Code Talkers

Code Talkers In the terrible days of World War II, American Indian “code talkers” played a vital role in assuring victory for America and its allies who fought in Europe and in the Pacific. In a war, it is urgent that soldiers have a secret code to send and receive messages about military plans. Forces can suffer dreadful losses if the enemy is skilled at decoding these messages. During World War II, Native Americans, mostly from the Navajo and Comanche nations, transmitted messages that the enemy was never able to decode. What they did was to communicate in their own native languages. Sometimes, code talkers needed to communicate an idea for which there was no existing word in their language. One solution was to substitute other words that had something in common with the idea. For example, Navajo code talkers used dah-he-tih-hi (hummingbird) to mean “fighter plane.” Comanche code talkers used pétso-ta-quáva (turtle) to mean “tank.” When existing vocabulary did not meet the code talkers’ needs, they sent messages made up of unrelated words. Each word had to be translated into English. The first letters of the English words spelled out the message. Imagine you hear this message: tsah wollachee ahkehdiglini tsahahdzoh. These are the Navajo words for “needle,” “ant,” “victory,” and “yucca” (a desert tree). The message was the word Navy. The code talkers were so skilled that they could put a three-line English message into their language, send it orally through battlefield phones, and then decode it in 20 seconds. Why were American Indian languages impossible for the enemy to decode? There are several explanations. Native languages had only a few thousand speakers at the most. Since these languages are not related to any European or Asian languages in either vocabulary or grammar, they can’t easily be figured out by outsiders. Additionally, until recently, many American Indian languages did not have a written form. Therefore, people in other countries couldn’t buy a Navajo or Comanche dictionary to break these codes! Navajo and Comanche code talkers were honored by the United States for their invaluable service to the country. However, the honors came almost fifty years after the war ended, after many who served had already died. This was partly because code talking was a military secret. Before he died, Charles Chibitty, the last living Comanche code talker, commented, “My language helped win the war and that makes me very proud. Very proud.” These original Americans cared for the land long before it became the United States. As sons of the American family, they made gallant contributions to the World War II effort of the country that the Navajo call Nehemah—their word for mother. ™ © Advanced Assessment Systems/LinkIt! Duplication is restricted to licensees only.

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