Years of efforts to preserve Hoocąk, the language spoken by the Ho-Chunk Nation, have yielded a new online dictionary that gives the public access to thousands of words and phrases recorded from native speakers.
Sarah Volpenhein reports for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the Hoocąk-English dictionary launched last month under a team led by Henning Garvin, who studied linguistics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and whose father is a native speaker of Hoocąk. It collects more than 11,000 words and phrases, including recordings from elders, and that number is likely to grow.
Hundreds of years of violent, discriminatory policies by the US government have left many Indigenous languages in jeopardy. Indigenous children were long abused for speaking their languages in school, from the residential school system—a project to forcibly erase the culture of Indigenous tribes by kidnapping children and incarcerating them in boarding schools, where they would be punished for displaying their culture—to the public school system.
With between 50 and 200 native speakers of Hoocąk remaining (according to various estimates), the hope is that the dictionary can serve as a tool for their descendants. “We consider it a gift from all of these people to future generations,” Adrienne Thunder, program manager of the Ho-Chunk Nation’s language division, told Volpenhein. “While we may not have them for a long time into the future, we will have this gift that they left us.”