The Luiseño campaign to save their language

A few years ago, the Luiseño language was at the brink of extinction as only a few dozen people could speak the language. Today, there are quite a number of children that can be found speaking the language and even studying it in school. The tribe has even started funding a Luiseño course in one of the local Universities in the US. For centuries, federal agents have tried to stamp out native Indian culture but some of the languages are enjoying a comeback, thanks to the efforts put in by individuals who were interested in preserving the languages. Luiseño is taught at the Pechanga Chámmakilawish School and has been integrated as part of the curriculum, alongside other language courses such as Spanish and Chinese. The school also organize classes for adults and children who do not attend the school.

Native Luiseño Indians lived in California, in an area that spanned from Los Angeles to San Diego. The term Luiseño was coined by Spanish missionaries in the 19th century to refer to the Indians who lived close to the Mission San Luís Rey de Francia, which is the present day Oceanside California. The Luiseño’s refer to themselves as ‘the people of the west’. Even though there are hundreds of people who speak the language, not all of them are fluent in it and none of them speak it as a first language. The language is considered to be highly endangered but there are a lot of language revitalization activities that are currently being carried out. This includes the development of computer and phone applications in Luiseño.

Luiseño is a Takic language that falls under the Uto-Aztecan family of languages. It is similar to the Shoshone language. It is closely related to Cupeno, Cahuilla and Juaneno languages. Luiseño has a written language. Pablo Tac invented the orthography, which was heavily influenced by Spanish. Even though there is no standard orthography, there is an accepted spelling system that is mostly used in high schools and college campuses where the language is taught.

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