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Mama Bear, Papa Bear, Brother Bear, and Sister Bear will be speaking a new language this fall – Lakota, one of the dialects spoken by the Sioux tribe. The animated Berenstain Bears is the first animated series to be dubbed in a Native American language in the United States. Twenty episodes of the popular television series will be dubbed in Lakota.
The series, which is translated as Mathó Waúnsila Thiwáhe, or “Compassionate Bear Family,” began airing on September 11, and will air weekly through the end of 2011. The idea to dub the show into Lakota came from the need to pass on the language to the younger generation.
According to the Associated Press, there are approximately 120,000 Sioux members, and only about 6,000 speak Lakota. Wilhelm Meya, executive director of the Lakota Language Consortium (LLC), estimates that the average age of Lakota speakers is about 60 years old.
The loss of a language not only reflects the shrinking numbers of the Sioux population, but also threatens the loss of an entire culture. According to the LLC website, the importance of nature and spiritual concepts can be expressed in Lakota differently than in English. The LLC partnered with Standing Rock Sioux Tribe over a year ago in order to begin teaching Lakota to young children.
When the partners approached Berenstain Enterprises Inc., the company waived the fee it normally charges when using their characters. The organization plans to release a DVD with all 20 episodes and a teacher/parent guide to using Lakota at home in November. According to LakotaBears.com, the series was chosen because it reflects Lakota values. Bravery, generosity, respect, and courage will be prominent themes in the episodes, and family interaction will be emphasized.
Dubbing the popular television series is not the only attempt to teach Lakota. Sioux Falls High School in Sioux Falls, South Dakota will be offering Lakota language classes next year. The school had a Lakota program last year, but lost the teacher. The University of South Dakota and Sitting Bull College will also begin offering programs for those interested in teaching Lakota.
AccreditedLanguage.com notes that using children’s materials is helpful when learning a second language at any age. Children’s literature and television shows are easily accessible by anyone. Oftentimes, a children’s series will start with simple vocabulary and grammar then become gradually more difficult, which helps build vocabulary and grammar.
The series has met overall support from children who previewed the series, native Lakota speakers, and readers on the Internet. However, some readers have wondered if this project is worthwhile since so few people speak Lakota.