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Is Navajo an appropriate language to try to learn to read and write in or is it mainly oral?

Asking because I have a speech impairment and live in the northeast. Not a lot of chances to be able to practice it so far from the Dine culture. Even if I lived somewhere nearby, writing would still be my main form of communicating. So, I was wondering if it's mainly a language that is oral, rather than written. Are there novels written in Navajo? Newspapers? Captioned movies? (hearing impairment, and would help me with listening comprehension)

October 25, 2018



There is almost nothing written, the use is mainly oral. No novel, no newspaper.. What you'd have is an article in a local newspaper otherwise in English, or some children book around traditional living. The main written material is the Bible and some governmental / administrative material (elections,...) and some medical. Back in the 1970s there used to be a newspaper by the famous Young and Morgan, they also compiled many stories, myths and testimonies.


So what you are saying is that learners of this language should focus on developing their listening, speaking and pronunciation skills with Navajo?

I think, since I am speech impaired and hard of hearing, joining a Facebook group that focuses on written Navajo may be best for me to practice Navajo with.

I'm also wondering if the Navajo have their own sign language, like Plains Indian Sign Language (but wikipedia says there's only 75 speakers of that left?)


I asked a Navajo and he he was stumped by the question. He said he really had no idea.


Good question!

I saw https://bookriot.com/2018/08/03/when-lived-experience-is-the-best-research-learning-navajo-and-writing-trail-of-lightning/:

"...I’d been working on learning some basics of the language. My job in legal aid meant I often served a Navajo population that was elderly and spoke little English. If I wanted to communicate effectively and respectfully, I needed to learn some Diné Bizaad. I think many non-Natives might be surprised how much Navajo is spoken and written daily on the reservation. If you want to do your grocery shopping or you need to fill our government forms or you simply want to know what’s going on at the local high school that weekend, it helps to be able to read at least a bit of the language..."

However, you live far away so this doesn't fully apply to your situation.

It does apply to Navajo being written, and make me guess that there will be more written in Navajo in the future. :)

Also, I read the novel written by the same person who wrote the article - it's good! :)


I recently spoke with spoke who is Navajo and his family still lives in the Navajo nation. He just got back a few days ago from visiting there for a week. He was lamenting that only a few people speak Navajo and almost all of them are older Navajo. He said almost none of the younger Navajo speak or understand any of the language. He said he fears that Navajo will disappear from the planet with 20 to 30 years.


It's true, mostly people can understand but they don't have inspiration to learn and one complaint is elders can be condescending when they're upset kids can't speak it. Mostly its the intermediate generation who lost it in the residential boarding schools... it's the federal government's assimilation policies that continued cultural genocide.

We've had "dead" languages revived in the past though, even after no speakers exist for decades.


The language is traditionally oral. It was only transcribed into latin characters within the last hundred years. (I'm not sure when exactly.)


There are a lot of things published in Navajo. The Bible is a great place to practice, as weird as that sounds. You can watch Star Wars and also Finding Nemo in Navajo, but I can't remember if the captions are in Navajo too or just English.

Elderlies don't always read...don't want to generalize, but that's something we would complain about with language revitalization. They'll make Basha's grocery store more "Navajo spirited" by writing the words on the wall for the sections, but once in Window Rock I asked an older gentleman in line what the actual translation of one expression was. He told me, "Can you read it to me? I can't read Navajo." So I read it using the skills I learned at the tribal college where students absolutely learn to read and write in the new system. He said, 'Oh, yes it's ..." and he translated it. Then it made sense to me. But there's a huge disconnect.

I have a lot of children's books in Navajo and even had to write a short story for one of my classes once. Not so much published yet; not even sure about poems. I know there are some poems in the O'odham language, but that's unrelated and in southern Arizona/northern Mexico tribes (Gila River, T.O. for example).

You could also consider finding a Na-Dene family language nearby. They languages are very similar in the family. If you can read Navajo, you can typically read Apache signs for example in San Carlos or White Mountain. I imagine other PNW family groups are similar to read.

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