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Bringing Back the Samala Chumash Language

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Date: April 8, 2010
Contact: Yvonne Menard, 805-658-5725

During the April “From Shore to Sea” lectures, Nakia Zavalla and Dr. Richard Applegate will discuss their ambitious project to revive Samala, the language of the Santa Ynez Chumash people.

The Chumash people occupied the California coast from San Luis Obispo to Malibu, including the Channel Islands, for thousands of years. Within this large territory many Chumash languages were spoken. The Samala language, spoken by the Santa Ynez people, was one of the best documented languages. The last native speaker of Samala died in 1965. Recent years have seen a renaissance of Chumash pride and identity, including efforts to revive Samala and other Chumash languages.

In the early 1900’s linguist/ethnographer John P. Harrington worked with Maria Solares, one of the last fluent speakers of Samala. He created manuscripts containing information on Chumash language, culture, and traditions. Applegate, who received a Ph.D. in linguistics from U.C. Berkeley, used these manuscripts to write an extensive grammar of Samala and compile a dictionary of the language. 

In 2003 he began teaching the language, which led Zavalla, the Cultural Director for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash and a direct descendant of Maria Solares, to spearhead an immersion-based language apprentice program. During the lectures Zavalla and Applegate will discuss how this program began, its current status, and what it means to the Samala people.

The “From Shore to Sea” lecture series is jointly sponsored by Channel Islands National Park and Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary with support from Santa Barbara Maritime Museum. The purpose of the series is to further the understanding of current research on the Channel Islands and surrounding waters. The lectures occur at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, April 13, 2010, at Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, 113 Harbor Way in the Santa Barbara Harbor and Wednesday,
April 14, 2010, at the Channel Islands National Park Robert J. Lagomarsino Visitor Center, 1901 Spinnaker Drive in the Ventura Harbor. The programs are free and open to the public.

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