First Words: Eli Langley speaks Koasati
First Words is a weekly podcast focused on Indigenous languages. Each week, we welcome a new guest into the hosting chair to teach us three words in their language.
At 20 years old, Eli Langley is the youngest person in his tribe to speak Koasati, a language native to the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana.
The tribe has approximately 865 members and is federally recognized. Langley estimates there are between 200 and 300 fluent speakers of Koasati left.
While he was in high school, Langley participated in a Koasati immersion class and spent an entire summer learning the language. He applied and got into Harvard for the following year.
But, he had a problem: Harvard did not recognize Koasati for a language requirement toward his degree.
Langley spent the next two and a half years exploring all avenues to take a proficiency test to prove his fluency. After a change in rules at Harvard, he took and passed the test and now has his Native language on his transcript.
"I feel amazing," Langley said.
He wanted to have his language recognized by Harvard as a symbol of his commitment to preserving it.
"If I don't teach my children or if I don't continue advocating for this and attempting to save our language … there is a possibility that I will be the last person that ever speaks this language," he said. "[It] is a really heavy thing to think.
"But life is long and I'm committed to making sure that that is not the case."