ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (Reuters) - Hollywood is paying a tribute of sorts to the largest American Indian-speaking population in the United States by translating the wildly popular children’s film “Finding Nemo” into Navajo.
Advocates of the tribal language say it is slowly dying out, and that the move by Disney-Pixar could help it find a new generation of speakers by reaching out directly to children.
Marilyn Reeves, an Albuquerque-area Navajo grandmother, said her two grandchildren already watch the 2003 movie about the loveable clownfish every day.
“I think translating it will give them a chance to catch on to Navajo faster because they can see how it is used,” she said.
Reeves said her family occasionally speaks Navajo at home, in part because she can see that each generation uses it less as children grow up and leave the reservation.
“This translation helps legitimize our language,” she said.
The Navajo “Finding Nemo” will be released next spring and will be the second movie translated into the language, after “Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope” was translated in 2013.
“After dubbing Star Wars in Navajo and seeing the audience reaction, I knew we needed to do more for the kids,” Manuelito Wheeler, director of the Navajo Nation Museum, said in a statement.
“This movie is a true classic and we will work hard to uphold the Disney and Pixar standard while giving our Navajo kids an engaging and imaginative way to learn their language,” Wheeler said.
Navajo is a language that often employs a description of what the word does to relay its meaning. Therefore, a single English word can require several words in Navajo.
Tribal member Anita Yazzie said she was amused by how much the dialogue was changed in last year’s Star Wars translation.
“It made me laugh, hearing R2D2 speak Navajo,” Yazzie said. “Sometimes it made it hard to follow the movie.”
The most famous exponents of the Navajo language were the 29 “code talkers” who developed an unbreakable cipher based on their language that helped Allied forces win World War Two.
The Navajo are not the only American Indian tribe to have a feature film translated into their language. In the mid-1990s, Disney translated another animated classic, Bambi, into Arapaho.
U.S. Census data shows there are 286,000 Navajo living off and on the sprawling reservation in Arizona and New Mexico.
Reporting by Joseph Kolb; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Doina Chiacu