Searching for Lost City: On the Trail of America's Native Languages

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9781592281954: Searching for Lost City: On the Trail of America's Native Languages
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First Prize Multicultural Non-Fiction, The Independent Publishers Book Awards

Choctaw, Creek, Sioux, Cherokee, and Ponca are just a few of the Native American tribal languages that are quickly moving towards extinction, down from the nearly six hundred that once existed. Experts predict that the number could drop to twenty by the middle of the century. Before they disappear completely, journalist Elizabeth Seay set out to track down what is left of these languages in her native Oklahoma. Her deeply felt narrative opens a window onto the quirks and intricacies of each language she encountered--and allows a glimpse into the last days of a vanishing culture.

Seay finds a "lost city": Ross Mountain, a secret community in the Ozark Mountains where 90 percent of the people, from young to old, speak a Cherokee dialect as their first language. She meets leaders in the Indian community, from Toby Hughes, who weaves spells, to Charles Chibitty, the last Comanche code talker, and his granddaughter Lacey, for whom being a Comanche seems to be a weekend hobby. The result of Seay's journey is less a study in linguistics than a lively history lesson in cultural migration, forced assimilation, and the meaning of language itself.

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From the Back Cover:

What do we lose when a language disappears? Today, more languages than ever before are endangered. Choctaw, Creek, Comanche, and Ponca are just a few of the more than one hundred Native American languages quickly moving towards extinction.
The question of what is lost - after all, speakers themselves often wonder whether it's worth the trouble of keeping their dialect alive - sparked the interest of Elizabeth Seay, an editor and writer for The Wall Street Journal. In Searching for Lost City, she finds herself in her home state of Oklahoma, researching what is left of tribal languages and the customs that surround them. Seay meets Toby Hughes, who weaves spells; Charles Chibitty, the last Comanche code talker; Sadie Parnell, whose Cherokee language was literally taken from her; and Brian and Quese Frejo, brothers who use Native words in their hip-hop lyrics.
The "lost city" of Ross Mountain seems elusive, however. In this enclave in the Ozark Mountains, ninety percent of the inhabitants speak a version of Cherokee as their first language. The place becomes a metaphor for language itself, and it takes a fascinating turn of events for Seay to discover what, for her, is the "value" of language. Her deeply felt narrative opens a window onto the quirks and intricacies of speech, offering a glimpse into the last days of a vanishing culture and leaving readers with new ways to look at the world.

About the Author:

ELIZABETH SEAY is a writer and editor for The Wall Street Journal, and her writing will be featured in the anthology Floating Off the Page: The Best Stories from The Wall Street Journal's 'Middle Column.' She holds an MFA in nonfiction writing from Columbia University.

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9781592286447: Searching for Lost City: On the Trail of America's Native Languages

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ISBN 10:  1592286445 ISBN 13:  9781592286447
Publisher: The Lyons Press, 2004
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