Arizona State University
Freshman Cora Tso has grown closer to her culture by taking Navajo classes.

Learning Navajo Helps Students Connect to Their Culture

Arizona State University News

Learning the Language That Belongs to Them

Classroom sessions focus on reading, writing and speaking the indigenous language. Interspersed among the lessons are discussions about the culture, focusing on topics such as the importance of clans and what livestock means to the Navajo people.

“We’re fortunate to provide opportunities that allow students to learn the language that belongs to them,” said Begay, whose clans are Red Running into the Water People, Black Streak Wood People, Red Bottom Cheek People and Giant People of the Red Running in the Water People. “Navajo is a very descriptive language that is verb-based. It sounds a lot like poetry.”

Allan realized he wanted to learn more about his language and his culture while he was enlisted in the U.S. Army and fellow soldiers would ask about his heritage. At times, he didn’t have an answer. He also worked with Navajo Nation Emergency Medical Services where knowing the language can help in treating those whose only language is Navajo.

That led him to the realization that he had missed out on cultural aspects of his tribe when he was growing up on the Navajo Reservation.

Allan’s mother was fluent in Navajo, but didn’t teach it to her children, perhaps because of what she experienced during boarding school, said Allan, who went to school in Tuba City and Kayenta and is from Shonto and Toligai on the Navajo Nation. His clans are Salt Clan, Caucasian People and Bitterwater.

“They were physically abused and punished for talking the language,” Allan said. “Language is a big part of our society and culture and it makes your community stronger. It shows that people take pride in who they are.”


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tzurinskas's picture
Submitted by tzurinskas on
I'm developing a phonetic spelling that I hope could be a common intermediary to all languages. It's called truespel phonetics. I've already written US English phonetically. For more info search on "truespel" at I'd like to apply it to American Indian languages, especial "code talking" Navajo. One issue is how to say the word "Navajo". While vacationing in Utah, I asked a very old Navajo lady how to say it. She said it with the first "a" not as in "ah" but as in "gnat or navigate". In truespel it would be spelled ~Navuhoe versus ~Naavuhoe as it's pronounced in this video. Using a standard intermediary phonetic spelling would help straighten this out. I hope I can help.