Stephen A. Colston, Book Review Editor
Flutes of Fire: Essays on California Indian Languages.
By Leanne Hinton. Berkeley: Heyday Books, 1994. Bibliography. Illustrations. 270 pages. $18.00 (paper). Buy this book.
The native peoples of California represent a variegated mosaic of cultures. Leanne Hinton’s book is more of a cultural study of these Native Americans from the perspective of language than it is a technical study of linguistics. Hinton, a member of the linguistics faculty of the University of California, Berkeley, approaches her study of California Indian languages with such passion that her book reads more as a moving tale of triumphs and tragedies than as one of esoteric linguistic principles.
Hinton has structured her study of California’s nearly fifty existing native languages from five perspectives: a survey of the native languages and their speakers; an interpretation of language as a mirror of native culture history; an examination of selected vocabularies and grammars; an assessment of the erosion of traditional California native languages wrought by the imposition of a dominant Anglo-American culture; and an accounting of recent valiant efforts by native peoples to preserve their traditional languages. Readers of this journal should find particularly interesting the author’s treatment of the language and culture of the Dieguenos (a Spanish term used to represent the Kumeyaay, Ipai, and Tipai peoples) who reside in San Diego and Imperial Counties, and portions of northern Baja California. But regardless of the native culture that is the subject of her careful linguistic scrutiny, Hinton never strays far from her principal, and achieved, objective–the chronicling of a people’s humanity as it is revealed through language.
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