I live in Socorro, New Mexico, which is near to the Alamo Navajo chapter. The Navajo are the largest Native American tribe by membership in the United States, and their combined lands are the largest of any tribe in the United States. Their reservation includes much of their historical homeland. Their language is the most widely spoken Native American language in the US—I often hear Navajo spoken at Walmart. Navajo culture is an important part of what makes New Mexico the special multicultural melting pot that it is.
I developed an interest in the Navajo language a couple years ago. The Navajo language seems practically engineered to differ from English on as many levels as possible:
- Tone and length distinctions
- A wealth of consonant sounds we either do not have or do not distinguish
- Zero noun morphology
- Verb morphology that makes linguists blush
- Animacy distinctions
- Productive dual number
It is rightly held in high esteem by linguists and is thoroughly different from any language a random American like me might be familiar with. Unlike many other Native American languages, there is also a huge amount of quality resources for the Navajo learner.
In general, I think spending money on Navajo language resources does more good than harm. Demand for Navajo language materials makes it more profitable to produce them. The Duolingo course is OK. If you have the money I have heard that the Rosetta course is very good. I bought several books, I particularly liked Conversational Navajo because it came with a CD. Navajo orthography and pronunciation is very regular, although it is difficult for adult second-language learners. I can’t roll my r’s very well, but that doesn’t matter in Navajo because there’s no rs. If you can imitate beatboxing you can make ejective consonants and you will be able to make the sounds. Unfortunately English treats aspiration as allophonic variation so there are some phonemic sounds in Navajo that you’ll have some trouble distinguishing. But you will be able to produce them.
If you want to know more about the grammar, The Navajo Language is pretty complete and goes into huge detail, but will be hard to learn from. The Navajo Verb is just amazing (I have skimmed it via ILL) but way beyond my level. The language is just about as far from English as you can get, and pretty irregular. At the moment I’m fairly content that I can say hello, what’s up, and distinguish it from other languages that are spoken nearby.
There are a lot of massive and wonderful Navajo books. If you want to learn Navajo and live outside New Mexico and Arizona, I would strongly recommend figuring out a way to get interlibrary loan going through your school or a local academic library, and start pulling stuff in from libraries here.
There’s also a lot of apps. You can listen to Navajo radio, you can get Clayton Long’s videos on Youtube if you have patience for it. There’s another guy, Daybreak Warrior who goes over words and you can listen to his stuff and really improve your pronunciation.
Navajo culture is really interesting and beautiful. I enjoyed what I got from Diné Bahane' and there are lots of other booksto read as well, like Sharing the Skies and Food Sovereignty the Navajo Way. I would strongly recommend getting familiar with Navajo Taboos. There are a lot of things it really isn’t OK to ask about. You should expect to get a somewhat aloof treatment, at least until you make a friend. People love to tell you their story and you’ll be really surprised by what you hear, but don’t press anyone about superstitions or supernatural stuff.
When I started I had big dreams about becoming fluent. Contact with reality kind of disabused me of that notion. I’m content to be a friendly neighbor. But there’s a ton of resources out there, many of them free or inexpensive, and I don’t think you’re harming anyone by loving something enough to study it.
Originally posted on reddit but the original context is now gone.