Thursday, October 04, 2007

NAT: Chitimacha

ARLINGTON, Va., Oct. 3 /PRNewswire/ -- Rosetta Stone Inc., creator of the world's No. 1 language-learning program, has formed a partnership with the Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana to develop a unique edition of the award-winning software in the tribe's language, Sitimaxa.

The tribe will own distribution and sales rights to the tribal language version created through the Rosetta Stone Endangered Language Program, which has developed culturally relevant language-learning software with the Mohawk of Kahnawake, NANA Regional Corporation of Alaska, and other indigenous communities.

Through its new corporate grant program, the global language-learning software company will underwrite a substantial portion of development costs for the Sitimaxa software. Rosetta Stone has pledged to underwrite at least one project per year with endangered language speaking communities interested in developing editions of the cutting-edge immersion learning software.

"Our hope is that Sitimaxa Rosetta Stone(R) software will be a tool that will make a difference in the vitality of the language of the Chitimacha Tribe," said Marion Bittinger, manager of the Endangered Language Program. "We look forward to working with the tribe to help realize their vision for a living and growing language."

On Louisiana's coast, the Chitimacha tribe endured for century after century -. surviving war, settlement and assimilation. This same determination to survive has allowed the Chitimacha to revitalize their language, which they almost lost.

"Language is really the heart of who you are. It's not just about learning the words; it's about learning your past. It's that connection," said Kimberly S. Walden, M.Ed., cultural director of the 1,000 member tribe.

The native tongue of the Chitimacha people almost disappeared when its last fluent speaker died in 1934 and its last semi-fluent speaker died in 1940. One generation, then another, grew up knowing no more than a few words of the rich language of their ancestors.

Then in 1986, the Library of Congress mailed the tribe copies of wax cylinder recordings made in the 1930s by Swedish linguist Morris Swadesh. Tribal members listened to over 200 hours of their language - sounds no one had heard in decades, a cultural treasure buried in archives for half a lifetime. The Chitimacha began rebuilding these fragments back into a fluently spoken language. They recovered field notes made by Swadesh and his wife to help decode what was recorded.

"The recordings were very hard to understand, especially if you'd never heard the language spoken before," Walden said. "You have to realize that, as long as I was growing up, all we had in Sitimaxa was a few words on a museum brochure that no one could pronounce."

In 1995, the Chitimacha tribe established a cultural department. Employees asked archeological contractors in Louisiana if they knew of anyone familiar with the Chitimacha's language .- a long-shot request that, improbably, paid off. Contractors suggested the tribe contact Dr. Julian Granberry, a linguist and anthropologist living in Florida who had worked with Swadesh as a high school sophomore.

Granberry, now 80, had studied their language for decades, but had never visited the reservation. The tribe invited Granberry to share his findings. "When Dr. Granberry spoke Sitimaxa to a group of Chitimacha elders assembled at a meeting, some of the elders began to cry," said Walden. "Words started coming back. They remembered."

With Granberry's help, the Chitimacha tackled the Sitimaxa challenge, using the returned resources to develop dictionaries, curriculum, primers and recordings. The tribe now offers Sitimaxa classes for students as young as six weeks old at its child development center. Students in kindergarten through the eighth grade learn the language at the Chitimacha Tribal School, and adults in night classes.

Rachel Vilcan was one of the first students in the adult class. Now she's an aide in the K-8 Sitimaxa program. "The language sounds natural; it sounds like it fits me, like it fits the area," Vilcan said. "It was scary, at first, to be learning it as an adult, but the desire to learn was stronger. It's our identity."

Like other tribes working to bring tribal language back into daily use, the Chitimacha's goal is to develop conversational fluency. "We want to bring the language back to the point where we can use it conversationally when we gather as a tribe," said Walden.

Through its immersion-based software that can be customized to reflect unique linguistic and cultural features, Rosetta Stone will help the tribe solve this problem. The tribe will work with Rosetta Stone to translate and record lessons in Sitimaxa. The paired audio recordings of tribal speakers and images from the community will teach this endangered language in culturally relevant context using the company's award-winning Dynamic Immersion(TM) methodology.

"I think the chances are very great that they will succeed," Granberry said. "There has been for the last decade a strong interest on the part of a large number of the tribal members."

Ilse Ackerman, editor-in-chief at Rosetta Stone, said this language teaching tool multiplies existing efforts. "If you have a small number of fluent speakers, student time with these teachers is valuable and limited. The software can give students access to their teaching around the clock, allowing communities to save valuable face-to-face instruction time for conversational practice," said Ackerman.

The Chitimacha Tribe will use the immersion-based software to enhance ongoing education programs for children and adults. Tribal members as far away as Guam and Germany will be able to learn Sitimaxa using CDs or through online access when the project finishes.

Communities interested in learning more about the Rosetta Stone Endangered Language Program should visit the program's Web site, at:, or call 1-800-788-0822, ext.5331.

About the Rosetta Stone Endangered Language Program

The Rosetta Stone Endangered Language Program works with communities to develop unique immersion-learning software. The Endangered Language Program worked with the Kanien'kehaka Onkwawen:na Raotitiohkwa to develop Mohawk software for the community of Kahnawake in 2006, and the NANA Corporation of Alaska to develop Inupiaq language learning software in 2007. The program and the Torngasok Cultural Centre in Labrador will produce a version in Inuttitut.

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