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Wampanoag Language Revival Project



Natural Language has stumbled upon this most interesting of language stories.  Although the last native speakers died a century ago the language of the Wampanoag is being revived by their descendants and producing new native speakers.   Most Americans are familiar with the Wampanoag as they are the original people who taught the pilgrims to plant corn, s    quash and beans (the three sisters) which allowed them to avoid starvation in the new world.  Without the Wampanoag the pilgrims would not have lived to celebrate the first thanksgiving.

The Wampanoag language revival story begins with Jessie Little Doe Baird, who was prompted by a vision of her ancestors which suggested that the language could come back.  In much of the Northeast many street and place names are in Native American languages and in some places that is all that survives of the original peoples. Take Manhattan for instance, the tribe is long whipped out by the Dutch but the land still keeps its original name.  A street name in her native language helped Jessie to understand that the vision of her ancestors was calling on her to reclaim the language of her people.
Although she hadn’t finished her undergraduate studies Mrs. Baird got a research fellowship in linguistics at MIT and then went on to complete the masters program. 

Initially resentful that it would take the help of a white man to reclaim Wampanoag, Baird later realized that he was a direct descendant of one of the translators of the bible into Wampanoag.  She also realized that he was paying the debt of his ancestors by returning to the Wampanoag what had been taken from them.  The man’s name was Dr. Kenneth Hale.  According to Wampanoag prophecy a Wampanoag woman would leave her home to bring back the language, and the children of those who had had a hand in breaking the language cycle would help heal it. 
The success of the project has been nothing short of phenomenal.  Baird says that she really gets a kick out to the fact that she has been able to use material, written in Wampanoag all of those years ago, to separate the people from their native beliefs and replace them with those of the European settlers. 
These include the first bible printed in the United States, which happened to be a Wampanoag translation designed to help missionaries convert the Wampanoag to Christianity.

Since graduating from MIT Mrs. Baird has taught over 75 of her people and the work continues despite criticism from outsiders who see it as a futile effort.  Michael Blake, a professor of philosophy at Harvard University has argued that the language died out because the people “chose” to assimilate.
What Mr. Blake fails to understand is that the “choice” to assimilate was not voluntarily made.  That the spirit of the Wampanoag and other native cultures, is embodied in their language, and in their genetic structure.  The Wampanoag will revive their language with or without the approval of Mr. Blake and quite frankly its none of his business.

For more information:




I love to travel. In my travels, I have had many conversations with people about culture and language, and what it means to be from the United States. I confess that I often feel an unsettled sense that many aspects of my home country are grossly misunderstood. I have in mind many illustrations, but I will focus on one misconception that is of particular concern to me, and which I hear repeatedly whenever the conversations abroad turn to the topic of language—the “myth” that the U.S. does not have an official language.

It is true that the U.S. does not claim English as its official language. However, it is also a fact that the U.S. is a federalist system of government, which means that the policy to which people refer may not be as meaningful as people may think. I recognize that federalism may not be easily conceptualized by those living outside of its context, though the U.S. is not the only country that has such a system. Federalism is, however, pertinent to understanding official-language policy in the U.S.. Federalism is, put simply, the system of multiple sovereigns (States) joined together under the umbrella of a unified, or centralized, sovereign. Accordingly, States frequently are not required to do as the federal government does. In the case of official English-language policy, States differ in their approaches from that of the federal government—hence why I call the no-official language idea, a myth.

There are many ways States may set about official-English lawmaking; one rather effective way is by direct-initiative, a form of direct-democracy. In the U.S. representative-democracy is the exclusive form at the federal level, but direct-democracy does exist in many State and local jurisdictions, most notably California. One researcher, Deborah Schildkraut, hypothesizes that in linguistically diverse States, the mere availability of direct-initiative voting increases the likelihood the State will be able to pass official-English legislation. Why? The direct-initiative model permits voters, as opposed to their elected representatives, to vote on the proposed legislation. Essentially, this means that voters can bypass politicians who might otherwise stymie the passage of the legislation for fear of political backlash from a significant, bi- or multi-lingual voting-bloc. State Governors are often called upon to sign official-English bills into law, not because the legislature passed the bill, but because if vetoed and put to a direct-vote, voters would pass the bill anyway. This is precisely what happened in 1987, when Arkansas’ then-Governor, former-President Clinton, made English that state’s official language.

I have a sense that people speak of the United State’s no-official-language policy with a sort of pride—a commentary on the beauty of diversity in the U.S.. Perhaps people think that the U.S., as compared to a country that has adopted an official language say, is somehow more accepting of other languages. Perhaps, generally speaking, they are correct. Cheerleaders for language diversity BEWARE, however. I would argue that despite the hopeful sentiment behind this interpretation, the U.S. is not as benevolent toward language-diversity as one (myself included) might like.

In the 2010–11 academic year an estimated 4.7 million public school students, participated in some form of ESL or bilingual education program. (see National Center for Education Statistics) While these programs are substantially funded by the federal government, States also fund their respective school districts’ language programs. When official-English laws are adopted, either by legislatures or by direct-vote, there is a risk of alienation on the part of bi- and multi-lingual communities. It also stands to reason that the State’s language policy will have some effect (negative or positive) on its overall language-education policy—e.g. funding for ESL and bilingual programs, or the availability of foreign language programs in public and charter schools.

I, like most Americans, understand that the State in which I live, most readily determines the privileges and benefits, and the obligations and duties of my every day life—including my access to ESL, bilingual, and foreign language programs; not merely the federal government. Because States are free to adopt or reject an official-English policy, it is important that we do not let a romanticized understanding of U.S. language policy at the federal level—the myth—distract us from the reality and import of State-level language policies.

Written by: Sara Thompson

Sources: (1) Schildkraut, Deborah, 2001, “Official-English and the States:
Influences on Declaring English the Official Language in the United States,” Political Research Quarterly, Vol. 54, No. 2: pp. 445–457; and (2) National Center for Education Statistics.

Doing Well by Doing Good - Socially Responsible Business Models

Doing Well by Doing Good - Socially Responsible Business Models

Many of the world’s traditional cultures emphasize the community ethic in a way that allows for an assessment of the impact of one’s activities on the larger community rather than solely one’s own profit or benefit.  Native American traditions such as that of the Iroquois Confederacy, which counsels that in all of our decisions we must consider the impact our actions will have seven generations into the future. 
In the Eightfold path of the Buddha, “Right Livelihood” is the fifth fold. The basic message here is that we should seek to earn a living in a way that is ethical and not harmful to others. 
In the words of Thich Nhat Hanh,

"To practice Right Livelihood (samyag ajiva), you have to find a way to earn your living without transgressing your ideals of love and compassion. The way you support yourself can be an expression of your deepest self, or it can be a source of suffering for you and others. " ... Our vocation can nourish our understanding and compassion, or erode them. We should be awake to the consequences, far and near, of the way we earn our living." (The Heart of the Buddha\'s Teaching [Parallax Press, 1998], p. 104).

Modern business practice which puts profits first often are at odds with these kinds of ideals.  According to the Delaware Supreme Court, (haven of major US Corporate formation) a corporation’s board of directors’ is prohibited from considering non-shareholder interests and has as it sole duty maximization of shareholder value. We have all heard the tales of the cutthroat practices that put profits above people and immediate gains over sustainability.  This kind of business practice has been blamed for the housing bubble, the great depression and countless other economic woes.  Some would also argue that it is behind poverty, the growing wealth gap, global warming, mass extinction and a culture of hyper consumerism. But is there another way?  Could capitalism and consciousness be compatible?  Some of today’s most innovative companies, entrepreneurs and even venture capitalists are doing business for the greater good and still turning a profit.

Enter the B-Corp. The notion of a B Corp. seems like a revolutionary concept but according to the non-profit B Lab there are over 1,000 B Certified businesses and the community is growing. Certification means that businesses meet rigorous standards of transparency, social and environmental performance.  The goal: “to redefine success in business.”

A number of States have recently passed legislation to recognize the B Corp., which allows business entities to legally form with the values of a B-Corp enshrined in their certificates of incorporation.  Most notably, Delaware recently passed legislation recognizing the B Corp. and becomes the 19th state to do so. Maryland was the first. A business formed as a B Corp. has a mission and its shareholders and board of directors are sworn to uphold these values even in pursuit of profit.
It’s an idea whose time has come, but considering some of the world’s ancient traditions perhaps it is not so much revolutionary as it is evolutionary.

Written By Natural Languages Staff

The Myth of Standard English

                                                                    The Myth of Standard English

Hardly a day goes by that I am not reminded of something one of my undergraduate linguistics professors used to say (ad nauseam)–“language can be neither ‘wrong’ nor ‘right’.” I tend to agree, though others are more suspicious, evidenced by memes and social-media rants to the contrary.

John McWhorter, a linguist and Associate Professor at Columbia University, is adamant that we ought to view language as ever changing—a product of socio-historical context. He likens people’s preoccupation with phrases like “whom did you see” or “between you and I” to a preoccupation with hanging garlic to ward off dead spirits—probably not something we really need to worry about. He cautions that what we now understand as “proper” is merely the result of a collective memory problem; that is, our concept of properness is fluid and changes generationally. Take for example certain lexical items (words) like ‘rad’ or ‘groovy,’ commonplace in the 70’s, now replaced by ‘mad’ (as in ‘mad cool’). Even at the phonemic level (sounds), change is constantly occurring, as when ‘singing’ becomes ‘singin’ or ‘often’ is pronounced without the hard /t/. At the syntactic level (word order), ‘our father’ was ‘father our’ for Chaucer and his Middle-English contemporaries. While it may be tempting to look at these variations as deviant, McWhorter urges that these changes are really quite normal.

The social and environmental factors that lead humans to form separate communities, facilitate the adoption or rejection of the various linguistic features that ultimately form all dialects. Dialects may be standard or non-standard and merely reflect the lexical, phonemic, and grammatical peculiarities of a given community. The tendency to view language as static, leads to the erroneous conclusion that changes in the linguistic features of our language reflect individual laziness or even that whole dialects are degradations of the dominant language.  

Change within any given language may well be a foregone conclusion, but the debate about whether newfangled words and sounds are wrong or right persists. Prescriptive grammar—the normative rules about how one “should” speak or write—is constantly on people’s minds. Just ask any schoolteacher and you are likely to hear—“children these days do not know proper grammar.” I do not mean to say that teachers are not accurately assessing their students’ level of proficiency in standard-English grammar; but rather, I am dubious about broad sweeping assertions that children are failing en masse to grasp even the most complex aspects of their native language. Formal schooling is not necessary for the development of fluency in one’s native tongue; however, formal education does facilitate a deeper understanding of standardized, or normative, language. This is because formal education systems exist within a socio-political context, which explicitly and implicitly, places the dominant group’s language as the “standard” against which all other language is measured. Accordingly, an individual’s success within a formal education system directly implicates his or her proximity to that standard; thus, prescriptive grammar is properly viewed as one mechanism by which formal education perpetuates the “myth of standard-English.” McWhorter further suggests that the extent to which standard-English facilitates communication among native speakers of the language is negligible, namely because speakers of non-standard dialects can easily understand the standard system and vise-versa.

If we understand that dialectical differences are naturally occurring and do not impede communication, we see that beliefs about the alleged superiority of standard-English may actually be the result of much broader racial and socio-economic inequities present in our education system, for example. The effect of such bias toward the dominant dialect is that it tends to marginalize non-standard speakers, who are in turn viewed as less educated, less capable, and generally less “normative”—i.e. less trustworthy, more suspicious, etc. Ultimately, it is not hard to see how such a negative view can ultimately affect the non-standard speakers’ chances of success and his or her sense of belonging in the broader (i.e. dominant) community.

What I am suggesting is simply that our education system may be best served by an approach to teaching language that elevates non-standard dialects—gives them space alongside standard-English—so that linguistic diversity may be celebrated as both natural and respectable.

Chomsky, N. (1957). Syntactic Structures. The Hague: Mouton.
McWhorter, J. (1998). Word on the Street: Debunking the Myth of a “Pure” Standard English. U.S.: Basic Books.




Written by: Sara Thompson, M.S., J.D. Candidate
*The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the writer and should not be construed as accurate statements of the law or as legal advice. So this is how it works. You arrive home late after a long day of work; you’re
juggling a 40-pound work bag in one hand, and a half-torn grocery sack, or a two-year old in the other; you somehow manage to fumble your teeny-tiny mailbox key into the keyhole and finagle your oversized mail out of the teeny-tiny box, only to find the most dreaded piece of mail known to humankind (or at least U.S. citizens)—the Jury Summons. In general, most people would agree that the availability of a jury is a vital mechanism for ensuring the administration of justice in this country. Because the U.S. is an ethically, racially, and otherwise diverse place, one way that the legal system attempts to ensure judicial fairness is by prohibiting unlawful discrimination during the jury selection process. The parties have only a limited opportunity to “strike” potential jurors that he or she believes will be unable to render a fair verdict. The limitation is that the decision to strike a juror cannot be based on the juror’s protected-class status, like race or ethnic origin. Importantly, discrimination on the basis of language alone is not unlawful discrimination because language, in and of itself, may or may not be an indicator of a person’s ethnicity (the characteristic that is actually protected). 

Of course, because the line that separates decision-making on the basis of language (lawful) and decision-making on the basis of ethnicity or race (unlawful) is a fine one, litigation often ensues. What these juror-discrimination cases reveal
is that jurors who are dismissed on the basis of language manifest some hesitation, either impliedly or expressly, as to whether they will be able to rely, exclusively, on the court’s “official version” of non-English testimony, even in cases where the juror also speaks or understands the other language. Put another way, will you (the juror) be able to block-out, not be persuaded by, not rely on, your non-English language during the course of your juror duties?

It may be helpful to consider the following example, in which a federal court was asked to decide whether it was unlawful discrimination to dismiss a bilingual juror—mid-trial—because of her apparent unwillingness to defer to the court’s
official Spanish-language interpreter. Here is what happened to Juror No. 8 in U.S. v. Perez: During the course of the trial, the jury was presented with a witness whose Spanish-language testimony was simultaneously translated into English by an official court interpreter. During the testimony, the witness stated that some relevant event occurred in “el lavabo,” a Spanish word that ordinarily means “bathroom” or “washbasin.” However, the court interpreter did not translate “el
lavabo” to the jury as “bathroom” or “washbasin,” but as “bar” (as in pub). Upon reflection of this translation, Juror No. 8, who spoke both Spanish and English, apparently thought it was prudent to ask for clarification as to whether the witness really meant “bar,” as the interpreter stated, or “bathroom.” Indeed, it is the jury’s responsibility to evaluate the credibility of witnesses and their testimony, and a reasonable, bilingual juror might have thought that the conflicting translation would hinder her ability to fairly evaluate that testimony. What Juror No. 8 may not have anticipated, however, can be summed up by the court interpreter’s quip: “In the first place, the jurors are not to listen to the Spanish but to the English. I am a certified court interpreter.” Upon further probing of the witness, it turned out that the event did not occur in the bathroom,
but rather in the bar, as the interpreter had stated. Ultimately, Juror No. 8 was probably dismissed because of her overall negative demeanor throughout the trial, and not her specific inquiry about the accuracy of the translation. However,
this case is still used to support the notion that bilingual jurors are required to rely exclusively on the court’s “official version.” By way of further illustration, the case of Juror No. 8 was cited by a more recent case, Hernandez v. New York, which made its way up to the Supreme Court of the United States. In that case, the high Court determined that a prosecutor’s decision to strike two bilingual jurors based on their individual responses at voir dire , which “caused him to doubt their ability to defer to the official translation of Spanish-language testimony,” was lawful—i.e. not discriminatory as against the juror or the other parties involved.

So, just how common could this scenario be, potentially? According to the United States Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, in 1980, roughly 23 million people (age 5 and over) spoke a language other than English in the home. By 2010, that number was 59.5 million. Even accounting for population growth during that period (37.6%), these numbers suggest that bi- and multi-lingual households are on the rise. As it turns out, Juror No. 8, as a Spanish/English
bilingual speaker, does not represent some anomalous, hypothetical juror in the U.S.—in case there was any doubt. Spanish is the language most widely spoken in the home, with roughly 37.6 million speakers (age 5 and over), as of 2011. Of these 37.6 million speakers, 56.3% (about 21.1 million) self-reported that they also speak English “very well.” Though bilingualism is best understood as a spectrum of competency, for the sake of this analysis, it is reasonable to say that this number represents the Spanish/English “bilingual” population. Of course, the whole U.S. population is not subject to jury duty, but rather the “privilege” is restricted to U.S. citizens. So, of the roughly 21.1 million Spanish/English bilingual persons, only 86%, or about 18.2 million, will ever have to worry about whether their bilingualism will get them kicked off of a jury—only 18.2 million.

Despite the increased prevalence of bilingualism in the U.S., one relevant argument in favor of deference to the “official version” is that it puts all jurors on an even linguistic-playing-field, and consistency is inherently fairer to the parties involved. However, this argument is problematic because it assumes that speakers of any given language tend to understand, perceive, and assign identical (or near identical) meaning to any given word or phrase. Perhaps more importantly, it erroneously assumes that bilingual-English speakers assign the same meaning to words as monolingual-English speakers. This cannot be true because the very nature of bilingualism is such that a speaker inherently relies on
the so-called “first language” (“L1”) to understand the second (“L2”). When a person begins to learn the second language, the L2 is already far more sophisticated solely by virtue of the L1’s existence (Saville-Troike 2006). The L2 acquisition process is unique to all individuals, in ways that learning an L1 is not (Chomsky 1957). For example, the quantity and quality of words to which one is exposed (so-called input), is of minimal importance for L1 acquisition, whereas L2 competence among bilingual speakers varies based on individual exposure to the L2 (Krashen 1991), coupled with the individual’s level of L1 competency (Chomsky 2002). For these reasons, the “official version” rule is a so-called “legal
fiction” in that it defies reasonableness to assume that bi- or multi-lingual speakers can somehow mentally segregate their languages in order to comply with the law.

In short, if you are bi- or multi-lingual (even a little bit!) the next time you open up your mailbox to find that little slip of paper—Jury Summons—remember that merely showing up will never suffice. You may actually be required to do the
impossible—the super-human—forget everything you think or know in any other language so you can focus only on what really matters, the official-English-version of the case. Good luck! 


Chomsky, N. (1957). Syntactic Structures. The Hague: Mouton.

__________.  (2002). On the Nature of Language, ed. A. Belletti & L. Rizzi.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Krashen, S. (1991). The input hypothesis: An update. In James E. Alatis (ed.)

Georgetown University Round Table on Language and Linguistics 1991.

Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press. 409-431.

Saville-Troike, Muriel. (2006). Introducing Second Language Acquisition.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.



Hernandez v. New York, 500 U.S. 352 (1991) available at


Should English be the Official Language of the United States of America?



The Debate About Making English the Official Language of the United States

The United States of America has no official language although English is obviously the dominant language it is not the official language.  Every year bills are proposed in Congress that would make English the official language and every year they are defeated.  Many states and localities have passed English official language laws.

What is an official language?

An official language would mandate all government business be conducted in English only.  This would mean for example that state drivers license exams would only be offered in English.  While some argue that this would strengthen America by encouraging assimilation the general consensus is that it is a thinly veiled form of
ethnocentric discrimination.

Language Access is A Federal Requirement

One of the implications of not having an official language is that the federal government requires access to government services for individuals with limited English proficiency.  The Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires language access including access to interpreters and information printed in commonly spoken languages other than English.

Executive Order 13166

This executive order mandates meaningful language access for people with limited language proficiency in federal programs and activities. This order was issued by President Bill Clinton in 2000 to ensure compliance with title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which seeks to prevent national origin discrimination.

This means that any agency that receives any federal funding must provide language access.  This includes for example federal benefits programs such as food stamp benefits and Section 8 housing assistance, prisons that receive federal funding, not-for-profits that receive federal grant monies and health care providers that accept Medicaid and Medicare payments.

The Argument For English only Restrictions

Proponents of “English-only” or “English as the Official Business Language” argue that the language access regime is detrimental for many reasons. The first argument is that an English only restriction would strengthen America by requiring immigrants to adopt the “American language and culture” so that they may be more fully integrated into the community.  They also argue that communities with  significant numbers of non-english speakers have to spend too much on interpreting and translation services. Their biggest fear however seems to be that significant numbers of Americans do not feel the need to learn English, particularly they point to areas where Spanish is widely spoken.  They argue that providing these folks with access makes it “easy” for them not to learn English.  They also stress that this fear is not based in racism but in patriotism and that the official language of this country should be that of its constitution, namely English.

The Argument Against English as An Official Language

Research indicates that second generation Americans of all national origins do assimilate and do learn English.  For example 93% of second generation Latinos are fluent in English and 80% are bilingual.  The benefits of being bilingual or multilingual are well documented and include greater intelligence, improved cognitive skill increased ability to communicate, and even lower incidence of dementia.

Natural Languages embraces multiculturalism and is proud to offer language access services.

Natural Languages Staff

Costa Rican Sign Language Only!

January 4, 2014

It is interesting, the perceptions we may have unknowingly developed towards the outside world, towards the things that are not necessarily affecting us, directly. You may think you have an idea, an understanding of something and come to find out that you are completely unlearned of the subject. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, well, the picture shown above accomplished just that: a realization, a revelation, a moment of humbling appreciation for one of the most fascinating systems of communication in the world: sign language.

Generally speaking, most people who are not well acquainted with or have not had the exposure to sign may ignorantly describe it as a sort of pantomime, an exaggerated way to self-express with gestures. However, those same people would probably be shocked to discover that sign and spoken languages have significantly a lot more in common than they suggest! Both sign and spoken languages are natural languages, and their main distinction lies in the modality in which they are conveyed. Sign uses more of a visual-gestural system of communication whereas spoken language uses more of an auditory-vocal system of communication.

Without further ado, let us revisit the LESCO (Lengua de Señas Costariccense) poster pictured above. In Spanish, the message reads:

“In my country, Costa Rica, it is spoken in LESCO (Costa Rican Sign Language). What about you? Please do not use ASL, because ASL (American Sign Language) corresponds to the United States.”

There are a couple of ways I can relate to the LESCO message above. Being a Colombian-American female, I have been fortunate enough to learn to speak both American English and Spanish fluently. My native language, however, is Spanish despite having been born and raised in New York City. As my grandmother Vilma (to this day) would proclaim: “¡Aqui en esta casa se habla el ESPAÑOL!” (In this house we only speak Spanish!), therefore making Spanish the only language permitted in my home, and upon entering kindergarten, I ironically, had to be placed in ESL (English as a Second Language) classes in order to catch up with my peers. With the help of school, TV shows, and my peers, I was able to quickly catch on and adopt the English language, as my second native tongue. There was always this understanding, unwritten rule that despite living in the USA, in NYC, at home, only Spanish was accepted as the language of choice. Another way I can make the message relatable to some of you, have you ever traveled to a different region of the country, and noticed the varying accents, dialects even, of the English language? In New York City, it is especially obvious simply by visiting the neighboring boroughs! I have family in the south, namely Florida, and had never been aware that I, (allegedly), according to some family members possess a “New York accent”. This meant that New Yorkers run through expressing thoughts, in the English language, at about 60 mph. From my experience, down south, and even over on the west coast, people tend to speak much more slowly than native New Yorkers. Everything we New Yorkers do, even down to our speech, must be accomplished in a New York minute!

Upon initially reading the statement in the picture, I was surprised to find that the notion of the default sign language in Costa Rica being Costa Rican, and not American, had to be clarified to begin with. One would assume that when in a different country, such as Costa Rica, in which an entirely different language is already spoken; sign language would also be undoubtedly different, from that of, say the United States. Although, it must be noted that one advantage sign holds over spoken language is the existence of International Sign, sign, in and of itself, is not a universal language, just as there is no such thing as a universal spoken language, (besides love!). There exist hundreds of spoken languages across the globe; sign languages then, also vary in the same way. Within one country there exist multiple spoken languages, that concept is not altered regarding sign language. Interestingly, the same spoken language may differ in dialect; this is no different in sign. Sign language is just as, if not more diverse than spoken, with all of its unique variations. Sign language research and linguistic studies has shown that sign languages have evolved independently of the spoken languages which surround them. Sign languages have signs develop similarly the way new words appear in spoken language. Sign evolves, the same way spoken language does with its different dialects, slang, etc., to better accommodate the culture in which Deaf people live in.

It is fascinating then, to share this newly found knowledge with my (presumably) fellow American English speaking audience and reemphasize that sign is not a generic, universal language, but instead one that is just as complex, intricate, exciting, diverse, difficult, fun, entertaining, and to say the least, beautifully unique, to whichever specific region of the world it is found, as any spoken language. Sign should be appreciated for it is as natural and organic as any other human system of communication.

Written by Leslie Crespo


Dominicans of Haitian descent - MUST LEAVE THE COUNTRY

                                        Searching for Citizenship: Dominico-Haitian Identity

Have you ever thought about what would happen if the rights and privileges you enjoy as a citizen of your country were taken away? What if the legitimacy of your citizenship were in dispute? What if tomorrow your country no longer recognized you as its citizen? Most of us don’t really think about citizenship implications especially if we live in the country we were born. In most cases, a country recognizes as its citizen anyone born in its soil; however, millions worldwide are facing potential statelessness or are considered stateless. A population that currently faces the possibility of statelessness is that of Dominico-Haitians; Dominicans of Haitian decent.


Haiti and the Dominican Republic are two countries with different cultures and languages but tied by history and most importantly by geography. These countries share the island of Hispaniola; Haiti occupies the western third of the island while the Dominican Republic occupies the eastern two thirds. Although these countries share an island, the political and economic relationship between them has been a tumultuous one. Genocides, wars, and oppressions mixed in with periods of peace and solidarity, illustrate the complex nature of the Dominico-Haitian dilemma. 
On September 23, 2013 the Dominican Tribunal Court passed the law TC/0168/13 which says that those born in the Dominican Republic of foreign parents in transit are not entitled to Dominican citizenship. The court is going to be reviewing birth certificates issued as far as 1929 in order to determine eligibility. Now, thousands of Dominicans with Haitian ancestry fear that the only country they consider home will be stripping them away from their citizenship rights and possibly deporting them to a country they have no ties with, Haiti. Generations of Haitians born in the Dominican Republic have few, if any ties with Haiti and consider themselves Dominican, however many are currently denied of state protection and many more might run with the same luck.

This decision by the Dominican Constitutional Tribunal has caused alarm both nationally and internationally because of the gravity of the issue. If this law were to start taking effect the lives of thousands would be severely affected. Many claim that this law was created as an anti-illegal immigration tool by the Dominican state; it is estimated that between 650,000 and 1 million Haitians live in the Dominican Republic, this is according to a report from Minority Rights Group International. Whether this was devised to encourage self-deportations, decrease the number of illegal immigrants that enter the Dominican Republic daily, or for some unknown reason, the situation is serious and something must be done about it. Thousands of lives will be affected if this law is enforced, and if not, the issue of the illegal status of Haitians in the Dominican soil will still be unresolved.

Illegal immigration is an issue that affects not only Haitians in the Dominican Republic; this is a global issue that will continue across the globe as long as inequality continues to rise and the poor feel the need to migrate in order to find better opportunities. For now, let’s hope that the Dominican authorities are able to find a joint solution with the Haitian government and the international community in order to arrive at the best outcome for all parties involved.

Written by

Jacquie Marte

To learn more about this issue visit:

If you want to show support simply add your name to the petition:


“Dias de los Muertos” (Days of the Dead)


“It’s Autumn in New York…” as Frank Sinatra so beautifully sang. Autumn is undoubtedly my favorite season of the year. Autumn in New York City is unlike autumn anywhere else. The change is palpable: from the brisk and smooth transition in the air that ensues on the final days of the summer; to the seemingly impossible deceleration of the Concrete Jungle’s renown quick pace. The buzz and bustle of the city goes through a slight transformation. New ways to celebrate life arises amongst a tremendously culturally diverse metropolis. By that same token, we also celebrate death, the dead, undead, the religious, the sacrilegious, the fictional, the fantasy, the funny, and the scary. In commemoration of Hispanic Heritage Month, and in conjunction with the commencement of October, let us delve into a fun holiday here in NYC and all across the nation: Halloween, or All Saints Day, with a twist—but ¡En Español!

Throughout Latin America, namely Mexico the place of its origin, there exists a holiday observed from November 1st to the 2nd called “Dias de los Muertos”, or the Days of the Dead. There is a popular belief that mourning and sadness would be insulting to the deceased, and therefore their death must be celebrated by honoring the memory of their lives with an array of different foods, drinks, and the activities the dead enjoyed while they were still alive. The dead are awakened from their eternal slumber to partake in the celebrations with their living family members. The most popular symbol of this holiday is the “Calaveras de azucar”, or sugar skulls, typically adorned in fancy clothing. They’re usually portrayed in sweets, as masks in parades, and as dolls.

This holiday is celebrated over the span of two days. On day 1, or “Dia de los Inocentes” (Day of the Innocent Ones), families honor the children who have passed away, and typically decorate their graves with white orchids and baby’s breath. The second day is reserved for the adult defunct and is known as “Dia de los Muertos”. Both of these days comprise Dias de los Muertos. On both days family members thoroughly clean their houses, for they have very special “guests” they’re expecting—their defunct loved ones! They also decorate and leave “ofrendas”, or offerings, at their graves.  Ofrendas are essential to this holiday, and are also known as “altares”, or altars. Ofrendas are reminiscent of altars in that they are comprised of special mementos of the person being remembered. They include items such as flowers, pictures, food, candles, and drinks. Food is specially prepared to the liking of those who have passed and are left on their “ofrenda”, untouched by the living. Candles are placed at these altars with the purpose of guiding their loved ones on their long journey back to the afterlife. Incense is burned and thought to elevate prayers to God. Salt and water are important items to add to the ofrenda because they’re believed to quench the thirst of the defunct and the water helps purify and cleanse them. It’s interesting how a natural process such as death can be interpreted, experienced, and commemorated differently amongst different cultures. Mexico, as well as most Latin American countries is known for its festive traditions and way of life. As a Latina, I am proud to relate and find it to be a fascinating perspective on the celebration of life after death.
Written by Leslie Y Crespo

Fun Language Facts

Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu is the name of a hill in New Zealand  and the worlds longest place-name still in use.


The word "robot" was created by Karel Capek. It came from Czech/Slovak "robotovat," which means to work very hard.


The term, honeymoon, is derived from the Babylonians who declared mead, a honey-flavored wine, the official wedding drink, stipulating that the bride's parents be required to keep the groom supplied with the drink for the month following the wedding; that month became known as the honeymonth, hence our honeymoon. Source: Bryan Giese


"Evian" spelled backwards is naive.


The language Malayalam, spoken in parts of India, is the only language whose name is a palindrome.


"Freelance" comes from a knight whose lance was free for hire, i.e. not pledged to one master.


The phrase "rule of thumb" is derived from an old English law which stated that you couldn't beat your wife with anything wider than your thumb.


In Chinese, the words for crisis and opportunity are the same.


Source : http://www.jayp.net/trivia/lang01.htm

Spring Has Sprung!

Spring is a time for rebirth, renewal and regrowth.  The number of daylight hours is raqidly increasing and it is getting warmer, this is due to the increase in the tilt of the earth's axis toward the sun. 

This is a time of year is celebrated with great festivity in many cultures around the world.  We here at Natural Languages would like to take a moment to Get Cultured and explore a few of the most joyus celebrations of Spring and all it represents!


The festival of colors. Celebrated in India, on the day after the last full moon of winter to welcome spring - in a big way.  It is traditional for people to throw water and vibrant colors on one another until everyone is completly painted in a bright mosaic of mirth and abandon.  This is a most joyus festival where social restrictions are relaxed into oblivion. Revelers often indulge in intoxicating drinks and sweets laced with opium or marijuana. Folk music is played/sung and there is much dancing amid literal clouds of vibrant color. This most ancient of Hindu festivals predates Christ by several centuries and is said to commemorat the immortal love of Krishna and Radha.  You can get away with almost anything on Holi by saying "Bura na mano, Holi Hai" - Dont Mind, its Holi.




This holiday originated in ancient Persia over 3000 years ago.  It is a preislamic festival,celebrated by the Persian kings, who would pardon prisoners and hold royal audiences with the public.  It takes place on the vernal equinox, which is also considered the New Year.  This is a non-religious holiday celebrated in many cultures and by people of varying religions.  Countries that celebrate Nowruz include: Turkey, Afganistan, Iran, Azerbijan and Tajikistan.  The word Nowruz literally means "A new day".  It is traditional to do a "Khouneh Tekouni" literally "shaking of the house" or what we in the west would refer to as spring cleaning.  Other traditions inclide visiting relatives and friends, wearing new clothes, and display of tulips and hyacinths.  The night before Nowruz it is traditional to hold a "Chaharshanbe Suri" (light winning over the darkness).  Bonfires are lit in the streets and young men display their prowess by jumping over them.

The exact second of the change from old to new year is calculated. A few minutes before Now Ruz, the entire family gathers around the Haft Seen table. Prayers are offered until the Nowruz (New Year) arrives at which point there is much cheering and clapping, hugging and kissing. Everyone sitting around the table, sweetens his or her mouth with Shirini (Sweets) that come from the decorated table. The head of the family distributes gifts (usually gold coins) to all present. The family  stands before the Haft Seen Table which contains a ceremonial display including; of a copy of the holy book (Bible, Torah, or Quaran depending on the religion of the family), sprouted grains and lentils, and seven items beginning with the Persian letter "seen", corresponding to the English "s". The most common items on today's Haft Seen (Seven S's) are:

Senjed: a kind of sweet, dry, pithy fruit, symbolizes regeneration and new life because of its seed.
Sabzeh: Sprouted grains or lentils (green grass), symbolizes life. It is believed to happiness, freshness, purity, and good life in the coming new year.
Seer: Garlic, symbolizes wealth. It is believed to keep us away from sickness in the coming new year.
Serkeh: Vinegar is believed to bring energy and strength.
Samanoo: A sweet porridge made from sprouted wheat and flour symbolizes freedom. It is believed to bring strength and productivity in the upcoming year.
Sekeh: Gold coin symbolizes wealth. It is believed to bring courage in the upcoming year.


A Jewish holiday celebrated to commemorate the foiling of a plot to kill the Jews of Ancient Persia.  The historical basis for the holiday is recounted in the Book of Esther.  Judiasm dictates four Mitzvots (duties) for the day:

K'riat Megallah - listening to a public recitation of the Book of Esther

Mishloach Manot - sending gifts of food and drink to friends

Matanot La 'Evyonim - giving charity to the poor and

Se-Udah - sharing a festive meal with loved ones. 

This holiday is celebrated with great revelry.  People don brightly colored costumes, wear masks and drink plenty of wine.  There are often public celebrations including parades, theatrical reenactments of the Book of Esther (or any other topic roughly related to judiasm and often satirical).

Serenna McCloud

The Harlem Renaissance

Black History Month began in 1929 as Negro History Week.  Celebrating African American history in this way was the brainchild of Carter G. Woodson, a historian also know as "The Father of Black History".

In Honor of Black History Month Natural Languges will explore The Harlem Renaissance, which occured just 10 miles from our offices, just accross the Hudson River, in Jersey City.

 Harlem was first developed as an exclusive white upper-middle class neighborhood of Manhattan.  Later abandoned by its intended residents Harlem started becomming a black enclave in the early 1900s.  The Great Migration brought hundreds of thousands of African Americans to Northern cities to work as unskilled laborers in the war effort.  One common destination would later come to be known as "The Black Mecca" or Harlem.

The Harlem Renaissance is often considered as beginning in 1917 with the premeire of Three Plays for the Negro Theatre, written by white playwright Ridgely Torrence.  Previously black characters were always played by actors in blackface acting as servile, dimwitted, joyus bufoons in the minstrel show tradition.  Here black actors finally displayed complex human emotion.  Another historic moment in the Harlem Rennaisance came in 1919 when Claude McKay published his famous poem, If We Must Die, in response to a wave of hate crimes perpetrated on blacks by whites in a dozen American cities.

This poem was used by Winston Churchill in a speech before Parliament in the 1940s in which he issued a rallying cry for Britain to go to war against Hitler’s Nazi Germany.

If We Must Die

If we must die, let it be not like hogs,
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mark at our accursed lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O Kinsmen! We must meet the common foe!

Though far outnumbered, let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows, deal one deathblow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack.
Pressed to the wall, dying but fighting back!

Claude McKay.

 What the Harlem Rennaisance signifies is the mainstream regoconition of the valuable cultural contributions of America's African Minority by its European Majority.  These contributions included Literature, music, fine and performing arts as well.

One of the most prominent African American Painters of the Era was Malvin Grey Johnson.  As a young member of the Harlem Renaissance group of artists Johnson was infuenced by both impressionism and cubism and his works are prized as some of the most significant commentaries on African American life.

Brothers by Malvin Grey Johnson


Another great of the Era was Aaron Douglas.  Born in Topeka Kansas Douglas got his BA in fine art from The University of Nebraska, He also studied in Paris before returning to the US and becoming President of the Harlem Artists Guild in 1928.  Mr Douglas was a Professor of Art at Fisk University from 1939-1966.  Below is his Into Human Bondage

No sampling of the artisty of the Harlem Renaissance Would be complete without a poem from one of the eras most well loved poets Mr. Langston Hughs, famous for the genre he created, Jazz poetry:

I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy
bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I've known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

Langston Hughes

 And finally The Harlem Renaissance will always remain in our hearts because of the sweet music that was made. I am taking about Jazz folks.

Some of the most celebrated musicians of the time were singer Leena Horne the first black actress to be signed by a major Hollywood film studio

 Duke Ellington was one of the greatest composers of all time.  His instument was the piano and he was a big band learder of worldwide critical acclaim.  He composed over 1000 original peices and awarded a Pulitzer Prize posthumously in 1999

Another great band leader was the infamous Cab Calloway a master of the Scat styke of singing Caloway performed until his death at 86 in 1994.  Calloway's band included geart like Dizzie Gillespe.  The were the house band along with Duke Ellington's band at the Cotton Club.

 The Cotton Club was a speakeasy, the most famous of Harlem speakeasys.  Afterall the Harlem Renaissance occured during the roaring twenties also a time of prohibition in the United States.  This grandest of speakeasys was fashioned after a plantation.  All of the performers were black and almost without exception all of the patrons were white.  It featured virtually all of the most prominent black entertainers of the era and despite a somewhat racist philosophy helped to catapult many to lasting stardom.

I hope you enjoyed it folks!


Serenna McCloud