Songs and Language Revitalization

When I went through the elementary Tuscarora school program, my teacher, Betsy Bissell had made songs in Tuscarora for us to remember and use certain vocabulary words in Tuscarora. I still sing these songs when I need to remember how to say body parts, fruits, or even colors. They use the tunes of other children’s songs like row, row, row your boat, twinkle, twinkle little star, etc. They are catchy, fun to sing, and as I realized as I got older, they help you remember the words.

I have had similar experiences with other languages and the use of songs to help me learn a language. For example when I began Spanish classes, one of the first things that the teacher had us do, was learn the vowels song. Additionally, I can understand some Mohawk words and phrases because I learned songs from the singing group Carriers of the Words.

It may be a personal auditory tool, but I have also had learning experience through song in French, Portuguese, Maori, and Hawaiian. Based on this, I would like to see more music produced and preformed in indigenous languages. There is a plethora of First Nations, Aboriginal, American Indian, etc, rappers who are producing music in English, French, Spanish, but are very socially conscious of issues indigenous communities face. Although their work is interesting, I think that translating these messages into languages like Kitché Mayan, Cree, Tuscarora would give greater depth to their messages while encouraging young people to listen to and translate the message.

Here is an example of two young men rapping in Navajo and they have a large following of young listeners, who are excited to learn and repeat these raps.

I know of a few other groups that are producing music in their languages, but If anyone can point me to more artists doing this work, I would be most gracious.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Ashley Smith says:

    There certainly is something very powerful about music in language learning. Something that was incredibly helpful for me in my second-language learning (French is my second language) was to find music in genres I enjoy in the language I was learning. This started with my high school french teacher who often did lessons where he gave us the lyrics to a song that was missing words and we would listen to the song several times in class and fill in the blanks. From there I started getting as much rock (my music genre of choice) music in French as I could and listening to it periodically. Even when i couldn’t understand the lyrics, it helped me learn songs and over time I came to understand more and more. Now, after roughly 10 years of french courses, a summer-long immersion program in Quebec, a French Studies major, and a year of living in Quebec on a fellowship, I still listen to french music to put my brain back into french mode from time to time, whether for myself – to keep french alive in my brain in a place and time when I have very little opportunity to speak french, or when I need to jumpstart my thinking-in-french before a trip to quebec or something.

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