Navajo is a member of the Athabaskan branch of the Na-Dené language family and is
spoken by about 120,000 people in Arizona and New Mexico. It is closely related to the Apache
languages, but completely unrelated to other Native American languages.
Navajo first appeared in writing in 1849 in the form of a Navajo word list published in the
Journal of a Military Reconnaissance by Lt. James H. Simpson. At the beginning of the 20th century
missionaries began producing religious texts, dictionaries and grammars in Navajo. Each missionary
invented his own spelling system so many different ways to write Navajo emerged. In the 1930s however,
John Collier, the head of Indian Affairs and Willard Beatty, the head of Indian Education, decided that a
standard Navajo alphabet was needed and they commissioned John Harrington, Robert Young, William
Morgan, and Oliver LaFarge to create such an alphabet and to publish Navajo language materials.
By 1939 the new alphabet was finished and during the 1940s the first bilingual primers, Navajo
language children's books, a modern dictionary, and a monthly newsletter were published.
Unfortunately this alphabet was not popular among the Navajo, partly as a result of their
anger at Collier's policies on livestock reduction, which led them to distrust his literacy drive.
Recently there has been a revival of interest in the Navajo language and the development of
Navajo computer fonts has made it much easier to write, edit and publish written material in
Navajo is a tonal language with three tones: high, rising and falling. The high tone is
marked with an acute accent (á, é, etc); the rising and falling tones occur
only with long vowels. The falling tone is indicated with the acute accent marked on the
first letter of the long vowel sound (áa, ée, etc), while the rising tone is
indicated with the acute accent marked over the last letter (aaí, eeí, etc);
and the low tone is not marked.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason
and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. (Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)