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Navajo Profile

  Tags: Navajo
 Language Learning Forum : Collaborative writing Post Reply
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Bilingual Triglot
Senior Member
United States
Joined 5656 days ago

361 posts - 461 votes 
Speaks: English*, Spanish*, French
Studies: Russian, Swedish, Haitian Creole

 Message 1 of 9
26 October 2009 at 2:29am | IP Logged 
This took a while to write! I haven't studied Navajo yet, so a lot of this could be more detailed.

Navajo, or Diné bizaad, is an Athabaskan language spkoen primarily in New Mexico and Arizona in the United States. Besides Cherokee, this is probably the Native American language most US Americans are most familiar with, due to the role of the Navajo code talkers in World War II, as well as the general success of the Navajo people in keeping their language alive (as opposed to, say, the Miccosukee). The language is known for its complex verb system, which allows it to express actions such as "I visited him" in a single word. The pronunciation is difficult and materials are scarce, leading me to rate this a 5 cactus language.

Unless you plan to live on a Navajo reservation, this language is not useful. Even in a reservation, most Navajo speak English, especially the younger ones. If you are interested in Navajo culture, however, then you would do well to make an attempt at learning this language. It is intricately tied in with the culture of the Navajo, and so to learn it would be to gain a window into the world of the Navajo.
This language is just obscure enough to have a "WOW!" factor if you should tell people you know it, but not too obscure that they'll go "Huh?". The language is also renowned for its difficulty, so someone will probably proclaim you a Language Deity.

None, really.

4% of New Mexicans speak Navajo at home, so perhaps you could visit the great New Mexican desert with a Navajo guide? Navajo doesn't really 'get' you anywhere; rather.

Spoken in the United States, primarily in New Mexico and Arizona. Within New Mexico, it is spoken in the Navajo Reservations.

149,000 speakers in 1990.

Although there are clans within the Navajo tribes, as far as I am aware there are no dialects or accents.

Learning Navajo is imperative to understanding Navajo culture. The Navajo have a rich culture that has unfortunately been suppressed by the United States government. It is only recently that they have been able to reclaim it and their language.

If you speak an Indo-European language, prepare for work. Navajo is completely unlike anything you'll ever have seen. As opposed to languages like Spanish, Russian, or English, which place emphasis on nouns, Navajo expresses relationships almost entirely through verbs. Vocabulary, although foreign, should come easily the more you advance, as many Navajo words come from previous Navajo words. An example would be 'cell phone', Bi níjoobaí. Literally, "one spins around with this". Once you remember that teenagers like to spin their phones around, you'll have a neat, built-in mnemonic for learning vocabulary. The dearth of learning materials is probably the killer for Navajo - most materials are prohibitively expensive. Hopefully this will change as interest in the language grows.

Navajo is a verb-based language. It forms words through verbs. Unlike languages like Russian, which inflect the nouns to show their position in the sentence, Navajo prefers to use the verb to reflect this. Getting used to this will definitely take practice, but it is not impossible. It will likely be very difficult, but that does not mean you cannot do it.

An example of the importance of the verb would be this:
diʼnisbąąs "I'm in the act of driving some vehicle (into something) & getting stuck" [ < di-ʼa-ni-sh-ł-bąąs < ʼa- + di- + ni- + sh- + ł + -bąąs].

Notice how a single word expresses what would take English speakers a long sentence. Mastering this verb is essential to mastering Navajo, and having a native speaker to help will make a huge difference.

Navajo's phonology is related to its morphology; that is to say, the sounds have a lot to do with the grammar. Consonants can be rounded and glottalized. There are some rare consonants: ɬ, as found in Welsh, and c, as in Dutch tjeef. Vowels are relatively simple. The language is tonal, but tones are quite predictable.

Navajo has an inconsequential amount of loan words, so you'll have to build up your vocabulary by scratch. Seeing as you'll be using a lot of familiar roots, however, you should be able to dedude parts of words as you see them.
Ex: Computer, "Béésh Ntsikeesí": This literally means "the metal that thinks."

Unless you know the closely related Apache language, there is no transparency between Navajo and major languages.

Almost perfectly phonetic. There is a glottal stop in front of words starting with vowels which is not indicated, but for the most part spelling is obvious. Beware of 'd', 'g', and 'b', which are actually pronounced as 't', 'k', and 'p'.

It would probably take two years of intensive studying to become fluent in Navajo.

Unfortunately, Navajo materials are few and far in between for those who don't live near a reservation. Some materials are:

Diné Bizaad Bínáhoo’aah: Rediscovering The Navajo Language: http://www.salinabookshelf. com/Din-Bizaad-Bnhooaah-Rediscovering-The-Navajo-Language-P1 04.aspx
•Blair, Robert W.; Simmons, Leon; & Witherspoon, Gary. (1969). Navaho Basic Course. BYU Printing Services.
•Goossen, Irvy W. (1977). Navajo made easier: A course in conversational Navajo. Flagstaff, AZ: Northland Press.
•Goossen, Irvy W. (1995). Diné bizaad: Speak, read, write Navajo. Flagstaff, AZ: Salina Bookshelf. ISBN 0-96441891-6.
•Haile, Berard. (1941-1948). Learning Navaho, (Vols. 1-4). St. Michaels, AZ: St. Michael's Mission.
•Platero, Paul R. (1986). Diné bizaad bee naadzo: A conversational Navajo text for secondary schools, colleges and adults. Farmington, NM: Navajo Preparatory School.
•Platero, Paul R.; Legah, Lorene; & Platero, Linda S. (1985). Diné bizaad bee na’adzo: A Navajo language literacy and grammar text. Farmington, NM: Navajo Language Institute.
•Tapahonso, Luci, & Schick, Eleanor. (1995). Navajo ABC: A Diné alphabet book. New York: Macmillan Books for Young Readers. ISBN 0-68980316-8
•Witherspoon, Gary. (1985). Diné Bizaad Bóhoo’aah for secondary schools, colleges, and adults. Farmington, NM: Navajo Language Institute.
•Witherspoon, Gary. (1986). Diné Bizaad Bóhoo'aah I: A conversational Navajo text for secondary schools, colleges and adults. Farmington, NM: Navajo Language Institute.
•Wilson, Alan. (1969). Breakthrough Navajo: An introductory course. Gallup, NM: The University of New Mexico, Gallup Branch.
•Wilson, Alan. (1978). Speak Navajo: An intermediate text in communication. Gallup, NM: University of New Mexico, Gallup Branch.
•Wilson, Garth A. (1995). Conversational Navajo workbook: An introductory course for non-native speakers.. Blanding, UT: Conversational Navajo Publications. ISBN 0-93871754-5.

There are a few schools which teach Navajo.
Example: The American Academy has online Navajo classes. -preservation

Unfortunately, online Navajo material is near non-existant.
Slang: l

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Bilingual Diglot
Joined 5333 days ago

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 Message 2 of 9
11 April 2010 at 1:42pm | IP Logged 
hmmm... cherokee tampons...
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Winner TAC 2012
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 Message 3 of 9
11 April 2010 at 5:44pm | IP Logged 
I find the Navajo profile very interesting to read, because I am curious about Native people and their languages. The profile is concise and well structured, so thanks for the work of writing it to lynxrunner. I really wish the Navajos that they will succeed in keeping their language alive!

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 Message 4 of 9
11 April 2010 at 9:29pm | IP Logged 
ushrark wrote:
hmmm... cherokee tampons...

They're all natural, man!
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Senior Member
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 Message 5 of 9
15 April 2010 at 9:17am | IP Logged 
I love the language, I know of people who know it fluently here in California.

Would love to learn it :)

Great profile by the way!
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Senior Member
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 Message 6 of 9
10 April 2012 at 5:38pm | IP Logged 
Hmm it is a pity about the resources available. I already own much of those books and
they really are not enough. Interestingly enough, Lakota a language with so much less
speakers(about 5,000) has much, much superior resources available. If any one knows of
any materials that are not on that list, I would be grateful if they could inform me of
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Senior Member
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 Message 7 of 9
10 April 2012 at 6:56pm | IP Logged 
This is going to come across as criticism towards the writer, and it's not meant as such, so I apologise in advance.

Is the preferred style in writing these profiles to be more personal? Phrases such as "Language Deity", speaking in the first person singular, and using imperative are just a few trends I've seen in not just this profile, but in others, too.

Again, please don't take this as personal criticism. It's not. I realise a lot of hard work goes into producing these profiles.

It's a genuine question and I'm curious, since I've never really seen a style guide for these.


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 Message 8 of 9
10 April 2012 at 7:40pm | IP Logged 
The most guidance ever given for these was here:

administrator wrote:
Try to write concise, informative, easy-to-read and if possible entertaining paragraphs.

You are welcome to post proposed changes to each paragraph or to write a new paragraph yourself. If you wish to insert comments, please use Italics. If you have studied the language and used it for some time, your input will be immensely valuable to prospective learners.

As for the writing style of these profiles, I tend to be a bit more formal (including recycling 'big' words like 'hyperbole' ;-)) but do type in the first person where appropriate as when giving impressions of courses or features like in a book review.

However I'm less comfortable with overly personal, emotionally-tinged or casual usage in these profiles (e.g. '"WOW!" factor', '...they'll go "Huh"?', 'Language Deity') even when dealing with comments on available courses or books. Such usage makes the profile seem more like a blog rather than a credible reference for prospective learners who are basically looking for facts before committing time and money to studying.

Edited by Chung on 10 April 2012 at 7:54pm

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