A Huge Step to Preserving the Ho-Chunk Language

By Kaili Berg

     On Thursday, July 30, the Ho-Chunk Nations language division released its first online Ho-Chunk dictionary.

     This is a huge step towards preserving the Ho-Chunk Language.

     The work of launching the dictionary has lasted over decades, but the particular project took about three years after funding was approved.

     “The most current project began in 2019. With our partners from The Language Conservancy (TLC), we conducted an intensive word collection project over the course of the summer. After that time much work was put into organizing, analyzing, and editing the data,” said Henning Garvin, Hoocak linguist.

     “In 2021 with the help of TLC we were given an ANA grant which funded the remainder of the project. However this work is only the latest dictionary effort and built upon the efforts of many in the past. We relied heavily on the documentation work done by the Erfurt team as a part of the Volkswagen documentation grant in the early 2000’s which produced our first published dictionary, and also relied heavily on the work of previous Ho-Chunks and scholars. For example, the works of Dr. Charles Kingswan; wanag?ira and Dr. Jospehine White Eagle; wana?g?ira, are language work which helped to form the foundation for our current efforts. The success of our current endeavors is directly attributable to the work they and others did and so graciously left for our benefit,” said Garvin.

     Introducing an online dictionary gives access to anyone with internet connection wanting to learn the language, and also offers a feature that gives proper pronunciation of over 11,000 words and sentences.

     The information stored within the database upon which the dictionary is built and this accessibility removes a huge barrier to people’s efforts to learn and acquire the language.

     The language department offers many other options and resources to learn the language as well.

     The Hoocak Academy offers an Online Pathways program throughout the year. There are also opportunities available for independent learning through HOIT’E, weekly videos, the First Leaners Project, and drop in sessions with eminent speakers.

     High school credit classes are also available for those interested in the Ho-Chunk language. There are currently students enrolled in a Ho-Chunk language class in Black River Falls, Tomah, Nekoosa, Baraboo, and Wisconsin Dells School District.

     Indigenous language is under threat of disappearing around the world, with a language dying every two weeks.

     Language is not only important for communication, but all of creation. It is sacred, and the Ho-Chunk name, refers to this, People of the Sacred Voice. Ho-Chunk language is a way for values, traditions, and identity to be passed down for generations.

     When a language is lost, part of that culture is lost. Preserving it, saves traditions and customs continue living in the hearts and minds of those who understand it.

     Currently, there are estimated to be about only 50 fluent Ho-Chunk speakers remaining. There are, however, a highly proficient second language learners and that number continues to grow in efforts of teaching.

     For more information about resources available for the Ho-Chunk language you can visit hoocak.org or access the dictionary at dictionary.hochunk.org.