Reviving Indian language Chochenyo
- Bay area history Centuries-old Indian tongue in revival by new generation
Earlier this month, Vincent Medina, a rangy man who usually wears cowboy boots and an abalone shell necklace, stood in front of the altar at San Francisco's Mission Dolores and gave a speech of welcome in a language not heard in those walls for perhaps 200 years.
He spoke in Chochenyo, the language of the native people who lived in what we now call the East Bay.
Chochenyo was thought to be a dead language, vanished for many generations, but Medina, who is assistant curator of Mission Dolores, is trying to bring it back to life.
Scholars say that Chochenyo was one of eight related languages spoken by the Ohlone people around the Bay Area, and that the culture of the Ohlone was badly damaged if not destroyed by their encounter with Europeans and white Americans over the last 240 years. The language nearly vanished, replaced by Spanish and English. The last person fluent in Chochenyo died in 1939. The language survived, barely, in bits and pieces.
"The language is not lost," Medina said. "It has only been sleeping for 70 years and now it is being awakened."
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