This fascinating and complex language currently has between 120,000 and 170,000 speakers. Most of these speakers live on the Navajo Nation reservation and in other areas of New Mexico and Arizona. Navajo is an important heritage language, with a rich history. However, children are taught English during school, and English is spoken more often at home than Navajo. For this reason, the number of Navajo speakers is decreasing, and the language has an endangered status.
Navajo officials are working to promote and preserve this language. Originally, the language was oral only, but during the 1800s, missionaries began creating an alphabet based on the English alphabet. This written language has evolved slowly as linguists and interpreters worked with Navajo speakers to create a written language. In 1910, Franciscan missionaries published Vocabulary of the Navajo Language. Today, the language is both written and spoken.
During World War II, the Navajo language entered the national and international spotlight. Navajo code talkers were employed by the United States government to encode, transmit and decode messages. This language was ideal for use as a code that the enemy just couldn’t crack. It was ideal for a number of reasons:
- It is only spoken by Native Americans.
- It features complex syntax and dialects.
- It is unintelligible to anyone without extensive exposure to it.
- At the time of WWII, there was no written version.
Navajo code talkers were widely recognized for their contributions to WWII. Major Howard Connor, 5th Marine Division Signal Officer stated, “Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima.” (Naval Historical Center, Navajo Code Talkers: World War II Fact Sheet)
Recently, there have been high-profile attempts to keep the language alive. For example, in 2013, Star Wars was translated into Navajo. This marked the first time any major motion picture was translated into a Native American language.
Avantpage has been asked to translate into Navajo, and we are pleased to add this language to our roster. We hope to help Navajo speakers continue to speak and use their language, keeping it off the endangered list.