Navajo Times | Ravonelle Yazzie
A poster emphasizing the Din language is on display at the Din
Language Teachers Association Fall Conference at San Juan College
in Farmington on Oct. 26.
Published November 19, 2017
WINDOW ROCK Language loss and
revitalization arent new topics in Indian Country. Over the last
couple of decades, the Navajo Nation has watched as other
languages, like that of the Eyak, an Alaskan tribe, or the Lake
Miwok, a tribe in California, became extinct or dormant.
While the Navajo language has 7,600 Navajo-only speakers and
over 171,000 fluent speakers worldwide, according to Ethonologue:
Languages of the World, its considered at risk.
Data shows huge reductions in native Navajo speakers, said
AnCita Benally, the program manager for the Office of Standards,
Curriculum and Assessment Development.
The office is under the Department of Din Education and works to
develop Navajo language and cultural competency among Navajo
Based on the rate of decline, how it has been accelerating, the
guess is maybe by 2020, which is in three years, when they do the
Census, (Navajo language speakers) will be down to 30 percent,
This estimate is based on Census data that was studied by
Florian Johnson, a cultural specialist at Rock Point Community
In 1980, 93 percent of Navajos spoke the language. Ten years
later, in 1990 it had declined to 84 percent. Then in 2000 the
percentage of Navajo speakers decreased to 76 percent.
Another decade later, in 2010, the Navajo language showed its
most stark decline to date, to 51 percent.
In the span of just 10 years the percentage of Navajo language
speakers dropped 25 percent, according to Census data.
In 2030 we might be down to 10 percent or so, Benally said. Its
According to research by Wendy Greyeyes, an assistant professor
at the University of New Mexico, the decline in Navajo speakers is
more substantial for those 39 and under meaning they are less
likely to speak Navajo.
For those 40 and over the decline is considered slight.
The younger the generations are, the less likely they are to
speak Navajo, Benally said. By the time you get down to