âpihtawikosisân: “Roadblocks to effective indigenous language development”

For anyone who doesn’t subscribe to the âpihtawikosisân blog, I (Yuliya) highly recommend doing so.  I recently read this blog post, which was not only insightful, but also a wonderful read. As a linguist, I was only aware of some of the issues hampering effective indigenous language revitalization: lack of funding, lack of commitment on a wider level, and suspicion in the communities. It turns out that the bigger picture is more complex, and, as the author points out, includes lack of communication (emphasis is mine):

This is not just about money, this is also about coordination and sharing of expertise. We have so many people out there on their own, trying to do the same things over and over again, not even aware of one another. We have Language Nest programs in some communities that are doing very well; we have unique community-based schools that successfully integrate cultural learnings and graduate academically competent students. We have people creating online and print resourcesapps and so on. We even have people offering free language classes in urban centres. It often feels to me that we are going in a thousand different directions, and in doing so we are all beating the same path without really moving forward.


I encourage everyone to take a few minutes to read this post, if not for the content, then for the clarity of prose. Using social media, like this blog and the ‘Nnu’gina’masultinej Facebook page, to to communicate, support, and update each other is a small step in the right direction. But taking small steps can produce big results! There are many communities across Canada that are facing similar language issues; it is definitely worth sharing our expertise and experience thus far.

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About Yuliya

Yuliya is a recent M.A. graduate of the Linguistics program at McGill. Her M.A. paper explored two types of noun incorporation in Mi'gmaq. She has previously done research on obviation in Mi'gmaq and helped develop LingSync in its early stages (in collaboration with iLanguage Lab). Yuliya received her BA in Linguistics from Concordia University in 2012.

One thought on “âpihtawikosisân: “Roadblocks to effective indigenous language development”

  1. Thanks for the recommendation, Yuliya! This article raises a ton of interesting and difficult points. That was one thing that was really exciting about the FEL conference last week–it gave a very good space for a sort of international show-and-tell, to talk about the various cool language projects that are happening across Canada and around the world. (I’ll make a round-up post about them sometime soon, I swear!)

    I think it’s a tough question in some ways, the “to collaborate or not to collaborate” one. I’m always 100% behind sharing materials and experiences, that one’s a no-brainer. But when it comes to development of new initiatives, sometimes it feels like collaboration adds a lot of weight to a potential project, slows it down when I really crave fast developments, rapid progress, “let’s get people talking, boom-boom-boom!” The more people who are involved, the longer it takes to reach a consensus and start in on a course of action. Also, language is such a local thing, so centred around little moments with the people you see every day that long-distance collaboration feels like it can miss the little things that really matter.

    But as I’ve been typing this, I’ve also been thinking that both levels are important. Local, everyday things really help your personal language, but the slower, broader collaborative scale might be what helps a language in the long run. After all, in language, nothing is instant. It takes years for anyone to learn a language fully, its grammar and phonology and vocabulary–even when I was a kid with a language-ready brain and no other commitments, it took me years and YEARS before I could say “Elise” instead of “Eeyise.” :) So particularly in a (post-)colonial context, where so much damage was done by splitting people up and fracturing linguistic and community bonds, this call for collaboration and coordination feels particularly powerful and right.

    I’m getting a little rambly, but I think I got across what I wanted to? too long; didn’t read version: yay, collaboration! It may be slow sometimes, but it sure is important. :) Thanks again for the link.

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