Language Revival in Oregon – The Siletz

The New York Times has recently written an article about the revitalization project amoung the Siletz tribe in Oregon entitled Tribe revives language on verge of extinction. They are incorporating language programs in school, teaching Siletz as a foreign language, for members of the community to learn. There is also a Siletz talking dictionary! (like the Mi’gmaq one!!) Their dictionary has attracted attention from users from related language groups as well as users all around the world. It has become more and more popular for youngsters to learn because not only is it part of their Siletz identity, the language also “can sound pretty cool” with its many sounds not found in English. Bridging technology and tradition, the Siletz are creating successful language resources.

The value of revitalizing a language

This morning, I came across a few quotes that really spoke to me.

“Language is the expression of our culture and our land. We cannot have one without the other”

This summer, I have the privilege of working alongside language instructors and linguists. When I heard of the efforts being made to document and develop tools to help revitalized our language, I offered my services to help out in any way I can to bring recognition of language and its importance to the greater community. When I first started, I wanted to quickly introduce the various programs and services that Listuguj currently has to offer, but the question always remained.. “Why” should people learn? What will it do for our people and our community if we had the entire community speaking Mi’gmaq? Would love to get this discussion going in the community. I believe that creating a powerful “why” will help inspire and motivate ourselves to help revitalize and to keep our languages alive. What’s your “why”? :) Hope everyone has a great day!

A few quotes on the importance of keeping our Indigenous languages alive

Language is our soul.
(Aunty Rose Fernando, Gamilaroi Elder, 1998)

Language is the expression of our culture and our land. We cannot have one without the others. We cannot describe our culture and our land if we do not have language.
(Queensland Indigenous Languages Advisory Committee, 2006 )

Recognition of Indigenous languages and support for Indigenous language programs stand alongside land rights, health, justice, education, housing, employment and other services as part of the overall process of pursuing social justice and reconciliation in Australia.

One might go so far as to say that without recognition of the Indigenous people and their languages, many other programs will be less effective, because this lack of recognition will show that the underlying attitudes of the dominant society have not changed significantly.
(Dr. Graham McKay. Edith Cowan University. The Land Still Speaks. 1996.)

Endangered Languages: from Documentation to Revitalization

The 4th 3L International Summer School will be in France on July 1st this year. It is hosted by French group L’equipe langues en danger – terrain, documentation, revitalisation (LED-TDR). The main focus of this Summer School will be on documenting endangered languages as well as their revitalization. The program for the summer school can be viewed here. It starts the first of July and goes until the 13th.

LED-TDR has been doing field work on a number of endangered languages. On their website there are many different resources that are useful for the documentation and revitalization of endangered languages. Information is available on sociolinguistic profiles of endangered languages, presentations on a variety of subjects concerning endangered languages, and various downloadable posters on endangered languages.

Canadian Indigenous Language and Literacy Development Institute

I had an interesting conversation today, with a professor of education from the University of Alberta, specializing in language and literacy learning (okay, it was my mother). She mentioned a program that the university runs, called the Canadian Indigenous Language and Literacy Development Institute. It is an annual program aiming to help  “First Peoples speakers and educators in endangered language documentation, linguistics, language acquisition, second language teaching methodologies, curriculum development, and language-related research and policy-making.” Sounds good to me!

Has anybody had any experience with CILLDI? Does it sound like something we’d be interested in?

Language Restoration: Ojibwe in Minnesota and Wisconsin

I was recently talking with my parents about the work we are doing here in Listuguj, and it reminded them of the documentary First Speakers: Restoring the Ojibwe Language that they’d recently seen on television in my hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota. It covers the strategies used and challenges faced in the immersion programs at Niigaane Ojibwemowin Immersion School, Leech Lake Resevation, Minnesota and at Waadookodaading Ojibwe Language Immersion Charter School, Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation, Wisconsin. I’d highly recommend it to anyone who has an interest in restoring endangered languages.

Passive Speakers/Fluent Comprehenders/Receptive Bilinguals

Another of the talks that I found interesting at OWNAL was about people who understand their heritage language but don’t speak it, and talking about some of the reasons why this happens and how to make people feel more comfortable speaking. This is a really common situation for a lot of minority languages, and there are several names that people use for it, including passive speakers, fluent comprehenders, or receptive bilinguals.

One of the suggestions that I remember from the question period is that passive speakers may not feel comfortable speaking around Elders or other fluent speakers because they’re worried about speaking incorrectly, so there are people in one community who have organized small groups of people around the same age and comfort level who get together and talk in their language without anyone else around to get intimidated by.

I also found this very long but interesting article (it does have a table of contents though!) about heritage language learners of Spanish taking Spanish classes and the effects of their attitude towards learning and their identity. It’s not Mi’gmaq or even an Algonquian language, but some of the material is pretty general.