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Rancher, linguist working to preserve native language

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  • Robert Schmidt
    http://www.in-forum.com/ap/index.cfm?page=view&id=D8QRI3V00&CFID=47199829&C FTOKEN=90026794&jsessionid=883099136ef954c526b7 Rancher, linguist working to
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 6, 2007

      Rancher, linguist working to preserve native language

      The Associated Press - Monday, August 06, 2007

      An effort to save the Mandan language may rest on the shoulders of a
      75-year-old horse rancher.

      Experts believe Edwin Benson is the only person living who speaks fluent
      Mandan, the language of the American Indian tribe that became the host of
      Meriwether Lewis and William Clark during the explorers' winter encampment
      in North Dakota more than 200 years ago.

      For past three summers, in six-hour shifts, Benson and California linguist
      Sara Trechter have camped out in a small office so he can speak into a
      microphone while Trechter takes notes. The two recently finished
      transcribing seven Mandan folk stories.

      Benson's grandfather insisted on keeping alive Mandan traditions and
      language. Ben Benson forbid speaking English in his home, a log cabin near
      the mouth of the Little Missouri River.

      Trechter, who teaches at a university in Chico, Calif., learned about
      efforts to preserve the Mandan language from her doctoral thesis adviser, a
      Siouan language expert at the University of Kansas. She got in touch with
      Calvin Grinnell, who works in the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara cultural
      preservation office on North Dakota's Fort Berthold reservation. Grinnell
      directs the language preservation project with Joseph Jasztrembski, a
      history professor at Minot State University.

      The effort started about seven years ago with a grant from the National
      Park Service, which paid to videotape Benson telling folk stories at the
      Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site near Stanton.

      The project's goal is to produce material for language labs on the
      reservation, ideally with the videotapes of Benson telling his stories in
      Mandan and follow-along captions of Trechter's transcriptions on the bottom
      of the screen.

      Work has been slow, plagued at times by technical problems, sporadic
      funding and busy schedules. Benson uses an office near the Twin Buttes
      Elementary School, where he teaches Mandan.

      Since finishing the folk stories, Trechter and Benson been recording and
      transcribing Mandan social and cultural customs.

      Trechter has had master some quirks of the language. She learned, for
      example, that a bird is said to "stand" while flying but "sit" when perched
      on a tree. She has found that some words or phrases simply defy translation
      into another tongue.

      In the archives of the North Dakota Cultural Heritage Center in Bismarck,
      Trechter said she found "boxes and boxes" of material, including a Mandan
      dictionary compiled in the 1970s and 1980s, and manuscripts from the 1920s
      and 1930s.

      Jasztrembski compared the work to restoring an endangered plant or animal

      "I think language revitalization is something like that," he said. "It
      takes a great deal of time to do."

      Grinnell said the tribal college archives has hours of tape recordings of
      elders from the 1970s that might provide helpful material.

      Trechter, 44, said she already seen enough material to keep her busy for
      the rest of her career.

      "There is no finishing with Mandan," she said.
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