The Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas

Navajo Code Talkers

From our readers:



I am writing to ask if you could help me determine the validity of something I
I was told or else direct me to someone who might be able to do so.

I was told that persons working on the Manhattan project (building an atomic bomb
during world war two) were taught the Navajo or the Apache language to facilitate
secure communication between them (secrecy).

I know quite a bit about physics and I know a great deal about many of the key people
involved. I know comparatively little about the intricacies and capabilities of the
Navajo or the Apache language. With that said is seems to me that this story is
not just improbable but highly likely impossible.

For example, could atomic physics be discussed in these languages to a degree that
would be usable during the development of the atomic bomb?  (At that time.)
Considering the short time involved and related factors? And keeping in mind
that the understanding, descriptions of and also mathematics to achieve this were
being created concurrently with the actual construction of the bomb? (A device
of unprecedented design?)

Can you help me with this question? Thank you for any help you can provide.

Best regards,

Bruce Larrabee




Dear Bruce

My understanding is that Navajo code-talkers worked for the Army, communicating more standard information about logistics, movements, etc.  I don’t think it was the Manhattan Project, so no nuclear physics was involved.
There were also code-talkers from other Native American languages (such as Choctaw, Comanche, Creek, Lakota, Meskwakie, and Seminole.)
The people involved were also native speakers of these language, not second language speakers.
Here is an article that seems to be accurate, so far as I know about the various kinds of code talkers and the roles that they have played in our nation’s history.
George Aaron Broadwell
Updated: January 27, 2015 — 8:11 pm

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