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navajo language

Navajo or Navaho (Diné bizaad) is an Athabaskan language of Na-Dené stock spoken in the southwestern United States. It is geographically and linguistically one of the Southern Athabaskan languages (the majority of Athabaskan languages are spoken in northwest Canada and Alaska).

Navajo has more speakers than any other Native American language north of the U.S.–Mexico border, with between 120,000 and 170,700 speakers.
Language status

Examples of written Navajo on public signs. Clockwise from top left: Student Services Building, Diné College; cougar exhibit, Navajo Nation Zoo; shopping center near Navajo, New Mexico; notice of reserved parking, Window Rock

The American Community Survey of 2007 reported 170,717 speakers of Navajo, making it the only Native American language to warrant a separate line in the statistical tables. A more conservative estimate of 120,000 native speakers is given by Victor Golla. The majority of speakers live on the Navajo Nation with about 115,000 speakers (75% of the population) while 12,000–15,000 speakers live elsewhere. Of these, 2.9% were monolingual with no knowledge of English and are mostly elderly people. The four metro- and micropolitan areas with the largest number of speakers were Farmington (16.5%), Gallup (12%), Flagstaff (10.3%), and Albuquerque (5.4%). The language was the main language of communication until World War II after which English use increased.

In 1981, about 85% of the Navajo child population spoke Navajo as their first language. However, more recent surveys show this percentage to have fallen to 25% of the child population. A 1991 survey of 4,073 students in the Navajo Reservation Head Start program found that 54% of 682 preschoolers are monolingual English speakers, 28% bilingual in English and Navajo, and 18% monolingual Navajo. This study further noted that at that time the preschooler staff spoke English to the children most of the time although they were bilingual Navajo speakers and that most parents spoke to the children in English more often than Navajo – in effect the preschoolers were in ‘almost total immersion in English.’ The decline of children learning the language renders Navajo an endangered language. This has led to the creation of Navajo immersion programs starting in 1986 at Fort Defiance Elementary School. A number of bilingual immersion schools operate within Navajo-speaking regions to preserve and promote usage of the language. An AM radio station, KTNN, broadcasts in Navajo and English, with programming including music and NFL games AM station KNDN also broadcasts in Navajo. In 1996, Navajo became the first Native American language in which a Super Bowl was broadcast. Navajo language vocabulary has been expanded to cover modern topics such as "sports, politics, and technology." In 2013, Star Wars (1977) was translated into Navajo, making it the first major motion picture translated into any Native American language.

Orthography and pronunciation
In Navajo orthography, the letter h represents two different sounds: it is pronounced [x] when stem initial and [h] when prefixal or stem/word final. However, when [x] is preceded by s it is always written as x and never as h so that it will not be confused with sh (e.g. násxéés "I'm turning around", but never náshéés). The consonant gh [ɣ] is written as y before front vowels i and e (where it is palatalized [ʝ]), as w before o (where it is labialized [ɣʷ]), and as gh before a. The glottal stop ʼ is not written at the beginning of words.

For /ɣ/ gh, both the palatalization and labialization is represented in the orthography where it is written as y for the palatalized variant and w for the labialized variant. The orthography does not indicate the variants for the other consonants.

Navajo has four basic vowels: a, e, i and o. Each of these may occur either short or long, and either non-nasalized (oral) or nasalized:

        short, as in a and e
        long, as in aa and ee
        nasalized, as in ą and ę
        nasalized long, as in ąą and ęę


Navajo has two tones, low and high. Syllables are low tone by default. With long vowels, these tones combine for four possibilities:

        high, as in áá and éé,
        low, as in aa and ee,
        rising, as in aá and eé or
        falling, as in áa and ée.

Various combinations of these features are possible, as in ą́ą́ (long, nasalized, high tone).

Typologically, Navajo is an agglutinating, polysynthetic head-marking language, but many of its affixes combine into contractions more like fusional languages. The canonical word order of Navajo is SOV. Athabaskan words are modified primarily by prefixes, which is unusual for an SOV language (suffixes are expected).

Navajo is a "verb-heavy" language — it has a great preponderance of verbs but relatively few nouns. In addition to verbs and nouns, Navajo has other elements such as pronouns, clitics of various functions, demonstratives, numerals, postpositions, adverbs, and conjunctions, among others. Harry Hoijer grouped all of the above into a word-class which he called particles (i.e., Navajo would then have verbs, nouns, and particles). Navajo has no separate words that correspond to the adjectives in English grammar: verbs provide the adjectival functionality.

The key element in Navajo is the verb. Verbs are composed of an abstract stem to which inflectional and/or derivational prefixes are added. Every verb must have at least one prefix. The prefixes are affixed to the verb in a specified order.

The Navajo verb can be sectioned into different components. The verb stem is composed of an abstract root and an often fused suffix. The stem together with a "classifier" prefix (and sometimes other thematic prefixes) make up the verb theme. The thematic prefixes are prefixes that are non-productive, have limited derivational function, and no longer have a clearly defined meaning. Examples of thematic prefixes, include the archaic yá- prefix, which only occurs on the verb stem -tééh/-tiʼ meaning "to talk" as in yáłtiʼ "he's talking". The theme is then combined with derivational prefixes which in turn make up the verb base. Finally, inflectional prefixes (which Young & Morgan call "paradigmatic prefixes") are affixed to the base — producing a complete Navajo verb.

Verb template
The Navajo verb is composed of a verb stem and a set of prefixes. The prefixes can be divided into a conjunct prefix set and disjunct prefix set. The disjunct prefixes occur on the outer left edge of the verb. The conjunct prefixes occur after the disjunct prefixes, closer to the verb stem. Two types of prefixes can be distinguished by their different phonological behavior.
The prefixes that occur on a Navajo verb are added in specified more or less rigid order according to prefix type. This type of morphology is called a position class template (or slot-and-filler template). Below is a table of a recent proposal of the Navajo verb template (Young & Morgan 1987). Edward Sapir and Harry Hoijer were the first to propose an analysis of this type. A given verb will not have a prefix for every position. In fact, most Navajo verbs are not as complex as the template would seem to suggest: the maximum number of prefixes is around eight

la langue navajo

Diné bizaad
Parlée aux     États-Unis et Mexique.
Région     Arizona, Nouveau-Mexique, Utah, Colorado et les États mexicains de Chihuahua et Sonora.
Nombre de locuteurs     148 530 en 1990
Typologie     agglutinante et polysynthétique, SOV, tonale
Classification par famille

    -  langues amérindiennes (polyphylétique)
        -  langues na-dené
            -  groupe athapascan-eyak
                -  langues athapascanes
                    -  langues athapascanes méridionales
                        -  navajo

Le navajo (Diné bizaad en navajo), parfois écrit navaho, est une langue amérindienne qui fait partie, comme les diverses langues apaches, du groupe sud de la famille athapascane, qui appartient elle-même à la famille des langues na-dené. Alors que la plupart des langues na-dené sont parlées bien plus au nord (Alaska, Yukon, Territoires du Nord-Ouest et provinces canadiennes), le navajo est parlé dans le sud-ouest des États-Unis et au Mexique, par le peuple navajo, qui se désigne lui-même par le terme de Diné (le peuple).

Le navajo compte plus de locuteurs que n'importe quelle autre langue amérindienne au nord de la frontière entre le Mexique et les États-Unis. C'est en 2013 la langue maternelle de près de 150 000 personnes, et ce nombre ne cesse de croître. Pendant la Seconde Guerre mondiale et notamment durant la Guerre du Pacifique, des Navajos servant dans les unités de transmissions américaines avaient mis sur pied un code basé sur leur langue, afin d'assurer la confidentialité des messages radio
Usage actuel

Le navajo est encore largement parlé par les Navajos de tous âges, avec plus de la moitié de la population Navajo parlant le navajo chez eux. Les Navajos sont une des rares tribus amérindiennes parlant leur langue propre dans la vie de tous les jours. La langue est cependant en déclin, en particulier dans les zones urbaines hors réserve indienne : le passage à l'anglais s'accroît chez les jeunes générations. Même au sein du territoire navajo, les recensements indiquent qu'entre 1980 et 1990, la proportion de navajos entre 5 et 17 ans monolingues en anglais est passée de 12 à 28 %, puis à 43 % en 2000. Bien qu'il soit la plus vigoureuse des langues amérindiennes aux États-Unis, le navajo n'en est donc pas moins une langue en danger face à la pression de l'anglais3.
Il y a quatre voyelles fondamentales en navajo : a, e, i et o. Elles varient selon trois paramètres simultanément :

    longueur : brève a / longue aa
    nasalité : orale a / nasale ą
    ton : haut áá / bas aa / montant aá / descendant áa

La combinaison de ces trois variables aboutit à des voyelles telles que ą́ą́ (a long, nasalisé, ton haut).
Contrairement à son pendant sourd ł, la sonore l est phonétiquement une consonne spirante (comme en anglais et en français). Comme beaucoup de langues amérindiennes du Sud-Ouest des États-Unis, le navajo est assez pauvre en consonnes labiales.

En orthographe navajo, la lettre h représente deux sons différents : on le prononce [x] à l'initial d'un radical et [h] à l'initiale d'un préfixe ou à la fin d'un radical et/ou d'un mot. Cependant, quand [x] est précédé de s on l'écrit toujours x et jamais h afin d'éviter la confusion avec sh (ex.násxéés « Je tourne autour » et jamais *náshéés).

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