Yesterday, we (the CAN-8 group) took a small yellow car on a road trip to Akwesasne to visit Karen Mitchell, who has been running a magnificent program on the Mohawk language at the Akwesasne Economic Development Agency. We learned so much from the trip, and were simultaneously inspired and a little bit daunted! This (long) post is about some of what we learned while we were there, and how we’re hoping to use it for building a Mi’gmaq CAN-8 program.
The Mohawk CAN-8 program has immense breadth and depth (it has been developing for over five years), and there is no way to accomplish that much in the course of this summer. However, there were certain strategies and tools that seemed very adaptable to what we’re doing with our Mi’gmaq CAN-8!
First, there was a section about Mohawk writing, and the possible Mohawk syllables. Since Mohawk (unlike English and French) makes heavy use of a distinction between what we would write as /a/, /ah/, and /aʔ/, the students were introduced to the contrast between them. They heard each syllable /ma/, /mah/, /maʔ/ and saw them written on the screen in Mohawk orthography. How we’re talking about this for Mi’gmaq…
- This section went through every possible Mohawk syllable, but we’re thinking that covering every possible syllable might not be necessary for us. The main advantage of this for Mi’gmaq might be in helping show the long/short/schwa vowel differences. We can record individual instances of the vowels, show the spelling (just enough to familiarize the student), and then record some minimal pair words to highlight how the difference shows up in speech.
- A helpful and perhaps even crucial followup to that is to give learners sets of rhythm patterns/profiles: pairs and sets of combinations of each of the three degrees of vowel length in the language: regular, extra-short (= schwa), and extra-long. That is, V, ‘, and V’. Hence we want to demonstrate rhythmic profiles like these—V-V, ‘-V, V-‘, V-V’, V’-V, ‘-V’, V’-‘ (etc.)—in the form of actual words that model them. From there, as learners are presented with new words, they can compare them to the rhythmic profiles of each the model words they’ve already mastered, pick out the one best match, and so basically get the longs, shorts, and schwas of the whole new word automatically and accurately. It is also necessary to include coda consonants: geminates and clusters, as these too have a distinct effect on the rhythmic profile of the word.
Second, each vocabulary word/phrase was presented in four ways (with a supporting element). 1) the student clicks on the English approximation of the word, 2) there is a picture indicating the meaning, and 3) the Mohawk word written out syllable by syllable and then as a unit, 4) the student hears a recording of the Mohawk word, syllable by syllable and then as a unit. As the recorded speaker says each syllable, the written Mohawk on the screen is highlighted to align with the recording (i.e. a less bouncy version of “follow the bouncing ball”). A supporting structure in the system is that the words/phrases were in Question/Answer format: The CAN-8 user, after clicking on the vocab word, would hear a questions such as “what animal is this?” or “how do you feel today?” and respond using the new phrase like a mini-dialogue. We like this because it takes vocabulary out of a “vocabulary/phrase list”-based approach and situates it in real interactive language use. How we’re talking about this for Mi’gmaq…
- This was a fantastic format that covered a lot of ground! For citation style, it’s hard to think of a better-rounded way to show it. We’re discussing the idea of also using video, and also talking about eliminating solo words altogether, and using mainly phrases in context, as a vocabulary-teaching tool.
- We’ll also have semi-scripted dialogues, which is material for another post.
Third, they had a thematic dictionary. It was a very well-organized reference, and showed vocabulary in a nice, usable way. How we’re talking about this for Mi’gmaq…
- Obviously, building a dictionary is a huge project. We’re hoping to lay the groundwork for the whole thing, building a skeleton for the future and keeping track of the phrases that we are entering for the individual lessons. Actual input for the summer will prioritize thematic contexts where the language is currently likely to be used–school vocabulary and some topics relevant to speaking with older relatives (suggestions welcome). Later work will then branch out to topics where the language isn’t presently as common.
- We already have a great resource for Mi’gmaq words! The Mi’kmaq Online Talking Dictionary has a substantial quantity of vocabulary, all of which is not only illustrated with sentence-level usages but also provides sound files of both. Maybe in the future, we can look at how this alphabetically-arranged resource might be cross-linked into a thematically-arranged presentation, and if possible filed in the CAN-8 system, too.
There was more, too, but this is already quite a long post! We’d like to hear what you think!
- What themes should we work on?
- Do these three features sound good to you? What are the problems with them?
- What are your thoughts for useful dialogues for a CAN-8 user to hear? Again, there will be a post just for dialogues coming up later, but please start talking about it now, if you like.