I Love Menominee: Student Speaks Endangered Language

2 Mar

A middle school student was reprimanded recently for saying “I love you” in her the Menominee language while at school.  Miranda Washinawatok was benched from her basketball game because her teacher couldn’t understand what she was saying.  The teacher said the Wisconsin student could not speak in the endangered Native American language because it kept the teacher from knowing what she was saying.

When I was growing up in New Jersey, it was common to hearing foreign languages—mainly Korean—in the hallways or on the playground.  Maybe there were times when I had to remind my friends to translate for me, but I don’t remember the teachers ever telling students they weren’t allowed to speak in their native language.  Of course, non-native English speakers attended ESL and encouraged to learn English, and you weren’t allowed to whisper or talk in class regardless of what language you were speaking in.  There was, however, never a sense that a student wasn’t allowed to speak in a foreign language among his or her friends.

However, that has not been the case elsewhere in the world.  My ancestors from my mother’s side were Sami, from the Swedish Lapland, and there are many stories of children not being allowed to speak their native Sami language and the language was not taught in schools.  Today there are nine living Sami languages, but some Sami languages are critically endangered.

Likewise, the Menominee language that the Wisconsin middle schooler said “I love you in” is a critically endangered language.  The language is an Algonquian language used by the Native American Menominee tribe in the Midwest.

Wikipedia reports:

According to a 1997 report by the Menominee Historic Preservation Office, 39 people speak Menominee as their first language, all of whom are elderly; 26 speak it as their second language; and 65 others have learned some of it for the purpose of understanding the language and/or teaching it to others.

If you’re interested in learning Menominee, check out this English-Menominee dictionary or this tutorial.

You may also be interested in the College of Menominee Nation, which is working on a grant called “Menominee Language Revitalization: Teaching the Community” that proposes the following:

The language project will focus on implementing weekly “Language Tables” at six sites on the Menominee Indian Reservation. A Language Table is a place where a person can go and learn Menominee Language. The Language Tables, held on a year round basis, are set up for beginning learners as well as for advanced learners. A fluent Menominee will be in attendance at all Language Tables. Most often, Language Tables will start with a pot luck meal.

Here’s the website for the Menominee tribe

So just how do you say “I love you” in Menominee?  “Tapanaew” means love.


2 Responses to “I Love Menominee: Student Speaks Endangered Language”


  1. What a Garifuna-Breton Party Has to Do with Jack Kerouac | Stephanie Nikolopoulos - March 15, 2013

    […] area—speak Breton. In the 1960s, the language was being forced out of schools—just like many Native American and Sami languages were. Today, schools are returning to bilingualism, particularly through the […]

  2. Correcting My Joisey Accent | Stephanie Nikolopoulos - January 28, 2014

    […] I Love Menominee: Student Speaks Endangered Language (on being silenced for speaking in one’s own language) […]

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