Becoming "fully" Hopi: The role of the Hopi language in the contemporary lives of Hopi youth---A Hopi case study of language shift and vitality

The contemporary environment of Hopi youth includes village life and active participation in both Hopi cultural institutions and the Western education system without the lengthy durations away from home and family at distant boarding schools endured by their parents and grandparents. Yet there exists a fundamental difference in how today's Hopi youth are growing up from that of their parents and grandparents--Hopi youth are not acquiring the Hopi language. A rapid and alarming trend toward English monolingualism, or language shift, is starkly evident among the younger generations of Hopi.

This sociolinguistic situation raises many questions about the vitality and continuity of the Hopi language especially in terms of intergenerational transmission of the cultural values essential to the formation of a Hopi cultural identity, as well as maintaining the integrity of the Hopi language among the Hopi people. Thus, this multigenerational case study sought to ascertain the role of the Hopi language in how Hopi youth define and assert their personal and social identities as members of Hopi society, and to make explicit the principles and values of the Hopi way of life essential to becoming "fully" Hopi. The cultural and linguistic experiences of three Hopi youth, aged 19 at the time of the study, provided the context for exploration. Members of the parent and grandparent generations were included in order to understand and establish a comprehensive picture and pattern of the intergenerational language shifting process as well as Hopi language maintenance within each family household manifested in the varying degrees of Hopi language proficiency among the three young adults.
Two key findings emerged from the study. First, the study showed that cultural experiences are key to developing a personal and cultural identity as Hopi, but a linguistic competence in Hopi, especially in ceremonial contexts, is fundamental to acquiring a complete sense of being Hopi. Secondly, the effect of modern circumstances apparent in behavior and attitude among Hopi is evidence of another shift--a move away from a collective maintenance of language as cultural practice to maintenance of language and cultural practice as a choice of personal use.


Sheilah Nicholas


Emory Sekaquaptewa





Arizona State Museum: 

P9791 N536


ATT 3315623

UA Library: 

E9791 2008
College of Social and Behavioral Sciences