About Elise

Elise got her BA in Linguistics from McGill in 2012, having written her undergraduate thesis about Mi'gmaq possession. She spent that summer working closely with the teachers at the Listuguj Education Centre, and learned a lot! She was lucky to be able to spend two years devoting her time to the various programs run through this blog, and working at the McGill Prosodylab. Now, she's working on her MA in Linguistics at the University of British Columbia.

Lab meeting (Nov 22, 2013)

This week in our Montreal lab meeting, we talked about…

  • LingSync: the new website is up! It’ll grow and change a bit in the near future, but the groundwork is there at least. Also, the McGill server has been updated and configured so that it works better with LingSync.
  • The potential of a trip to Listuguj. Hopefully Mike and maybe a couple others will be able to come out to visit, either in December or early next year.
  • Aboriginal Languages Initiative grant workshop: I had the chance to attend a workshop on Wednesday morning that walked me through the general information needed to make a strong grant application for ALI support. If anyone is interested, I could make a blog post summing up the main points–let me know in comments, or by email.

Thanks for reading, have a good week!

Lab Meeting (Nov 15, 2013)

Another week, another lab meeting! This week we touched on the research everyone is doing right now, checking in to see what the plans are for the coming weeks and months:

  • Yuliya and Carol might start looking at connectives (and, or, but, also) in Mi’gmaq, based a little on Sarah Murray’s presentation from the Algonquian Conference on the Cheyenne connective “na.”
  • Elizabeth is doing some background reading on Mi’gmaq. It was recommended that she watch the Listuguj “Finding our Talk” episode, and read the first chapters of Inglis’s 2002 thesis.
  • Richard would like to start looking at adjectives with Janine. (He also found a “switch reference” article from 1901!)
  • Gretchen is continuing to work on her thesis, concentrating on verbal affixes.

Lab Meeting (Nov 8, 2013)

The Montreal group has started having weekly lab meetings! We’ll be keeping track roughly of the things we talk about and posting them here, tagged “lab meeting”. Last Friday, among other things, we talked about…

  • Intro to Algonquian readings: Heather Newell and Lizzie Carolan were looking for some introductory readings on Algonquian linguistics. We shared a number of PDFs with them (no particular ones singled out as recommendations), and also pointed them to the project wiki.
  • Fixing up the wiki: Since we’ve got some fresh eyes on it, we thought it might be a good time soon to update the wiki! Mike’s going to be writing some sections in his dissertation that will serve as a quick Mi’gmaq Linguistics 101, and he was suggesting that as he writes those up, he can also do corresponding sections in the wiki.
  • Elise and Yuliya data chat: We’ve been doing joint sessions with Janine for the last couple weeks, and we wanted to talk with everyone about the things we were learning! We have a very rough handout that we discussed, but it was full of mistakes so we’ll hang on to it for now. The general gist was that we were looking at phrases ending in -ewei, -ewe’g, and so on, and seeing how they can look sort of like nouns but also sort of like verbs!

FEL round-up (3/3): Talks and Sessions

[This post is the last of three about the 2013 Foundation for Endangered Languages conference. The others are linked to from this main post.]

In the three days of sessions, I went to a whole lot of very exciting talks. Here are my notes from some (but not all) of the ones that I enjoyed the most!

  • Being Cree in the 21st Century Through Language, Literacy, and Culture: Iyiniwoskinîkiskwewak (Young Women) Take on the Challenges. Stelómethet Ethel B. Gardner, Heather Blair, and Shelby Laframboise-Helgeson (University of Alberta)
    • Canadian Indigenous Languages and Literacy Development Institute (CILLDI) runs annually to help show speakers of Indigenous languages new strategies for teaching, documenting, and looking at their languages. While the Institute was running, speakers would travel to Edmonton to take part, often bringing  young/adolescent family members with them.
    • The Young Women’s Circle of Leadership was started in 2008 as a way to involve this younger generation in Cree cultural activities and language work.
    • The first group of young women who participated wrote a belief statement: Young Aboriginal Women: fun, cooperative, caring, respectful, responsible, strong, talented, essential and contributing members of our communities!
    • Since 2008, the Language Warriors (Taiaiake Alfred’s term) of this program have stuck by this mission statement.
    • The camp runs for 8 days, engaging the young women through many media and activities: creative theatre, storytelling, woodworking, traditional and contemporary arts, computers and new technology, swimming, rock climbing, and teachings from elders.
    • The talk ended by giving some quotes from the young women who had done the camp, which I foolishly didn’t write down. One of them spoke about how she felt prepared to start grade 7 as a new person and a stronger leader. It was all very uplifting!
  • Collaborations and Connections between an Aboriginal Organisation and Endangered Language Speakers: Interpreting and Translating in the Kimberley Region of Western Australia. Thomas Saunders (Kimberley Interpreting Service Aboriginal Corporation)
    • The Kimberley has members of all 5 of Western Australia’s language families–it’s a very linguistically diverse region! It’s therefore very important for important documents (e.g. health- and service-related notices, court documents, etc) to be available in a wide variety of languages.
    • Kimberley Interpreting Service Aboriginal Corporation (founded 2001) is a company which provides translation and interpreting services.
    • They focus on court, police, and medical work, and provide real recognition for speakers’ skills by employing speakers to work on translation and interpretation in their native languages.
    • This presentation was very interesting to me because it was one of the few that wasn’t affiliated with an academic institution. It was a great example of endangered languages being used for practical, everyday purposes, and speakers having their expertise respected in the tangible sphere of employment. Particularly when many speakers of endangered languages have faced discrimination and institutional barriers from industry in the past, it’s nice to see a bit of turn-around.
  • Standardization of the Inuit Language in Canada. Jeela Qiliqti Palluq-Cloutier (Inuit Uqausinginnik Taiguusiliuqtiit, Government of Nunavut)
    • Aqqaluk Lynge: “No other organization in this world, no one else can save your language for you.”
    • This presentation was discussing the difficulties of making one standard orthography for the Inuit language.
    • There is a dialect spectrum in the Inuit language–generally different dialects are mutually understandable out loud, but each variation comes with another new way of writing, so often written documents can seem very opaque from one region to another.
    • 4 regions of Inuit in Canada: NWT/Nunatsiaq (20% of the area speak the Inuit language); Labrador/Nunatsiavut (27% speak); Nunavut (91% speak); Northern Québec/Nunavik (99% speak).
    • Some differences in phonemes that are very noticeable: choices between… l/r/d; n/ɳ; s/h/sh/sr; j/r/z. Consonant clusters vary too, with some clusters becoming geminates. People write what they say.
    • There are also grammatical and lexical differences between regions, too!!
    • Currently, E. Nunavut and Nunavik use syllabics; Nunatsiaq, W. Nunavut, and Nunatsiavut use Roman orthography.
    • The presentation ended with call for research to be done to find what would be the best way to compromise to one orthography about which there can be consensus. How does a group negotiate intuitive spelling (matching closely your personal spoken dialect) vs. broad accessibility across the language community?
      • I’d be very curious to hear what you think the best option for this situation is! Meet me in the comments section?
  • Linking Culture and Language to Aboriginal Children’s Outcomes: Lessons from Canadian Data. Leanne C. Findlay & Dafna E. Kohen (Statistics Canada)
    • Focus on children’s data from Aboriginal Children’s Survey & Aboriginal People’s Survey. ACS: Kids 0-6, mostly off-reserve. APS: 1991, 2001, 2006, 2012. in and off-reserve, aged 14yrs and under.
    • Looking at themes of cultural continuity and self-esteem, where the outcomes of interest are verbal skills, prosocial outcomes, and hyperactivity/inattention.
    • Kids participating in cultural activities and language have great outcomes for verbal and behavioural skills. Kids learning Aboriginal languages are also doing better at school and looking forward to school more.
    • While survey questions can only give a vague and extremely generalized view of any situation, the presentation was adamant that such quantitative data could open the door for qualitative data to follow.
    • during the Q&A afterwards, one person brought up the idea of “language kits” midwives can give to expectant mothers, so that even if they are not themselves speakers they might have a resource for the language (songs and such). Another person said that Bernie Francis has a kit like this for Mi’gmaq!
  • An Inquiry into Two Aboriginal Language Immersion Programs. Joanne Tompkins, Anne Murray-Orr, Sherise Paul-Gould, Starr Sock/Paul, Roseanne Clark & Darcy Pirie (St Francis Xavier University; Eskasoni Elementary and Middle School, Eskasoni First Nation; Tobique First Nation)
    • This presentation talked about two immersion schools, one Mi’gmaw and one Wolastoqi/Maliseet.
    • Eskasoni has had a K-3 Mi’gmaw immersion program for 10 years; Tobique has had a K4 & K5 Maliseet immersion program for 3 years.
    • In Tobique, lunchtime was a great opportunity for contact between immersion students, sitting together and speaking in the language. The program also encouraged a strong link between school and Elder’s Centre, taking the kids there to visit on a regular basis.
    • Speaking with the kids and their teachers universally yielded themes of confidence, leadership, communicative ability, authentic language, and academic achievement. Hooray for immersion programs!
    • Initially, some had been afraid that the bridging years between immersion and English education would reveal failures in the students’ English-language abilities. But when they looked at the actual numbers, a very different story emerged:
      •  Of the 81 kids in grade 7: 16 are former immersion, 65 non-immersion.
      • When it comes to reading levels, the 40 students reading reading below XYZ (the provincial standard for that age level) were all pure English-educated–no immersion students had below XYZ competence.
      • Further, 13 students were reading at the Z level (the highest): 12 of those were students from the immersion class!
      • The bridging years had done their work and the immersion students were all caught up, often with a lot of enthusiasm for school that propelled their achievements.
    • Overall, these two schools found very powerful values of fluency, identity, and student achievement linked with their immersion programs. Very inspiring!
  • Using all the Pieces to Solve the Puzzle: the Importance of Aboriginal Language Assessment in Child Populations. Lori Morris & Marguerite MacKenzie (Université de Québec à Montréal; Memorial University)
    • Since normally-developing bilingual kids can look like kids with language difficulties, this presentation focused on the importance of measuring language use in all the languages spoken by a child, not just the dominant one in which schooling is taking place. Challenge: It’s hard to distribute tests between 2 languages.
    • 3 towns: Pessamit (QC), Sheshashit (NL), Natuashish (NL). The language context in these three towns is “diglossic with a winner and a loser”–two languages are spoken, but the colonial language (French or English) seems to be overpowering Innu in each town.
    • The researchers do a longitudinal assessment from when the children first start at school through their elementary years. The first cohort they worked with is (I think) 10 years old now. They tested breadth and use of vocabulary in both the colonial language and Innu.
    • The general pattern they found is that when you start school, if you’re good in one language, you’re often good in both languages.
    • The students’ abilities have shown gains since the original measures (as is to be expected). What wasn’t expected was that… “As Innu gets better, so does French.” For the first year, language skills correlated significantly and positively! But once kids have been in school for a while, the positive correlations fade away.
    • The take-home message was the benefit of performing analysis of linguistic competence in both languages, not just in one or the other. Some students who would have been classified as having abnormal language development were actually very typical bilinguals; others who needed additional teacher assistance were able to get it tailored to their own needs.

There were a lot of other very good talks at this conference (including one by some names that may be familiar: Sarkar, Metallic, Baker, Lavoie, & Strong-Wilson!) but this post is already very-very long. I’d be happy to talk with anybody in the comments section about this post, or anything else mentioned in the FEL program that I didn’t talk about here. Thanks for reading!

FEL round-up (2/3): Keynote Speakers

[This post is two of three about the 2013 Foundation for Endangered Languages conference. The others will be linked to from this main post as they go up.]

The keynote speakers on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday were all phenomenal, providing a lot of insight from a wide variety of experiences.

  • Nuk’wantwal’ – Collaborative and Community-centered approaches to language vitalization from an Indigenous perspective. Lorna Williams (Canada Research Chair, Indigenous Knowledge and Learning, University of Victoria)
    • Nuk’wantwal': to help one another, to ask to help. This talk was about her work and experiences in language revitalization. She spoke about…
    • biased & racialized demands for accountability in funding
    • countering colonial/majority language bias
    • the fact that people who come to help have differing goals from each other: “Outside experts can fragment communities.” “When we choose to help, we need to be responsible for the kind of help we give.” “Each of us needs to be willing to be changed.”
    • the importance of fighting against the age-based stratification that is so prevalent in Canadian society, making it so that we see a lot of our peers and very little of our elders and juniors. The Mentor-Apprentice program is one strategy useful in countering this stratification.
    • establishing speaker communities as safe spaces for the language
    • the language as the voice of the land
    • support for parents of children in immersion programs–children would learn stories in school, and go home to tell the same story to their families. This strategy helps ensure the language doesn’t get locked up inside the walls of the school, but lives throughout the community.
  • The Arctic Indigenous Language Initiative: Assessment, Promotion, and Collaboration. Lenore A. Grenoble (Inuit Circumpolar Council, Canada; University of Chicago)
    • the Arctic Indigenous Language Initiative (AILI) represents about a half dozen language families around the Arctic Circle. It has 8 constituent nations (voting members) and 6 Indigenous groups (permanent participants).
    • focus on networking and collaboration, Indigenous frameworks for assessing language vitality, and sharing data/resources
      • for Arctic communities, there are huge practical obstacles to long-distance collaboration! Even just organizing a conference call means juggling a huge number of different time zones. Getting together in person for a meeting requires even more incredible feats of organization. (Thank goodness for the Internet.)
    • current projects are prioritizing an Indigenous framework for language vitality assessment, as well as matters of language acquisition (a lengthy process) and language policy in each of the member countries.
    • In the question period, she also briefly discussed that an ideological shift away from monolingualism is necessary! Multilingualism is (and always has been) doable and is currently the best way forward.
    • there are two websites for the ALI: the older one is here and the new one (still under construction) is here. Please do check them out!
  • Protective effects of language learning, use and culture on the health and well-being of Indigenous people in Canada. Onawa McIvor (University of Victoria)
    • speaking to the strong link between culture and health (and land & health).
    • there is not a ton of research done on language as it interacts with health. the most prevalent themes in the existing literature are of Indigenous languages as barriers to health outcomes for monolingual speakers, making it harder to access medical services if you don’t operate in a majority language as well as your Indigenous one.
    • however, when you look at the positive themes, and allow for multilingualism in your conception of Indigenous language speakers, the positive links between language and health are very present.
    • Hallett, Chandler, & Lalonde (2007) look at language and suicide rates in British Columbia, finding that communities with high language knowledge also had low suicide rates. (PDF of that paper is here)
    • Ball & Moselle (2013) looked at the First Nations Regional Health Survey, and  Aboriginal Head Start. From the paper… “The purpose of the report is to bring together current conceptualizations and empirical support for the importance of language and culture in Aboriginal children’s wellness, education, and opportunities for quality of life.”
    • Kirmayer, Dandeneau, Marshall, Phillips, & Williamson (2011) talk about positive mental health effects from language, presenting a “social-ecological view of resilience” which integrates learnings from collaborative work with some Inuit, Métis, Mi’gmaq, and Mohawk groups.
    • she ended her talk with a simple recommendation for language revitalization: take it seriously. Things the government could do to help included funding language projects, and making Indigenous languages at least regionally co-official (as in the NWT). At one point she added, “The way that Aboriginal language revitalization is funded in Canada is nothing short of a disgrace.” Strong words, and a strong call for action!

Thanks for reading–I’m very lucky to have heard these speakers talk, and I wanted to share as much of that experience as I could. Please let me know if any of the links are broken!

FEL (1/3): Movie Night

[This post is one of three about the 2013 Foundation for Endangered Languages conference. The others will be linked to from this main post as they go up.]

I’m very much a movie person, so I loved having the chance to watch We Still Live Here/Âs Nutayuneân a second time. If you click the title, you can watch clips from the video. The whole film isn’t free online anywhere, but you can buy it on iTunes! The story of Jessie Little Doe-Baird and the Wampanoag who worked together to wake their language back up after 6 generations is purely inspirational, a total must-watch.

In the context of a conference that focused on “endangered” languages, it felt so hopeful and essential to get the reminder than languages don’t simply go extinct like species of plants or animals. Animals like the sea mink are never coming back, but thanks to historical documents, speakers of related languages, dedication, hard work, and collaboration, Wampanoag is being spoken again in Massachusetts. There were more than a few damp eyes in the room during our screening, let me tell you that.

Other clips we watched included…

  • Reflections Part One, by Jeff Bear (Maliseet). (Part Two is here)
  • Nikamowin (song), by Kevin Lee Burton (Cree)
  • A clip from Qanurli? (What Now?) (Inuktitut)
  • A clip from Takuginai (Look Here), aka the Inuit Sesame Street. The Inuit Broadcasting Corporation has been running it since 1986!! We were lucky to have two of the co-producers (Mike Kerr and Cynthia Pitsiulak) come and talk to us about the program, and about IBC in general. (I will admit I daydreamed for a few minutes about a Mi’gmaw Takuginai… The Listuguj Education Directorate definitely has the puppets, anyway!)

Foundation for Endangered Languages conference round-up

October 1-4 was the Foundation for Endangered Languages annual conference in Ottawa! Gretchen made a blog post about it while we were there, and did a lot of good work helping to fill up the #FEL2013 Twitter tag with some interesting quotes from talks. It’s a bit late, but I thought it would be nice to do a round-up post on the blog too, like this one I did after ICLDC this spring. I started writing it, then realized that it was getting tremendously long! So instead, I’ll make a bunch of shorter posts, and this central one will link to each of them in turn. So far there are three posts planned–hopefully I can keep it to that!

  1. Movie Night, particularly the film We Still Live Here/Âs Nutayuneân
  2. Keynote Speakers
  3. Sessions and Talks


Introducing the Comp/Field Workshop

Coming up in two and a half weeks, McGill will be hosting a computational field (linguistics) workshop.

On May 27th, we’ll have two talks and a wine & cheese reception: iLanguage Lab will be presenting about LingSync, and Alexis Palmer, a postdoc working for SEASIDE, will be giving a talk entitled “Computational Linguistics for Low-Resource Languages.”

May 28th, we’ll have two workshops and two talks: iLanguage will host a session entitled “Plugging in to LingSync” and Alexis Palmer will coordinate one focusing on what exactly one should do with field linguistic data. Our talks will be from Erin Olson (presenting on the Prosodylab’s Forced Aligner and its use in segmental analysis) and Robert Henderson (“Reclaiming SIL Bibles for Linguistic Research”).

More details available in our newly-minted workshop section!

L’nui’sultinej Conference 2013

The L’nui’sultinej Conference is the place to be for Mi’gmaq speakers and learners; as such, we are proud to announce that we are planning on going to Antigonish to talk about our projects and our classes!

As the organizers say on their site:

“L’nui’sultinej na tesipunqek mawita’mk wjit Mi’kmaq Kisna ta’n pasik wen ta’n ketu’ kinu’tmasit l’nui’sin kwlaman kisi klo’tesnu ksitunnu iapjiw. Ula mawita’mk wjit msit wen aqq ta’n pasik wen wlta’sualaten.

L’nui’sultinej is an annual conference which brings together Mi’kmaq people from across the Mi’kmaq Nation to look at education issues related to language preservation, enhancement and revitalization. It is a conference for parents youth, elders, community members, educators, administrators, counselors and researchers. We welcome all Mi’kmaq into the circle whatever their level of language proficiency.”

Mali-Beth, Carol, and I (Elise) will be attending the conference to talk about how linguists and speakers and learners can work together, inside and outside a language classroom. We hope to see you there!

Some ICLDC Presentations

This list quickly sums up a few of the presentations I really enjoyed at ICLDC, in no particular order. The days were very packed, so sadly I only got to see a fraction of the interesting talks that were happening from 9-5:30 every day (in 6 different conference rooms!), but hopefully this gives you a quick idea of the types of great conversations and work that is being done by linguists, language revitalizationists, and language conservationists around the world.

  • The Algonquian Online Interactive Linguistic Atlas (Marie-Odile Junker, Nicole Rosen, Hélène St-Onge, Arok Wolvengrey, Mimie Neacappo)
    • This website maps a lot of different dialects of various Algonquian languages, putting equivalent sentences (for instance, translations of “This is my mother.”) side-by-side on the map. You can choose to use the website in English, French, or without colonial languages altogether.
    • All their technology (using Python and MySQL) is open-source and non-proprietary, so this model could easily be adjusted to show language variation in other language families as well.
  • The documentary linguist as facilitator: The view from Trung (Dulong) (Ross Perlin, University of Bern)
    • As linguists we have to find ways of situating our own roles in communities studying languages that we may not speak.
    • One potential model we can draw from is the literature on being a facilitator, placing “a focus on process and group dynamics, impartiality or neutrality, the evoking of participation, trust and consensus-building, and resource aggregation.”
  • Sharing worlds of knowledge: Research protocols for communities (Andria Wilhelm, Universities of Victoria and of Alberta; Connie Cheecham, Northern Lights School District)
    • Copyright law and other legal measures are generally insufficient when it comes to protecting Indigenous communities, specifically with respect to intangible property like linguistic expertise.
    • It is important for researchers to collaboratively form concrete research protocols with their community/the community they are working with!
    • These protocols may address guidelines for principles of respect, ownership & profit, informed consent, access, fixation, and any other facets are relevant to your work.
  • Developing a regional Master-Apprentice training network in Australia (Gwendolyn Hyslop, Australian National University)
    • Last year, Leanne Hinton and others led workshops for representatives from 31 Indigenous language communities in order to instruct them in the best strategies for engaging in the Master-Apprentice Program.
    • They practiced (among other techniques) non-verbal communication, going through wordless books in the language, listening and repetition, immersion sets, talking about modern items/new vocabulary, games for counting, and puppet play.
    • The goal of these sessions was to “train the trainer” and form a network of MAP groups throughout Australia–it was more popular than anticipated, and they had to run 3 workshops instead of the planned 1!
    • People generally found that language pods, where 3-6 people engage in immersion together, felt more comfortable and natural than the usual MAP pair system of a single speaker and a single learner.
      • We should try these out, too! And it would be great to get Leanne Hinton out for a workshop, no?
  • Developing consistency by consensus: Avoiding fiat in language revitalization (Lance Twitchell, University of Alaska Southeast; James Crippen, University of British Columbia)
    • The Tlingit language has a lot of sounds, to put it lightly. Developing an orthography was a bit of a problem, and for a while there were two separate writing systems. Over time, speakers merged the best features of each into what is known as the ‘email’ orthography to some people, a process that happened gradually, by internal consensus rather than external decree.
    • This presentation said that standards should be violable; mistakes should be okay, since a language is owned by everybody who uses it; it is helpful to standardize aspects of the language until wide usage, not after.