By Mollie Halpern.
An Alaskan grandmother tells her traumatizing story of being locked in a closet. Her crime? Speaking her native language at school. Invaders disparage the language of natives, breaking the link to their culture and way of life. Once this link is broken they can assimilate natives into their society.
The Muslim Arabs of North Africa outlawed the language of the Berbers, replacing it with their language that ties to Islam and the Arabian Peninsula. Irish Gaelic was the main language in Ireland, then in 1871 it was prohibited in schools, and replaced with English. The graveyard of history is scattered with the bones of dead languages.
According to the Martinez-Cobo report, “The use of a vernacular language by an individual group or community has always been considered one of the criteria for classifying them as indigenous.”
Since the Hebrew language began between 1200 and 500 B.C., Jews never stopped using it, even if only in prayer. In the time of Jesus when the language was Aramaic in the North, the South contained pockets of Hebrew. During the Bar Kokhba revolt, the Jews tried to revive Hebrew and were crushed by the Romans. The Arabs identifying as Palestinian now, do not have a unique language. Regardless of religion, they speak Arabic. Even if some were once Jewish, they gave up Hebrew and adopted the oppressor’s language.
At the heart of the Lappish language is reindeer breeding. In Norway, Sweden and Finland there are different requirements for being considered a member of the indigenous Lapp people, however they all include that someone in the family must speak the language. The Lappish language has a variety of words for different kinds of reindeer, terminology for herding and for hunting. There are also various words for snow conditions they encounter during migrations with reindeer. This is their connection to their culture and land.
For the Jewish people, the Romans tried to take away the language and the ties to the land, calling Israel, Syria Palestina. The Hebrew language and prayers never stopped the connection, with the holiest prayer calling out to Israel. Along with given and surnames in the language of their new countries, Jews always kept a Hebrew given and surname for rituals: birth; bar mitzvah; marriage; death.
Anishnaabe elder Mary Lou Fox’s insightful quote, “Without the language, we are warm bodies without a spirit.” Every Jewish doorpost has a mezuzah that reads in Hebrew, “Hear oh Israel! The Lord is thy G-d. The Lord is One!” This prayer is said covering the eyes, to concentrate on the words. The Lord gave the children of Israel their laws in the holy language of Hebrew. It encompasses their spirituality and connection to the land of their ancestors. Persecuted, prosecuted, pillaged, pummeled, purged, pushed, provoked, and preyed upon, the Jews maintained their connection to Judaism through Hebrew.
Language shows a relationship to the land and spirituality. In the the mother tongue of Islam, Allah spoke to Mohammad, in a language that developed with no P sound, centuries after Hebrew. This further demonstrates Palestinian claims are overstated. Claiming the land is Palestine, a name given from the ancient Greeks and Romans, when linguistic evidence supports this would never be from their language. There is no word in their lexicon that describes them as a people, but words from other languages. Declaring the name is truly Filastin, meaning foreigner, migratory, or invader, they are admitting no true relationship with the region.