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Awakening Wanikik

posted Feb 11, 2012, 11:11 AM by Limu Project

Pictured at left, Mrs Jane Penn

Founder of the Malki Museum

After a decade of working with the few surviving Elders that remembered the old words and expressions – and countless hours analyzing recordings and applying delicate linguistic examinations – we have reconstructed Wanikik: the Pass Cahuilla dialect.

Understandably, many were (and still are) skeptical that a language that has not been widely spoken since well before 1950 could be awakened. And, if not for the late Joseph Saubel of Morongo and recordings of several fluent Pass Cahuilla Elders, it would not have been possible. Recognition is also owed to the late Mrs Katherine Siva Saubel for sitting with us and going over recordings, wordlists, and memories in her final years.

Many pieces of the Pass Cahuilla puzzle were filled in thanks to the work, writings, and data collected by linguists Eric Elliot, Pamela Munro, Hansjakob Seiler and Kojiro Hioki. Special thanks is owed to Dr Seiler and his article Structure and Reconstruction in Some Uto-Aztecan Languages [Source: International Journal of American Linguistics, Vol. 33, No. 2, (Apr., 1967), pp. 135-147], and to William Duncan Strong for his masterpiece on Southern California Indian Anthropology, Aboriginal Society in Southern California [Malki Museum Press, 1987].


To awaken the language for families today, we provide several different types of learning experiences. Weekly lessons include stories, songs, grammar and practice using the language as a group. Some of our most valuable lessons come from the experience of class trips to sacred sites and traditional villages. Some Language-Learners are taking Wanikik to the next level in Language and Song Apprenticeships.

For the first time in generations we are speaking Wanikik.