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p/> Each community will have a database which will also be stored in a repository at the Noble museum. Oklahoma was described as a "hot spot" of linguistic diversity by experts in National Geographic's Enduring Voices Project, said Mary Linn, associate curator of American Indian languages at the Noble museum and an associate professor of anthropology at OU. As North America was settled by whites, many tribes were forced to move to Oklahoma. As a result, there is not only a great deal of linguistic diversity, but also high levels of language endangerment, Linn said. The languages grew even more endangered as American Indians assimilated to English-speaking culture that dominates society. "It's hard to resist shifting to English," Linn said, adding that many small tribes picked up the languages of larger tribes. Today, language sleuths rely on tribal records, grammar and alphabets that were often chronicled by missionaries, military generals and tribes. President Thomas Jefferson also collected word lists, Linn said. Fields said the project allowed his community to computerize a dictionary and research. Now, Natchez people in South Carolina can practice with their Natchez friends in Oklahoma. This also allows Natchez histories to flow more readily from elders who still tell of their contributions to America as farmers expert in corn and beans. Their histories tell of a people displaced from the Gulf Coast and of deaths from influenza that followed early encounters with European explorers. "I grieve daily over the loss of cultural values," said Fields, principal chief for the tribe. "It takes a community and economy and people who want to preserve." ___ (c)Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
University helps American Indians learn to save their languages
The Breath of Life project is a joint effort by experts from the University of Texas at Arlington and the University of Oklahoma in which linguists mentor American Indians so they can better recover endangered languages.