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!

This entry was posted in Workshops and Conferences by Elise. Bookmark the permalink.
Elise

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.

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

  1. Above, you pointed out something interesting that I, as a teacher (BA, Spec. ECEE), always knew to be true: those who are strong in their own language will be strong in others they learn. Furthermore, bilingual children become strong in both languages (with education and practice). Such students will also pick up other languages with greater ease.

    As an adult who is fluent in 2 colonial languages (Eng & Fr.) I was wondering if what is true for children is also true for adults. As I begin learning Mikmaq (my husband, who is Russian & bilingual & my son who is also bilingual are also very interested) I wonder if I will learn readily. Mikmaq does not have its roots in either Latin or Germanic languages, so there are few familiar linguistic patterns or touch-stones.
    What do you know about adults attempting to learn this language for the first time?

    My maternal grandfather was a fluent speaker, but he was a ‘polyglot’ who spoke 6 different languages. Mikmaq was his mother-tongue, but he never taught his children (my mother was one) anything other than English as English was perceived to be the language of opportunity & advancement. I would like to reintegrate the language into my family. I will also be teaching a class about Mikmaq culture at Greenfield Park International Elementary School, since so little about First Nations people is taught in the curriculum, outside of the context of colonization & then, exclusively a series of distortions recounted from the Quebecois’ perspective only.

    Thanks for reading this! -Tracy.

    • Hi Tracy! Thanks for commenting.

      It’s very interesting to hear that your experience as a teacher backs up the research of Lori Morris & Marguerite MacKenzie–always gratifying to see real life and research feeding into each other and validating each other! And your class that you’ll be teaching at Greenfield Park sounds very valuable, I hope it goes well. :)

      As for the question of adult language learning, I’m not an expert by any means. It sounds like you’ve probably already covered the most important part, which is motivation. In my own experience, I’ve found it’s much harder to learn languages as an adult–for one thing, we expect ourselves to be fluent communicators, and fumbling for words and concepts can feel very frustrating, to the point of humiliation. We’re less patient with ourselves as adults than we were as kids. So to make up for this, it really helps to have a strong motivation to learn the language, something you can look at when you’re feeling down and say “this is still important and I CAN still do this!”

      When I learned the Mi’gmaq that I know (I’m still very much a beginner!) I also had the benefit of a very patient teacher (Mary-Ann Metallic, and Janice Vicaire, too) and very enthusiastic fellow students. One of the most important parts of that, I think, was just having a teacher who was keen to get us speaking to her and to each other. Breaking past that “I can read it but I don’t think I can say it right” barrier was really important for me!

      I hope some of this is helpful to you! Anyone else? Tips, advice, knowledge to share?

      • Language-learning as an adult is harder. Mi’gmaq-specifically it is even harder because most Mi’gmaq speakers also know English. It’s wonderful though when you find patient speakers who are willing to help you along in your learning process. This includes accepting the fact that conversation will go slower because it not your first language. Staying in the target language is very important. Practicing often is also key!

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