Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Native American Languages in the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy

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As the author of Shadows on the Trail Trilogy, one of my most frequent questions is 'what are the languages used for the three Paleoindian tribes in the books?' Since it is impossible for anyone to know the languages Paleoindians spoke 11,000 years ago, I decided that I would use three historical Native American languages for the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy.

The first tribe I introduced in the book was the Folsom People. I interlaced the language of the Lakota Sioux with English for their personal names, places, and common phrases. For example, the name of our main character, Chayton, means Falcon in the language of the Lakota Sioux.

For the River People, I employed the language of the Cheyenne Indians for personal names, places, and some common phrases. For example, the name of the heroine of the River People, Namid, means Star Dancer in the language of the Cheyenne Indians.    

Finally, for the aggressive and hostile Mountain People I employed the language of the Comanche Indians for their personal names and places. For example, the warrior Tosarre's name in Comanche means Dog.

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Do I believe any of these historical Native American languages existed 11,000 years ago when Paleoindians roamed the plains and mountains and these books took place? My answer is no! During an 11,000 year span of time, there is a high probability that the languages used by the Paleoindians were significantly different than the languages spoken by the historical Native American tribes of the Lakota Sioux, Cheyenne, and Comanche. But, I am sure there are linguists out there who have a much better answer to that question than me.  

One of the more memorable scenes in Chapter 10 of the first book Shadows on the Trail was when Keya of the Folsom People tribe (designated boy in the dialogue) finds Honiahaka from the River People tribe spying on the Folsom People's camp along the river. In the dialogue below, Keya only speaks the Lakota Sioux tongue while Honiahaka only understands the Cheyenne tongue. What happened with the conversation was a perfect example of a 'failure to communicate'.

Hidden behind scrub oak bushes along the river, Honiahaka watched the camp. It had been two suns since he had nearly drowned in the river. He smelled the roasting meat coming from the camp and his shrinking stomach growled in protest. Since he had eaten the frog legs at the marsh, his diet had consisted of grasshoppers, a small fish, and several more frog legs. He was famished.  
            Honiahaka wondered if these people were the same enemies who burned the village and killed his mother. Before he walked into this camp, he had to know it was safe. He needed to move closer to see who these people were. He carefully crept forward to another bush and then plopped down behind it. Honiahaka watched the people’s movements, but to him, they looked the same as any other people. He would have to get even closer to see if he recognized any of their faces from his village. He snuck forward, crouching down behind yet another bush.          
            Honiahaka now had a much better view of the village. He could now see the people’s faces. SMACK! An object whacked Honiahaka in the back of the head, knocking him flat. Before he could react, someone jumped on his back and shoved his face into the dirt. The attacker then grabbed one of
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Honiahaka’s shoulders and flipped him over onto his back, plopping down in the middle of his chest. Before Honiahaka could even twitch a muscle, a stone knife blade was at his throat. Honiahaka looked up and the attacker was young and much bigger. Honiahaka laid still, a knife blade creasing the skin on his throat.  

"Nitúktetanhan hwo?–Where are you from?” the boy asked Honiahaka.
            Honiahaka did not understand.

"Táku eníciyapi hwo?–What is your name?” the boy asked, pushing the knife blade into Honiahaka’s neck.
            Honiahaka stared in bewilderment at the boy.   

Oh ya lay hey?-Who are you looking for?” 
            Again, Honiahaka did not understand this strange language.

"Waniyetu nitóna hwo?–How old are you?”       
            Noxa'e!–Wait!” screamed Honiahaka.    

"Táku eníciyapi hwo?–What is your name?the boy asked again.
             Honiahaka had no idea what the boy was saying, but he started screaming out his own name anyway, “Honiahaka! Honiahaka!”

“What kind of name is that?” the boy asked and then punched Honiahaka in the jaw. Before Honiahaka could recover, the boy was standing over him with a fluted spear point brushing up against Honiahaka’s chest.
            Inánjinyo!-Stand up!” the boy screamed, motioning him to stand with his spear. Honiahaka crawled slowly to his feet.

“Walk!” the boy ordered, pointing his spear in the direction of the camp.

My primary reason for using Native American languages in the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy was to make the dialogue between characters appear more authentic than merely speaking English or even using broken English. I wanted to present the Paleoindian characters as intelligent and insightful without resorting to the stereotype of  'dull witted cavemen who grunt and groan'. Based on skeletal remains and archeaological evidence, we can assume that the Paleoindians were intelligent hunters and gatherers with the same brain capacity as modern day humans.They could plan, create, and solve problems, as well as we can. A Paleoindian would probably not survive very well in our modern world, but I can guarantee that most modern humans could not survive in the Pleistocene filled with predatory animals and no cell phone to dial 911.

So far, I have received mostly positive reviews for using authentic Native American languages in the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy. Some readers have to told me that the use of these languages brings a higher level of authenticity to the book while other readers have found it a distraction. You be the judge! Read the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy and then give me your opinion!         

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