Preserving the Paiute Language

University of Nevada, Reno offers first-ever Paiute language course

Preserving the Paiute Language

University of Nevada, Reno offers first-ever Paiute language course

VO Ralph Burns:
What if you couldn't describe the color of
the sky. What if you didn't have a word

VO Ralph Burns:
for lake or bird. Language forms the
basis of all culture. When the language

VO Ralph Burns:
disappears so does the folklore, myths
and traditions. You begin to lose a sense

VO Ralph Burns:
of place, purpose and identity when your
language no longer exists. By the turn of

VO Ralph Burns:
the century, fifty to ninety percent of
all world languages are predicted to

VO Ralph Burns:
disappear. That is a problem facing the
Paiute language also known as the Numu.

Christina Thomas:
Preserving our language is very
important because for us as native

Christina Thomas:
people, our language is what binds our
culture, our songs, our stories, our dances,

Christina Thomas:
all together. And without our language, we
lose all those aspects. And so it's

Christina Thomas:
incredibly important that we preserve
our language especially now. Our language

Christina Thomas:
is considered critically endangered and
we have very few fluent speakers left.

Christina Thomas:
Probably in Pyramid Lake, Reno-Sparks
area, I would say there's less than ten

Christina Thomas:
fluent speakers of either Paiute, Washoe
or Shoshone.

Ralph Burns:
I didn't realize, you know, as young person that I thought everybody be still speaking. And I hate to see it stop.

Christina Thomas:
So this is going to be the first time
the University of Nevada is going to be

Christina Thomas:
offering an indigenous language in their
World Language Department. So the Paiute

Christina Thomas:
language course does satisfy the world
language requirements for the University of Nevada, Reno.

Ralph Burns:
How I learned the language, there's no written, no recording, nothing. It

Ralph Burns:
was just everyday languages in the home. And I thank my grandma and my mom.

Christina Thomas:
So since first meeting Ralph and just attending his class and then taking one-on-one classes with him during my independent

Christina Thomas:
study at UNR, we could become really
close over the years.

Christina Thomas:
And I see him more like a family friend
or grandfather figure in my life.

Christina Thomas:
And, I'm so excited, so fortunate to
have met him and just thankful that he's

Christina Thomas:
in my life. And every time, I would have a
question for one of my classes or if

Christina Thomas:
my students asked me something I
didn't know, I could call Ralph and I'm

Christina Thomas:
so fortunate that we've been able to
present and perform alongside together

Christina Thomas:
for many years. I took his place at Reed
high school, and then I was at UNR and I

Christina Thomas:
got this course started. And now when I
was going through the steps and they

Christina Thomas:
asked me well who's going to teach? Are
you gonna teach it? And that was never my

Christina Thomas:
intention. I didn't start this so I could
teach it. In my mind, I started this and I

Christina Thomas:
saw him or another elder teaching this
class. So I think it's come full circle.

Ralph Burns speaking Paiute:
Our language has been here a long time, and it’s good we’re teaching it.

Ralph Burns speaking Paiute:
So maybe it will last a lot longer. Now with young people learning the language, it good we’re teaching the language.

Christina Thomas:
Once I learned language, I always envisioned

Christina Thomas:
myself speaking to my son or my daughter
in our language. And it's it gives me

Christina Thomas:
good . . . like last night you know he didn't
even think twice before he said [goodnight in Paiute].

Christina Thomas:
He said good night. And then
he said I love you in Paiute. And so

Christina Thomas:
knowing that he's just doing it without
thinking about it, makes me feel really

Christina Thomas:
good that I'm kind of doing my part and
passing on what I've learned from elders

Christina Thomas:
and passing that on to my child as well.

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