The Nye County Clerk’s office is working to remove language barriers for its Shoshone voters near Duckwater, about 2.5 hour northeast of Tonopah.
Retiring clerk Sandra Merlino said she received a phone call last year from the Department of Justice indicating the tribal language must be added to ballots because census data shows at least 5 percent of the population there now speaks it.
After conversations with a liaison with the Duckwater tribe, Merlino realized the task was going to be more difficult than anticipated.
“It was exciting,” she said. “But Shoshoni isn’t a written language.”
It’s exlusively oral, which means that Merlino has had to work with a tribal elder who teaches the language to help translate information for voters. For the upcoming general election in November, the tribal elder will translate voter information for those who need it. The elder will also work to transcribe written ballots.
“It’s a work in progress,” Merlino said.
Once formalized, Nye County will be the only place in the country to offer translation services in Shoshoni.
The Shoshoni language is spoken by approximately 1,000 speakers today.
It belongs to the Central Numic branch of the Uto-Aztecan language family. Speakers are scattered from central Nevada to central Wyoming. The largest numbers of Shoshoni speakers live on the federally recognized Duck Valley Indian Reservation in Nevada and Goshute Reservation in Utah.
Idaho State University offers Shoshoni-language classes.