Reviving a Language
Story by Jeff Glaze
Video produced by Matt Vasilogambros, Riane Menardi and Tyler O’Neil
The Ho-Chunk people are known as the “People of the Big Voice.” For 63-year-old Richard Mann, reclaiming that voice has been a life goal.
Nearly 7,000 languages are spoken in the world, and the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages estimates that by 2100 as many as half of them could be extinct. According to the Dallas-based linguist group SIL International, the Ho-Chunk people had about 230 speakers left at last count.
A Tomah, Wis., native, Mann is director of the language division for the Ho-Chunk Nation. Mann and a group of highly motivated elders have been working hard to preserve the Ho-Chunk language as part of their culture for generations to come. The Ho-Chunk Nation started a daycare program in 2005 with the idea of creating a new generation of first-language Ho-Chunk speakers. Since then, the daycare has become one of the language division’s most successful programs.
Mann hopes to someday expand on this program, but for now he is content working to restore pride in the Ho-Chunk identity. “I’m here to see what we can do in the future, to take our children and give them strength. You’re a Ho-Chunk. Let them people outside see you as a Ho-Chunk,” Mann says.