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.
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
- 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?
Our latest venture has brought us (Alan, Carol Rose, Douglas, Lola, and Yuliya) 739 km southeast of Listuguj to Eskasoni, a Mi’gmaq First Nations Reserve in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Eskasoni is a model community where the Mi’gmaq language is alive and spoken daily between its community members. Leaving on Sunday, we set out to meet with community members and Mi’gmaq teachers who are helping preserve the language.
The first day we met with our host, Blaire Gould, the Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey Mi’gmaq Language Coordinator. Blaire Gould works with all programs related to education and the Mi’gmaq language. These tasks include working with Mi’gmaq online dictionary, leading professional development workshops, presenting on the Mi’gmaq language programs around the continent, coordinating Mi’gmaq language programs in and around Eskasoni and between all that she organizes the bienniel L’nuisultinej conference at St. Francis Xavier University.
Retired teachers (a.k.a. The Pioneers of the Immersion Program) Barbara Joe and Fran Young and former Mi’gmaq immersion teacher Mary Propser-Paul joined us over tea to talk about their experiences teaching Mi’gmaq.
We talked to them about our newest development, learnmigmaq quizlet, which they received with enthusiasm. Grade 1 Mi’gmaq immersion teacher Cindy Poulette, has been using a flashcard game in her classroom. The grade 1 children sit in groups while Cindy holds up a card with a picture on it. Whichever group gueses the correct Mi’gmaq word first receives a point. She liked the audio and image function that quizlet provides. Due to its versatile and accessible nature, quizlet can be used in classrooms via the internet and projected on a screen for such games. When offline, the quizlet app can also be accessed with a smartphone or tablet and any list that had been opened beforehand can be used. The quizlet interface can accommodate a game such as Cindy’s for classes of all ages and all levels.
Meeting at the Elder Centre, we talked with retired and current teachers about the state of the Mi’gmaq language in Eskasoni as well as the programs in effect and under development. Eskasoni has an immersion program up to grade 4. The immersion program is taught at the community school in Eskasoni where all courses are transmitted in the Mi’gmaq language. Grade 4 is the transition year where classes are bilingual English and Mi’gmaq to prepare them for grade 5 where all classes are in English.
In the afternoon we took a tour of Goat Island, a cultural walking experienced located in Eskasoni. We walked around the island which had various mini villages set up along the way, each one having different theme. The themes of the mini villages included basket-making, waltes (a traditional Mi’gmaq game) and replicas of wigwams.
Ke Kula Mauli Ola Hawaiʻi ʻO Nāwahīokalaniʻōpuʻu, or Living Hawaiian Life-Force School, is located in Keaʻau, Hawaiʻi. Elise McClay and Carol Little had the opportunity to tour this school on March 4th. The school is like any other school you would find in the United States, except that all courses are taught in the Hawaiian language. Oh, and not to forget that in the school playground are pineapple gardens and pigpens. This school teaches their students all subjects from Math to Social Studies to History to Japanese using the Hawaiian language. English, which is introduced in the 6th grade, is taught in English, however.
The school opened its doors in the 1980s. At this time, there were only a handful of speakers of the Hawaiian language and only about 45 under the age of 18. The Hawaiian language was falling into near extinction. Dedicated and devoted teachers promoted the usage of the Hawaiian language at this school. Now, there are around 300 students who matriculate there, many students having attended since kindergarten or pre-school. Throughout the hallways, students of all ages can be heard chattering in Hawaiian. The classrooms are full of posters and pictures with Hawaiian text. Some students of Nawahi now use Hawaiian at home as their primary language, after having learned it at school. Many students say they will raise their children in this language and hope that their children can also attend a Hawaiian language immersion school.
It was truly an enlightening and empowering experience to see such a successful language revitalization program. This does not happen over night, though. Many of the teachers have been there from the beginning and can attest to the many hardships they encountered and overcome which ultimately led to its success.
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.
- What does it meme? Lexicography for a new generation of language learners (Patricia Anderson, Tulane University)
- 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.
Elise, Carol, and Jessica set off a few days ago to present Student Perspectives on Mi’gmaq Language-Learning through Multi-Modal Teaching: A Community-Linguistics Partnership, a collaborative work by Elise McClay, Carol Little, Mary-Beth Wysote, Madeleine Metallic, Sarah Vicaire, Travis Wysote, Janine Metallic, and Jessica Coon. They presented this poster at the 3rd International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation held in Honolulu at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. The theme of this year’s conference is “Sharing Worlds of Knowledge”. People from around the world come to present what they are doing in the realm of language documentation and conservation. Researchers, linguists, teachers, even botanists and physicists, come to learn, share, and contribute their research and perspectives making this truly an interdisciplinary platform for language documentation and conservation.
This October was the 44th Algonquian Conference at the University of Chicago. Many of our Mi’gmaq Research Partnership members presented.
- Mike Hamilton presented “(Non-)Configurationality in M’igmaq”
- Elise McClay presented “Possessive paradigms in Mi’gmaq: alienability as syntactic proximity”
- Gretchen McCulloch presented “Slots or scope? Preverb ordering in Mi’gmaq”
- Erin Olson presented “Describing the accent system of Mi’gmaq”
- Carol Little and Elise McClay presented along with Listuguj community members Mary-Beth Wysote and Sarah Vicaire “Student perspectives on Mi’gmaq language-learning through multi-modal teaching: A community-linguistics partnership“.
- Conor Quinn presented “Listuguj Mi’gmaq: Variation and distinctive dialectal features.”
Alan Bale and Jessica Coon presented “Classifiers are for numerals, not nouns: Evidence from Mi’gmaq and Chol.” at the 43rd Northeast Linguistics Society (NELS) in New York, NY where Alan also had a poster presentation of “Agreement without AGREE: Disjunction in Mi’gmaq.”
More recently Mike and Gretchen both presented at The 2012-3 Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Indigenous Languages of the Americas (SSILA) in Boston, MA. Mike presented “Against Non-configurationality in Mi’gmaq” and Gretchen “Preverb Ordering in Mi’gmaq”
And stay tuned for Elise and Carol’s poster presentation of “Student perspectives on Mi’gmaq language-learning through multi-modal teaching: A community-linguistics partnership” at the University of Hawai’i’s at the 3rd International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation on February 28th.
It’s been pretty quiet on the blog for the last little while, but that’s not because we’re working less on the project! We’ve been working a whole lot on a big aspect of our Mi’gmaq Research Partnership: specifically, trying to get money.
This past month, we’ve been working on our application for a grant. It’s allowed us to get a good look at the different strengths and goals of this project, and we’ve begun to get very excited about the coming work! Turns out, we’re doing good work, and there are a whole lot of interesting areas for our project to grow and explore.
- LingSync application/Chrome extension. This is a really exciting application (at least, exciting for linguists) which will let us store, organise, and selectively share our language data (with encryption on all of it for the sake of our speakers’ privacy). Right now, we’re working with iLanguage on building on the existing code. On our to-do list is…
- Making a Conversation! LingSync expects people to enter data as single lines, unconnected to each other. What we’d like to do is add another level, which lets users add conversations, dialogues, and discourse so that the separate lines of data are linked to each other just like speakers connect to each other in real life.
- Mobile language-learning app. We’ve got (very rough) Android and Chrome extension prototypes for this already, and have a lot of ideas about where it’s going to go from here. The parts that we want to focus on the most are…
- its online/offline abilities, since a lot of language-learning apps work best online and have very limited offline capabilities
- its tool for also letting students build their own lessons! Most language lessons are “read-only”, and students are expected to consume what is put on their app and be satisfied with that. But what we want to do is let students create material with speakers in their lives, and tailor their app to their own needs.
- Master-Apprentice program. This is my favourite part of this project right now. It’s a wonderful opportunity for learners of Mi’gmaq to get some support and guidance, and partner one-on-one with fluent speakers. Again, get in touch with Vicky or look at an older blog post for more details about it!
We were well-represented at the 44th Algonquian Conference in Chicago this weekend, with a group talk by Carol, Sarah, Mary-Beth and Elise about the summer Mi’gmaq language course, in addition to individual linguistics talks by Mike, Elise, Gretchen, Erin, and Conor. For more details on the individual talks, check out the Research page, which already has abstracts but will hopefully have handouts soon.
It was a great trip and we met a lot of people. Here are some pictures!