, a camp will be held to give the participants more practice.They plan on going to the University planetarium to learn the Mingo names for stars, the sun and the moon. They will also go to the Toledo Zoo to learn animal names.

Georgia Adams, wife of a Mingo Indian chief, believes it is important for the language to be restored.

“As native people, we are thinking in more fluid ways compared to white people,” Adams said. “I want to see the language come back because it will open an important door to how our ancestors were thinking, and I think a lot of spiritual things will be revealed.”

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