Tuesday, October 09, 2012

found the music tonight, and it was just in time, as inside my spirit was hungry for something nice. it was an old diner tucked up against what looked like a new highway but it's actually just "the Loop", a very busy road with lots of fast new cars all over the place. this diner had a bunch of old guys who came in, took their time eating, and finally got to playing and by the time they did they had a pretty full room of other old people, some very old but one who, though quite old, was still young enough to dance.

i'd taken my son to soccer practice and now he was having a lemonade and he didn't mind the scene, he knew how happy i was, but he got bored after a while and wanted to go home. i'd have waited, maybe let them get informal and invite folks onstage, but i figured, there will be a time for that. a guy next to me said the lead singer was over ninety, i believed it, but they were still up there, belting out the bluegrass classics, and one guy at one point said he lived only a few blocks away. on the window was a "breakfast" sign and beyond that, you could see the green highway sign for amarillo up there, but i said to the waitress, what'd they do, put a new highway right through your neighborhood, and she said, no, actually, it's been there as long as i remember. which means they're pretty darn used to all that westbound traffic out that one window.

in my class we were talking about dying languages. yiddish, scottish gaelic, and comanche were three that came to mind right away. comanche used to control the whole plain all around these parts, they had horses, and alliances with tribes on either side, and they were a big proud nation, but the buffalo hunters came and wiped out the buffalo, and that upset the delicate balance and caused privation and stress. so they killed the buffalo hunters, but that didn't go over too well, and now they're down to a little nation, centered in anadarko oklahoma, and i've never even met a comanche, but i was struck by a couple of things about their story: one, their language is just like korean, it has a topic, then a verb-last construction, as in: as for me, to the store for bread went. once you've said who the sentence is about, why bother with a subject? my question revolves around how likely it is for a language to change this kind of setup. and then, how likely does that make it that cherokee and korean are related? who knows? how many of these "topicalization" languages are there?

before i give my class all kinds of misinformation, i just point out, hey, i just got here, what do i know about comanche, or y'all, or might could or any of it. up there we were fighting about whether it was ok to say "you guys" or have chief illiniwek on a sweater. we had very few actual native americans around to take offense though they came through in a traveling pow-wow show once and i think once wanted to buy back some of their original land. for the most part, though, they were gone, banished to these parts, it seemed somehow that almsot every native tribe east of the mississippi ended up somewhere in oklahoma or out here somewhere. my students look at me like i'm some kind of guy from outer space, knowing all this stuff, but it's not all that much; if comanche has only a hundred or two native speakers left, how much is there to know? somebody has at least spent some time writing it down, printing a bible in it, finding those native speakers. but hope is running out, and i'm not sure what to do about it. learn comanche, or maybe, learn jerai. jerai (jarai) is a language fromt he highlands of vietnam, also endangered, also presently being saved, or at least worked on, so that it could survive in some form. but if native speakers are spread out, worldwide, what form will that be in? it's hard to say what can save a language in this modern time. i write this in my personal blog because it's a personal thing: there's scottish gaelic, and yiddish, and i've failed, really, to learn either, and i'm getting old, i'm not sure how easy it would be to learn an entire language, really well. in the "embark" stage you have a lot of enthusiasm, and it's really cool, but in these cases it's a lot of work just to be able to talk to a few people. and then what? the language might die anyway.

i avoid death, i avoid any controversy, i even avoid crossing flint and nineteenth in the most dangerous side where i'd have to keep looking over my shoulder as i ride through the crosswalk. i avoid saying "columbus day" or "indigenous peoples day" in favor of "public schools are out and I have to find someone to watch my children." this has been going on for what, thirty some years. cars whiz by, what, on their way west, because it's the west side, the south west side, where lubbock is most developed. and then after that you hit new mexico where it gets wide and empty and real sunny and wide, but i haven't been out there, i've barely got out of town in any direction. traffic whizzes by our house also; this traffic is generally northbound, toward the university, sometimes very fast, even in the early morning. and we hear lots of ambulances, going to pick up some motorcycle rider, or going somewhere else we can only imagine. the sun came back; it was cold and windy and dreary for several days, but now it's like summer again, clear blue skies, warm out days. out on the plain, i'm sure the wind is picking up. i've started noticing workers' trucks that say "plains" or "south plains" this or that. texas flags, horse trailers, cacti, old beater cars, wildflowers, indian-nation license plates. the place has some texture, an understory.

if you don't learn new languages, you remain part of the uncaring outside world, the modern world, that one that goes on when cool stuff dies, and becomes shallower and less aware. what do we know, about what's gone, and what we never learned? only what someone tells us. and even then, you've got to take it with a grain of salt. oral history, you might say, it's like an oral contract, not worth the paper it's printed on. or whatever.

but, i carry my cell-phone wherever i go, and i'm getting better at using it, though i still don't turn it on people much, except accidentally. my heroes in this regard are frank jump and this guy who is recreating the odyssey (sp?) by taking his cell phone all over the mediterranean (sp?) taking photos as if they had a cell phone back in the day. frank jump goes around new york, and every other place, and takes photos of old faded billboards and such. they are living documenters who would point out, the people can document now, it's easy, everyone can do it. you just have to have an eye, and get your camera ready.

one of these days, i'm a head to anadarko, and see what happens. that, or maybe new mexico, roswell, or ruidoso, out that way. i'd even be okay with getting out to estacado, an old quaker settlement not thirty miles from here; i haven't even been there. the place is rich with history, understory, i'm kind of studying it. camera in hand. photos coming.


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