Science: Willie's Tales

Shiiki chuuluns,

Shiiki chuuluns shiiki shiiki shiiki,

Chuuluns shiiki.*

Thus last week sang Willie Long Bone, 71-year-old Delaware Indian, perched on a high stool, pounding a deerskin drum. Willie Long Bone sang for fun, but his audience, a seminar of the Linguistic Institute of America convened on the University of Michigan campus, plied their pencils feverishly, transcribing his words into phonetic symbols. Then for their benefit Willie translated his songs and long, chanted stories into English.

Reason the scribbling audience paid such close attention was that Willie Long Bone was speaking a nearly dead language. Despite a general increase in the...

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