Compensation For Language Loss?

Conor Quinn recently brought to my attention an article by linguist Ghil’ad Zuckermann that proposes for compensation to be paid to Australian Aborigines specifically for language loss. He argues that such a scheme would “support the effort to reclaim and revive the lost languages”, helping to reverse, or at least hold off, the systematic linguicide that has been going on since the colonization of Australia. 

The proposed “Native Tongue Title” would parallel the pre-existing Native Title, which provides legal protection for Indigenous peoples’ land rights, and work in conjunction with existing grant schemes for language protection and revitalization. While Zuckermann recognizes the effectiveness of current language policies, he criticizes the fact that they are often subject to political ebb and flow and that different communities are forced to compete for the same limited resources.

Quoting Ken Hale, “when you lose a language, you lose a culture, intellectual wealth, a work of art. It’s like dropping a bomb on a museum, the Louvre.” A language protection policy with stronger foundations as suggested by Zuckermann could help to prevent such immeasurable loss. Of course, more money does not necessarily mean better language protection and the question of how to use available funds is of utmost importance.

Writing in a second language

A recent New York Times article brings up an interesting trend of authors writing in a second language. This is very common in the academic sphere as many academics chose English as the language for publication. However, in the literature sphere, writing in a second language is becoming more common. And it is not just English they are writing in.

The authors say a second language gives them a different perspective, some say even freeing them from the automaticism of a native language. They are able to play with words in ways that native speakers may not do. For example, Bosnian writer, Aleksandar Hemon, has invented new phrases like “clouds and cloudettes”.

Italian writer, Francesca Marciano, says about writing in a second language: “You discover not just words but new things about yourself when you learn a language…I am a different person because I fell in love with English…”

How does Mi’gmaq factor into this? Learners of Mi’gmaq should not think of their second language skills as a crutch. Rather, they can bring new and exciting flavour to the language they are speaking. There have been many successful writers and orators who use a non-native language as their language of choice. A second language can be a new and exciting medium of expression. Not only do you learn about another culture and history but you can also learn about yourself.

Elise, Mike, Erin, and Carol go to Listuguj

From April 16th to 19th, Elise, Mike, Erin, and Carol went to Listuguj to talk about the future endeavours of the Mi’gmaq Research Partnership. Mike collected Mi’gmaw data for his work with the help of many patient and diligent Listuguj Education Directorate collaborators. Elise, Carol, and Erin discussed further developments for digital supports, resources, references for the Mi’gmaw language classes taught at the LED. These digital supports will enable learners to practice Mi’gmaw remotely. Resources like the wiki page are readily available to those wishing to know more of the structure of the language. One digital support, CAN 8, has already been implemented in Mi’gmaw classes in the region. The McGill collaborators visited Sugarloaf Senior High School where CAN 8 is being used in the Mi’gmaw classroom. The students gave positive feedback about this program.

Carol will have the opportunity to work further on projects like CAN 8 as well as continuing to collaborate with LED teachers for course curricula documentation on site this summer. Elise will also be making trips to Listuguj working on digital supports as well as references and resources for learners and speakers alike.

In May, many members of the Mi’gmaq Research Partnership (MRP) will be going to the L’nui’sultinej Conference in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. There will be an hour long workshop on Student Perspectives on Mi’gmaq Language-Learning through Multi-Modal Teaching given by members of the MRP discussing how linguists, learners, and speakers can collaborate inside and outside of the language classroom. See Elise’s post for more information.

Aboriginal Languages Reclaimed By Native Gen Y

In this Huffington Post article, 25-year-old Clyde Tallio of British Columbia leads the reclamation of the Nuxalk language. He has been teaching Nuxalk at the community’s school for five years. He believes there is an ever increasing interest especially among the youth to learn Nuxalk.

Similar efforts have been happening with Squamish, also in BC. Finding that traditional language classes in school were not creating speakers, Dustin Rivers began hosting Language Nights. During these Language Nights, participants have an opportunity to practice and learn Squamish in a “informal, collaborative environment”.

22-year-old Dustin says: “There’s a lot of benefit in reclaiming our culture and saying for ourselves that we have problems, but we’re going to solve them and our culture and traditional values are going to lead us in finding these solutions.”

Anishnaabemowin Circle Learning Guide

I just came across this Learning Guide for Anishinaabemowin, which is a community-driven reference book about the language created by Maya Chacaby with Alex McKay and Keren Rice.

The Kikinowaawiiyemon, or Language teaching circle guide, was created after several years of research and consultation. Key to its development was the overwhelming demand by language learners and community organizations for Anishinaabe-based language teaching tools. In essence, the Kikinowaawiiyemon is a grammar structured around Anishinaabe worldview. (pg. 17)

It has some very accessible explanations about the structure of the language, balancing traditional/cultural ways of knowing with a minimum of linguistics terminology. Some examples are the explanations of animacy (pg. 19-20 using Anishinaabe terms rather than animate and inanimate), person (pg. 24 the diagrams for 1st/2nd/3rd persons), and transitivity (pg. 28). Not all of their explanations would work for Mi’gmaq (for example the Eastern/Western hemisphere distinction between Independent and Conjunct doesn’t happen the same way, pg. 27), but I thought the examples might be interesting or useful to anyone working on grammar lessons or on the wiki.

While writing this post, I also came across another paper by Maya Chacaby “A Report on Best Practice Models for Tertiary Indigenous Language Learning” which also looks very interesting.

Language Revitalization and Aboriginal Studies in Canada

Some information on aboriginal studies:

University of Victoria in offers a certificate in aboriginal language revitalization. The program includes courses on field methods, language and land, linguistics, and indigenous language and culture. The program is comprised of six core courses and three elective courses. Core courses are offered in the spring and summer.

Despite a faulty announcement that an indigenous studies program had been approved at McGill, it is still in the works. However, there is hope that there will be a minor available to students wishing to take this program in the next year. This minor can hopefully be developed into a major. It would be an interdisciplinary program.

There are many universities in Canada that offer aboriginal studies programs. They include: McMaster University, Trent University, and University of British Columbia.

Some website changes

There’ve been a couple small changes to this site–

1) anybody can now post a comment, but if they aren’t logged in then they have to do a CAPTCHA to be able to post. If you are logged in but the CAPTCHA is appearing anyway, please let me (Elise) know, and I can change the settings again to try to fix that.

2) only people with accounts can edit the wiki. To get an account, just email , and Gretchen will set you up with one!

3) we’re making a name for ourselves! Choose the name you like best, or suggest something new in the comments below.

ETA: The votes are in! This post declares us the Mi’gmaq Research Partnership, barring any strong objections.

What should we call ourselves?

Immerse yourself in the language

At the end of July, a small group of volunteers stepped forward and committed themselves to teach and learn Mi’gmaq through this method. It’s called the Master Apprentice Program. Although not yet formally implemented yet here in Listuguj,
they’re getting the feel for what it’s like. I’m sure at some point they’d love to see this grow into a full blown program. We’ll be meeting with the small group of volunteers this Friday to get some feedback.

Hear what participants from British Columbia had to say about their Master Apprentice experience after committing over 300 hours over three years, only speaking their First Nations language.