Haida is a language of the northwest coasts of British Columbia and Alaska whose origin is uncertain. Although many linguists consider it to be a Na-Dene dialect distantly related to Tlingit and the Athabaskan languages, others consider it an isolate (a language unrelated to any other language). Fewer than a hundred elders speak the Haida language fluently today, but there is a movement among the upcoming generations of Haida youth to keep their ancestral language alive. So why have we chosen to feature Haida? As an endangered language with less than 40 remaining fluent speakers, the struggle to provide interpreting services and translation services, as well as revive the Haida language is in itself a tribute to the Haida people and their culture.
Among the different native peoples living along the northwest coasts of Alaska and Canada, the Haida were traditionally known as the best carvers, painters, and canoe and house builders. If we used localization services to translate Haida, we’d focus on social norms like Craftsmen, who proudly pass down their skills in producing carved objects from wood and slate. Today, they mostly work in the fish canning industries. Despite their adaptability and perseverance, they now are considered to be among the endangered world cultures.
Haida is the name of the mother tongue of the native people living in the Queen Charlotte Islands of British Columbia, the southern part of the Prince of Wales Island, and the northwest coast of Alaska. The majority of remaining fluent speakers are mostly elders who live in Haida communities in Skidegate and Old Massett (BC, Queen Charlotte Islands), as well as parts of Alaska. These elders were the primary focus of a photographic exhibit shown recently at the Haida Gwaii Museum. The photographs were taken by a Vancouver-based photographer, Farah Nosh, who also published a book entitled That Which Makes Us Haida: The Haida Language. They document the great pride and strength of the Haida elders, many of whom are no longer alive.
In response to the loss of many of their elders, the Haida youth have expressed a strong desire to preserve their heritage. Like many an endangered indigenous tongue, Haida is now at a critical stage. Once those who are fluent in the language are gone, it can no longer thrive. Thus, many Haida youth are taking the time to learn the language from their living elders. Some have decided to immerse themselves completely in the language by spending time with fluent speakers, and speaking only in Haida. Dictionaries, glossaries and phrasebooks in the three remaining dialects of Haida (Massett, Skidegate and Alaska) have been created, as well as orthographies used to write in these dialects. There are instructional CD’s, maps of Haida place names, and transcriptions and translations of traditional Haida songs.
Few of the elder storytellers are left to help document the history of the Haida people, but those that are have been trying to pass on their knowledge to the next generation. However, today’s storytellers do not get the opportunity to train in the art of story telling like their ancestors. According to one Haida historian, a new story teller had to pass through a period of training, where if they missed even one word in the story, they had to retell the same story to their elders the following night, and every night after that until they told it correctly. This process was crucial in ensuring that stories were passed down correctly.
There is hope that the culture and language of the Haida people can be preserved and passed down to the next generation. According to Nika Collison, a curator at the Haida Gwaii Museum and a native of Skidegate, the revival of the Haida language allows her people not only to maintain their way of speaking, but also their way of thinking. In her own words, “It is how we understand who we are.”
About Language Connections:
Language Connections is one of the top language service companies in the US. Over the last 30 years, we’ve focused on providing the best business translation services, interpreting services, as well as interpreter training and customized language training programs. In addition to top-tier corporate language training, we offer certified corporate interpreters and professional business translation services in 200+ languages. Our network includes linguists with backgrounds in all major industries. They’re ready to meet your needs, whether they’re for technical translation services, legal translation, government translation services, international development translation services, education translation services, life sciences translation, or something else. Reach out to us today for a free quote on our cost-efficient and timely translation services, interpreters, or other linguistic services.
Language Connections LLC
2001 Beacon Street, Suite 105,
Boston, MA 02135