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.

Recounting Hawai’i Part 3: Culturally-Situated Language Assessment

Three  months later,  I am still thinking about the talks at ICLDC. I thought I could close out my series of blog posts with a mention of a great talk by Melody Ann Ross (Fulbright-Clinton Public Policy Fellow, University of Hawai’i). Her talk focused on assessment planning for language programs—a part that is often overlooked or forgotten until the last minute (lack of planning). Does successful implementation program really mean that the program is successful? This, of course, depends on the program, on the community, and the learners involved, among other things. With the permission of the author, I am sharing the slides. I encourage everyone to take a look at them: Ross_AssessmentSlides.pdf

Recounting Hawai’i Part 2: Culturally-situated language revitalization in action

In my previous blog post, I talked about the idea of culturally-situated language research, as presented by keynote speaker Lenore Grenoble. For the minute, allow me to skip the many other interesting talks and points made at ICLDC; let me take you to Hilo, located on the big island of Hawai’i, where ‘ōlelo Hawai’i (Hawaiian language) is full of vigor. On March 2nd we had the pleasure of touring Nāwahīokalani’ōpu’u campus, a Preschool-12th grade (P-12) school, where approximately 2,200 students are instructed completely in Hawaiian (see website for more info: http://www.nawahi.org/). We were greeted ceremoniously by all the students and teachers in the school; the greeting was a traditional chant, which granted us permission to enter the school and learn (about Hawaiian language and culture). This ceremony is performed daily by all the students, asking permission of their teachers to learn.

While touring the school I noticed that every part of the students’ education somehow connected to the Hawaiian way of life. For example, on campus there is a large garden; there are guava trees, banana tress, a pineapple grove, coffee shrubs…students learn about these trees, when the season to pick the fruit are, how to pick the fruit and take care of the trees.

A coffee shrub, one of the many fantastic trees growing in the school garden.

A coffee shrub, one of the many fantastic trees growing in the school garden.

They also learn to take care of pigs that are kept on the grounds. In addition, our guides, Malia and Kamaile, both in 10th grade, explained that every Friday the whole school goes outside to learn about their surroundings, whether on campus or at the beach, where students can study ecology, biology, geology, etc.

A pig, raised on the school grounds.

A pig, raised on the school grounds.

The idea is that students learn by doing, hands-on, through a medium that is culturally relevant to Hawai’i..all of this done in the language, of course. I found another example of this in the classroom; in the back of every classroom is a corner with photos of students’ parents, grandparents and other family members. Our guides explained that having photos of their kupuna (ancestors) helps students remember why they are there; why they are learning the language and that they want to make their family proud as they will one day represent them out in the world. It is a way to make connections to language, culture, ancestry. This is only a small part of a larger, holistic approach to Hawaiian education, which is described in this following video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lhELoIta084#t=163

But here, again, the most striking thing to me was the fact that everything was culturally-situated. The success of the Hawaiian revitalization program is tied to the fact that the language is made relevant in everyday situations; it is normalized and connected to students both physically, emotionally and spiritually.

He mana ko ka ‘ōlelo = there is power in language
Left to Right: Carolyn, Kamaile, Malia and I after our guava harvest.

Left to Right: Carolyn, Kamaile, Malia and I after our guava harvest.

Recounting Hawai’i Part 1: Culturally-situated language research

IMG_20150304_113324As we are flying over the beautiful mountains of B.C.,  I realize that my week-long Hawai’ian journey comes to a close. Despite this, I am certain this is only the beginning of my own venture into language revitalization and documentation.

Thinking back on the past week, it is very difficult to pick any one part that stands out; every day was teeming with new friends, experiences and linguistic discovery. Hawai’ian landscape and beauty aside (an example photo below…),   here’s a slice of my (Yuliya’s) personal highlights, which I will relay across several blog posts.

Makapuʻu point and beach.

Makapuʻu point and beach.

The theme of this ICLDC, “Enriching Theory, Practice & Application” was incredibly fitting for the wide-ranging crowd (e.g. I met people in library sciences, independent studies, and social policy). I guess the thing that hit home the most was the acceptance of different fields as lenses through which we can create an interdisciplinary approach to language documentation. The main question being, how can we connect and strengthen our individual practices with theory, and apply it to what communities need and want?
I particularly enjoyed the opening plenary talk for addressing this issue in a way that was accessible to linguists and non-linguists alike.
Lenore Grenoble (University of Chicago) has been working with the Arctic Indigenous Languages Project to help “assess, monitor and promote the vitality of numerous indigenous languages found in the Arctic” (taken from the project website). The project, led by many community members across the Arctic Circle (including members from Canada, Russia, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, US, Norway), focuses on: 1. language policy;  2. language vitality assessment; and 3. language acquisition
Her talk addressed the following question: “How can a hitchhiker linguist help support language vitality?”
  • Hitchhikers = linguists who are not permanent members of communities but rather visitors along for the ride
  • As it turns out, language documentation can be fruitfully informed & even reoriented by guidelines created to teach communicative competence & proficiency in majority languages (i.e. taking a majority language proficiency test and making it suitable for smaller minority language communities)
    • communicative competence = cultural knowledge and knowledge of social conventions
  • Importantly, proficiency guidelines can be and should be informed by research in language acquisition, psycholinguistics and education
    • Moreover, the guidelines should be task-oriented and culturally as well as socially situated
    • That includes knowing how to speak, including knowledge of turn-taking mechanisms, appropriateness of nonverbal behavior, etc. (Savignon 2002)
      • We should adopt a more action-oriented approach: language users are social agents who develop general particular communicative competences while trying to achieve their everyday goals
      • This point is often overlooked or cut out by linguists who look at grammar; for instance, we tend to strip facial expressions in elicitations or when documenting natural speech
      • (Here Grenoble emphasized, IT’S OK NOT TO LIKE THESE GUIDELINES AS LINGUISTS…BUT THEY ARE GOOD. This is what people WANT to know. This is what speakers in communities want to learn!)
  • Language practices, too, can be revised. This is a large category that encompasses all the different ways we use language, e.g.:
    • everyday idiomatic uses of language
    • language games
    • songs
    • conversation, how to use language
    • traditional: prayers, traditional speeches
  • Thus, in documenting with your community, you need to ask yourself, “What skills are we trying to foster? What is realistic in language acquisition? What do learners want to know?” Paralinguistic meaning may be a big part of this.
    •  As an example, Grenoble presented some of her own research with Wolof, which is not endangered, but provides good evidence of shift in linguistic practices
    • Wolof has clicks that are contrastive. They have not been documented as part of the morphosyntactic or phonological system but they are definitely there!
      • Crucially, you can’t be a fluent speaker of Wolof without understanding/using these clicks!
      • As a fluent speaker, you have to know how to say yes with a click, how to say no with a click, how to correct someone with a click, etc.
 Stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3.

Countdown: 5 days until Mi’gmaq Language Summer Workshop 2

With the second Mi’gmaq Language Summer Workshop  right around the corner, we thought it would be a good time to remind everyone how fun the first workshop was last year!


Photo by Janine Metallic.

 Highlight #1: At our first workshop we had two guest speakers from different Mi’gmaq communities—Bernard Jerome from Gesgapegiag and Jaime Battiste from Eskasoni. The speakers related their personal experiences with the language, and how speaking Mi’gmaq has influenced their life. Many students and Elders were happy to see the speeches given half in Mi’gmaq and half in English. Travis Wysote noted, “The speakers were eloquent, a natural occurrence when our People speak from their hearts.”

Highlight #2: The goal of the workshop was not only to inform community members about resources available for Mi’gmaq language-learning, but to foster dialogue between Elders and young language learners. In the second half of our workshop, the audience formed groups for discussion and talked about the state of the language in the community. Afterwards, students were asked to briefly summarize what was discussed in their group.

Students and Elders talking about the language.

Students and Elders talking about the language. Photo by Janine Metallic.

Mary-Beth Wysote wrote,

“The part that I enjoyed the most was the discussions. I loved hearing what the elders in my group had to say. […]  I realized after hearing what the elders had to say in our discussion group was that they regret not passing on the language and are genuinely afraid that the language will someday soon be lost. They also thought that the youth are not interested in learning Mi’gmaq which I can imagine discouraged them a bit. I don’t think I would have ever known how the elders felt towards the language had I not attended this workshop and they would not have known how us youth felt. The assumptions that we had about each other were wrong”

Highlight #3: Fun booths about a variety of topics were set up around the venue.

“The booths were interesting and ranged from more formal ones to informal ones and the information they shared was of critical importance with regards to language retention and language revitalization. Perhaps this was why the discussions were so lively.” (Travis Wysote)

We hope you can make it to this year’s workshop! Help us make language learning fun; bring your kids, your family, your pets!


Everyone having fun! Photo by Janine Metallic.

Tliultesgultesnen Bingo Hall—‘we will all meet at the Bingo Hall’


Day 2: A Day in Potlotek


View of Potlotek (Chapel Island)

Potlotek, also known as Chapel Island, is a Mi’gmaq community about an hour’s drive from Eskasoni. The menigu (‘island’) is located right on the Bras d’Or Lake, and is only accessible by a (short) boat ride.  Our second day of travels brings us here, because  around this time of year Potlotek is a central meeting  place for people in the Mi’gmaq community; many  families from Eskasoni go to Chapel Island for St.  Anne’s Mission, and have been doing so for years.

The picture painted at Potlotek is encouraging, to say the least! Stepping foot on the island means seeing families gathered together outside of their cabins, mijua’ji’jg (‘children’) running around yelling to each other in Mi’gmaw. The atmosphere is friendly and welcoming—you can really feel a sense of community here.

On the boat to Chapel Island.

On the boat to Chapel Island.

We meet with Sherise Paul-Gould, Starr Paul, and Kattirin Johnson, all of whom have been teaching at various grade levels for many years in the Mi’gmaw Immersion Program at Eskasoni. Below are some memorable experiences shared with us:

1. Kattirin (Kat) Johnson is a grade 4 immersion transition teacher. Transition helps Mi’gmaq Immersion students that have been in the program since kindergarten move into English.

  • The year starts out in Mi’gmaq but eventually everything turns into English

  • Teach Mi’gmaq grammar (graded more harshly than English); focus on topics like word order variability (English vs. Mi’gmaq) and past and future tenses (learning correct person endings)
  • Teach various aspects of English grammar
Colourful cabins on Chapel Island.

Colourful cabins on Chapel Island.

2. Starr Sock/Paul & Sherise Paul-Gould’s Research.

  • Initial observation: Mi’gmaq immersion students in grade 5 were reading at a much higher level than students that were not part of the immersion program
  • Conducted a study with students in immersion which showed that students taught exclusively in Mi’gmaq from kindergarten to grade 3 perform better than those that are not in the immersion program. The immersion students not only excelled in Mi’gmaq, but were later excelling in English literacy (see previous bullet point).
  • Their research also showed that the students had higher levels of self-esteem/confidence and were more likely to get involved in extracurricular activities.
  • This link has a nice sum up of Starr and Sherise’s talk from FEL 2013. Look for “An Inquiry into Two Aboriginal Language Immersion Programs”

Throughout our meeting, Starr, Sherise, and Kat stressed the importance of having an immersion program. This was one of the most important, if not primary, way of preserving the language in Eskasoni. Starting an immersion program is a large and complicated milestone, but it is absolutely necessary to keep the language going. What do you say, Listuguj?

Yuliya, Blaire, Lola, Carol Rose, Douglas, and Alan with Chapel Island in the background

Yuliya, Blaire, Lola, Carol, Douglas, and Alan

Learn Mi’gmaq with Quizlet!

With Mary Ann Metallic’s Mi’gmaq classes (high school graduate and post-graduate) in full swing, there’s been a lot of interest in reinforcing the material introduced in class outside of class time. With suggestions from the students in mind, we found Quizlet—an accessible and easy to use app that allows us to create flashcards that can be used by anyone (and everyone!) interested in learning Mi’gmaq.

The flashcards are posted after every class, which means that if you are not in Listuguj, you can still follow along and learn what we are learning! Thus far 21 sets about various topics, ranging from greetings to food, have been posted here.

Some great features of Quizlet include:

  • Compatibility with Android, iOS, and most web browsers
  • Ability to access offline (after pre-loading the sets)
  • Ability to import media–Mary Ann hand-picks the pictures that go along with each flashcard
  • Ability to record audio to hear what the words sound like in Mi’gmaq–in fact, we’ve been recording the flashcard sets with different voices from around the community, so the students can hear what different speakers sound like (and even some of the students are involved!)
  • Ability to test yourself in fun ways (matching, spelling, multiple choice, space race) and compete with others for a high score
  • Make your own flashcards–once you have a Quizlet account, you can either search for flashcard sets that are already made, or create your own
  • Great teacher function: Quizlet can generate quizzes from a set of flashcards and, depending on your preferences, can create multiple choice, matching, true false and written questions

Check out the “Learn Mi’gmaq Flashcards” tab at the top of our page and see how fun it is for yourself!

Dr. Morcom’s Seminar on Language Programming

A few weeks ago Janine and I attended Dr. Lindsay Morcom’s seminar on “Language Preservation, Education, and Diversity”. The following are some highlights from her seminar.

  • The medium is the message. We view the education system as a system that can tell you what is useful and what is important. If your language is not part of the equation , then you are told that it is not important. This was the way schools used to rob language from children in the past. But, by the same reasoning, there is is no reason that a school system in the hands of Native people shouldn’t be able to counteract the damage inflicted in the past.
  • There is a high correlation between immersion programming and self esteem (collective and personal). Taylor & Wright (1995) (see attached article) conducted a study with Inuit, White, and mixed-heritage participants to see the connection between heritage language instruction and self-esteem. The results showed that early heritage language education had a positive effect on personal and collective self-esteem of minority-language students. This has many long-term benefits, such as a stronger sense of personal identity, stronger connection to collective identity (feeling like you belong to a group), and positive impacts on academic success.
  • Aboriginal language immersion programs have an important role in language revitalization, maintenance, and education. Usborne et al. (2011) (see attached article) compared a strong Mi’gmaq immersion program with a Mi’gmaq as a second language (L2) program, and found that students in the immersion program not only had stronger Mi’kmaq language skills compared to students in the L2 program, but students within both programs ultimately had the same level of English. This ultimately shows that learning a Native language at a young age does not negatively impact the process of mainstream language-learning.
  • The type of language programming (immersion, L2 ) should be decided on a case-by-case basis, as it is more of a continuum: programs of study in the language, programs of study for the language, or a combination of both. Factors that should be considered: what is the goal of the community? what is the history of the community with the language? what  is the status of the language now? (e.g. is it used everyday in the community? are there many fluent speakers?) Illustrated with 3 case studies: Pokomchi’, Dene, and Michif.
  • Native language programming allows students to learn through a culturally-appropriate lens, which is important. Just as everyone has different learning styles (visual, aural, tactile)  a culturally-appropriate lens can be conducive to learning and can help propagate traditional practices, values, etc.

For those interested to find out more, there were two articles that we discussed: Identity and the Language of the Classroom and Learning through an Aboriginal language – the impact on students’ English and aboriginal language skills. Also, Dr. Morcom has allowed us to post her slides from the seminar, which you can find here: Language Preservation, Education, and Diversity.




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.

Breath of Life Archival Institute for Indigenous Languages

There has been a call for applications to participate in the Breath of Life Archival Institute for Indigenous Languages (BoL), which will take place in Washington, DC, June 10-21, 2013. The deadline for applications is March 1, 2013. More details provided below and on the application page (linked above):

We invite Native Americans and First Nations people who are learning and revitalizing their languages, and graduate students, faculty and other scholars who specialize in Linguistics (preferably in Native American or First Nations languages) to apply to participate in the Breath of Life Archival Institute for Indigenous Languages (BoL).
BoL is designed to promote active collaboration among people with a wide range of perspectives about language and culture, including technical linguistic knowledge and cultural expertise. Participants will be grouped into research teams, based on language, made up of linguists and Native community language researchers. Team members will actively work together, mentor one another, and share their expertise throughout the program and beyond.
The research teams will explore archives and museum collections at the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institution, with morning workshops on linguistics, language teaching and learning, archival research and language revitalization held at the National Museum of the American Indian. The two weeks of study will culminate in a research project and presentation that uses archival or museum resources for linguistic research or language teaching.
Beyond a general commitment to language learning from archival sources, participants must be willing and able to attend and actively participate in the entire Institute. Aside from truly unforeseen circumstances, it will not be possible to arrive late, leave early, or to skip the required workshops and events (though some workshops will be optional).
Participants will stay in the dorms at George Washington University, where they can network and study together in the evenings. BoL will pay for participants’ rooms, and partially subsidize food and travel.
BoL will accept 60 participants. This is a great opportunity to find and use archival materials to reclaim, learn, and teach indigenous languages, in the company of other like-minded people.
The 2013 Breath of Life Institute is funded by the Documenting Endangered Languages Program of the National Science Foundation. Partners include the National Museum of Natural History, The National Museum of the American Indian, the Library of Congress, The Endangered Language Fund and Yale University.

An Update from iLanguage Lab Team

As many of you may know, we are building a database for all of our Mi’gmaq data! To those who do not…we are building a database! 

The big picture:
We have been working with iLanguage Lab LTD to create an open source (free!), easy to use app that will run online and offline. There are plenty of database applications out there, but they tend to be difficult to use and either run online OR offline (not both). The idea is to create something that will be used not only by linguists, but by whoever is interested in doing language research (for non-programmers by non-programmers). Thus, we are making the code for it as intuitive as possible, which will be easy to change and fit specific needs in the future. More features and other info here.
What do we mean by database? It will essentially be like Word or any other word processor, but more organized. We will have sessions, where data from elicitations can be entered directly into a series of fields (orthography, gloss, translation, etc.). Researchers and consultants will be able to collaborate with each other on projects in groups and will be able to have discussions via comments. Ultimately, it will be a place to store all of the data collected thus far in a way that is accessible to those involved in the project but also secure (maintaining consultant confidentiality and reducing the number of errors that inevitably occur during research). 
Why is this useful? It is organized and accessible, which is great for people trying to learn the language as well as for project purposes. The flexibility of the program will also allow linguists and speakers together to decide who has access to what data.

The nitty gritty:

So far the project is still in its skeletal stages (literally..we are using a JavaScript framework called ‘Backbone’). We have been working on things that are mostly ‘under the hood’ (things like defining what ‘Users’ are, how we want things to look, etc.) In addition, we have been running tests to make sure that the code we are writing is working. You can check out the progress by installing a google chrome extension called “Drag and Drop FieldLinguistics” (name to be changed soon) in the Chrome Web Store. The goal is to have most of these tests done by the end of this week so we can start building up to the ‘View’, which is what people will actually see when they use the app. The Beta Testing Target is July 1st 2012, at which point we will actually test out the finished app. 

If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, please feel free to post them here (or if you are technically oriented, you can post on the github project page: https://github.com/mecathcart/Drag-and-Drop-FieldLinguistics/issues/milestones)! We really hope that this will be used by people who have previously found themselves frustrated by the obscurity of other web applications.