Saturday, November 8, 2008

Native language belongs to the people


Back in the 1960s, I think it was Malcolm X or LeRoi Jones who said, "The landscape should belong to the people who see it all the time."
Not long after that, in November 1978, Boulder resident Robert Shaver came up with the idea of identifying locals to this landscape. Shaver created the Colorado Native Society.
"For $18 a year and affidavit saying you were born in Colorado, you could join. With your membership you got a certificate, T-shirt, decal and a subscription to Colorado Native News," according to Linda Murdock, author of Almost Native: How to Pass as a Coloradan.
"Shaver claimed that historic preservation and the environment were his major concerns given the crush of newcomers to the state. Although he hoped it would become a political force, it did not, and even Shaver eventually dropped his membership," Murdock said.
What Shaver's rebellion did set off however was the "native" bumper sticker trend still evident today. While driving Interstate 25 from Denver to Colorado Springs on any given day, you are likely to encounter a variation of "semi-native," "transplant," "alien," "native," or perhaps "who cares."
For me, a "card-carrying native," the most-noticeable identifier is the language.
You can absolutely tell if someone has been here since the beginning of time - at least theirs - by the way they pronounce proper names associated with this state.
With help from the Map Guy at Geocities.com, the short list of tell-tale markers includes some of the following mispronunciations of Spanish origin:
* Del Norte: del NORT
* Buena Vista: byoo-nuh VIS-tuh
* Pueblo: PWEB-low, but sometimes PYEB-low
And even Colorado: pronounced call-uh-RAD-o - accenting the syllable rhyming with "bad".
But we long - time relics don't limit ourselves to butchering Spanish, we are able to confuse things of American Indian origin as well.
* Ouray: yer-AY
* Towaoc: TOW-ay-ock
Which is Ute for "it is good".
* Unaweep: YOU-nuh-weep.
But how about this for confusion?
* Saguache: suh-WATCH, which is Ute for a blue-green color. We spell it that way for the creek, the town and the county, yet it is spelled Sawatch for the mountain range, and in Colorado Springs at least, it is spelled Sahwatch for a street name.
Now let's throw in a little French.
Platte is how we spell it, yet we pronounce it: plat - one syllable; the "e" is not pronounced.
It first appeared on the maps as the French-named Riviere Platte, or "flat river." Spanish maps called it Rio Chato, which means the same, and before that, the Omaha Indians called it ne braska, or "flat water."
So how do we determine what is the "native" way to say things correctly. I guess it depends on the people who say it all the time.

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