Blackfoot chief Mountain Chief listens to a song and interprets it in sign language to ethnologist Frances Densmore of the Bureau of American Ethnology. The session took place in 1916 at the Smithsonian Institution.

Harris & Ewing/National Anthropological Archives, via Smithsonian Institution

How Native Americans Use Museum Documents to Learn Their Ancestors' Languages

The Smithsonian's archives keep indigenous languages alive.

When Daryl Baldwin discovered his grandfather’s native language, he quit his construction job and became a linguist.

He found personal papers written in a strange vocabulary, which turned out to be Miami, the language spoken by the Native American tribe of the same name. A friend recommended the Smithsonian’s linguistic archive, whose comprehensive documentation of indigenous languages allowed Baldwin to teach himself the language. Miami had died out by the time he started studying it; by learning it, he became the world’s only Miami speaker.

Smithsonian Institution

Now Baldwin runs the Myaamia Center at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. He relies on the Smithsonian’s archive for lexical resources and vocal recordings. Below are some documents from the Smithsonian’s archive, which detail native alphabets, nomenclature, and signage.

Cherokee alphabet
Smithsonian Institution
Smithsonian Institution
Smithsonian Institution

All Images Courtesy Smithsonian Institute

Source: Washington Post

Marcus Moretti is the product editor at NationSwell.