Lab Meeting (Nov 8, 2013)

The Montreal group has started having weekly lab meetings! We’ll be keeping track roughly of the things we talk about and posting them here, tagged “lab meeting”. Last Friday, among other things, we talked about…

  • Intro to Algonquian readings: Heather Newell and Lizzie Carolan were looking for some introductory readings on Algonquian linguistics. We shared a number of PDFs with them (no particular ones singled out as recommendations), and also pointed them to the project wiki.
  • Fixing up the wiki: Since we’ve got some fresh eyes on it, we thought it might be a good time soon to update the wiki! Mike’s going to be writing some sections in his dissertation that will serve as a quick Mi’gmaq Linguistics 101, and he was suggesting that as he writes those up, he can also do corresponding sections in the wiki.
  • Elise and Yuliya data chat: We’ve been doing joint sessions with Janine for the last couple weeks, and we wanted to talk with everyone about the things we were learning! We have a very rough handout that we discussed, but it was full of mistakes so we’ll hang on to it for now. The general gist was that we were looking at phrases ending in -ewei, -ewe’g, and so on, and seeing how they can look sort of like nouns but also sort of like verbs!

45th Algonquian Conference Highlights

Mi’gmaq Research Partnership members were well represented at this year’s 45th Algonquian Conference at University of Ottawa in the Canadian national capital. Here is the conference round-up:

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!

Mary Ann Metallic receives LSA’s Excellence in Community Linguistics Award

Mary Ann Metallic, Mi’gmaq language teacher at Listuguj Education Directorate, receives LSA’s Excellence in Community Linguistics Award. The LSA writes:

Mary Ann Metallic has done exemplary work to revitalize the Mi’gmaq language in her home community of Listuguj, Quebec. Her infectious passion for Mi’gmaq has led to the development of a successful teaching program, and her work with linguists has resulted in significant contributions to language documentation and linguistic theory.

The annual LSA meeting will be held in Minneapolis, MN January 2-5, 2014. Mary Ann and her daughter, Janine, will be traveling there. Congratulations Mary Ann!

FEL round-up (2/3): Keynote Speakers

[This post is two of three about the 2013 Foundation for Endangered Languages conference. The others will be linked to from this main post as they go up.]

The keynote speakers on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday were all phenomenal, providing a lot of insight from a wide variety of experiences.

  • Nuk’wantwal’ - Collaborative and Community-centered approaches to language vitalization from an Indigenous perspective. Lorna Williams (Canada Research Chair, Indigenous Knowledge and Learning, University of Victoria)
    • Nuk’wantwal’: to help one another, to ask to help. This talk was about her work and experiences in language revitalization. She spoke about…
    • biased & racialized demands for accountability in funding
    • countering colonial/majority language bias
    • the fact that people who come to help have differing goals from each other: “Outside experts can fragment communities.” “When we choose to help, we need to be responsible for the kind of help we give.” “Each of us needs to be willing to be changed.”
    • the importance of fighting against the age-based stratification that is so prevalent in Canadian society, making it so that we see a lot of our peers and very little of our elders and juniors. The Mentor-Apprentice program is one strategy useful in countering this stratification.
    • establishing speaker communities as safe spaces for the language
    • the language as the voice of the land
    • support for parents of children in immersion programs–children would learn stories in school, and go home to tell the same story to their families. This strategy helps ensure the language doesn’t get locked up inside the walls of the school, but lives throughout the community.
  • The Arctic Indigenous Language Initiative: Assessment, Promotion, and Collaboration. Lenore A. Grenoble (Inuit Circumpolar Council, Canada; University of Chicago)
    • the Arctic Indigenous Language Initiative (AILI) represents about a half dozen language families around the Arctic Circle. It has 8 constituent nations (voting members) and 6 Indigenous groups (permanent participants).
    • focus on networking and collaboration, Indigenous frameworks for assessing language vitality, and sharing data/resources
      • for Arctic communities, there are huge practical obstacles to long-distance collaboration! Even just organizing a conference call means juggling a huge number of different time zones. Getting together in person for a meeting requires even more incredible feats of organization. (Thank goodness for the Internet.)
    • current projects are prioritizing an Indigenous framework for language vitality assessment, as well as matters of language acquisition (a lengthy process) and language policy in each of the member countries.
    • In the question period, she also briefly discussed that an ideological shift away from monolingualism is necessary! Multilingualism is (and always has been) doable and is currently the best way forward.
    • there are two websites for the ALI: the older one is here and the new one (still under construction) is here. Please do check them out!
  • Protective effects of language learning, use and culture on the health and well-being of Indigenous people in Canada. Onawa McIvor (University of Victoria)
    • speaking to the strong link between culture and health (and land & health).
    • there is not a ton of research done on language as it interacts with health. the most prevalent themes in the existing literature are of Indigenous languages as barriers to health outcomes for monolingual speakers, making it harder to access medical services if you don’t operate in a majority language as well as your Indigenous one.
    • however, when you look at the positive themes, and allow for multilingualism in your conception of Indigenous language speakers, the positive links between language and health are very present.
    • Hallett, Chandler, & Lalonde (2007) look at language and suicide rates in British Columbia, finding that communities with high language knowledge also had low suicide rates. (PDF of that paper is here)
    • Ball & Moselle (2013) looked at the First Nations Regional Health Survey, and  Aboriginal Head Start. From the paper… “The purpose of the report is to bring together current conceptualizations and empirical support for the importance of language and culture in Aboriginal children’s wellness, education, and opportunities for quality of life.”
    • Kirmayer, Dandeneau, Marshall, Phillips, & Williamson (2011) talk about positive mental health effects from language, presenting a “social-ecological view of resilience” which integrates learnings from collaborative work with some Inuit, Métis, Mi’gmaq, and Mohawk groups.
    • she ended her talk with a simple recommendation for language revitalization: take it seriously. Things the government could do to help included funding language projects, and making Indigenous languages at least regionally co-official (as in the NWT). At one point she added, “The way that Aboriginal language revitalization is funded in Canada is nothing short of a disgrace.” Strong words, and a strong call for action!

Thanks for reading–I’m very lucky to have heard these speakers talk, and I wanted to share as much of that experience as I could. Please let me know if any of the links are broken!

FEL (1/3): Movie Night

[This post is one of three about the 2013 Foundation for Endangered Languages conference. The others will be linked to from this main post as they go up.]

I’m very much a movie person, so I loved having the chance to watch We Still Live Here/Âs Nutayuneân a second time. If you click the title, you can watch clips from the video. The whole film isn’t free online anywhere, but you can buy it on iTunes! The story of Jessie Little Doe-Baird and the Wampanoag who worked together to wake their language back up after 6 generations is purely inspirational, a total must-watch.

In the context of a conference that focused on “endangered” languages, it felt so hopeful and essential to get the reminder than languages don’t simply go extinct like species of plants or animals. Animals like the sea mink are never coming back, but thanks to historical documents, speakers of related languages, dedication, hard work, and collaboration, Wampanoag is being spoken again in Massachusetts. There were more than a few damp eyes in the room during our screening, let me tell you that.

Other clips we watched included…

  • Reflections Part One, by Jeff Bear (Maliseet). (Part Two is here)
  • Nikamowin (song), by Kevin Lee Burton (Cree)
  • A clip from Qanurli? (What Now?) (Inuktitut)
  • A clip from Takuginai (Look Here), aka the Inuit Sesame Street. The Inuit Broadcasting Corporation has been running it since 1986!! We were lucky to have two of the co-producers (Mike Kerr and Cynthia Pitsiulak) come and talk to us about the program, and about IBC in general. (I will admit I daydreamed for a few minutes about a Mi’gmaw Takuginai… The Listuguj Education Directorate definitely has the puppets, anyway!)

Foundation for Endangered Languages conference round-up

October 1-4 was the Foundation for Endangered Languages annual conference in Ottawa! Gretchen made a blog post about it while we were there, and did a lot of good work helping to fill up the #FEL2013 Twitter tag with some interesting quotes from talks. It’s a bit late, but I thought it would be nice to do a round-up post on the blog too, like this one I did after ICLDC this spring. I started writing it, then realized that it was getting tremendously long! So instead, I’ll make a bunch of shorter posts, and this central one will link to each of them in turn. So far there are three posts planned–hopefully I can keep it to that!

  1. Movie Night, particularly the film We Still Live Here/Âs Nutayuneân
  2. Keynote Speakers
  3. Sessions and Talks


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.

Foundation for Endangered Languages meeting

Today is the middle of the Foundation for Endangered Languages annual conference at Carleton University in Ottawa. I (Gretchen) and Elise are here already and we’ve met up with a few people (hi Hilary!) and we’ll be joined by Jessica and Hisako today. We’ve heard some great talks so far: you can see the program of events here.

This afternoon is an electronic poster presentation on Using Technology to Bridge the Gap Between Speakers, Learners, and Linguists, which will about LingSync and the LingSync Spreadsheet app, by Elise, Erin, Carol, Hisako, Alan, Jessica, and Gina, representing McGill, Concordia, and iLanguage Lab.

I (Gretchen) and a few other people are livetweeting on the hashtag #FEL2013, if you want to follow along.

Blog #1: Confessions of a Mi’gmaq Language Learner — Travis Wysote

By now most of my family, friends, and acquaintances are familiar with my views based on the things I write. I go on and on (and on and on) about the importance of maintaining environmental integrity in order to preserve our language and culture. And while environmental integrity is still a serious concern of mine, I wish to bring shift my attention towards language and culture.

 We Mi’gmaq have been resisting colonial encroachment for centuries. We have fought colonialism and assimilation into the Canadian body politic. We have fought and continue to fight the exploitation of our lands and resources – speaking up on behalf of all our relations. While the fight against these forces has many battlegrounds, such as the forests, the waters, social media and the courts, the fight to preserve language is within: within our Nation, within our communities, within our families, and within ourselves. If the integrity of our territory is diminished, our language and culture are diminished with it. I have always asserted this. But the inverse has recently been brought to my attention: without Mi’gmaq language informing our values, we will partake in the destruction of our own territory. Indeed, we are now beginning to see Mi’gmaq individuals and communities using their lands and waters in ways that our ancestors would find objectionable. This change in values towards the integrity of our territory is a reflection of the lasting legacy of colonialism and assimilation, only hastened by the loss of Mi’gmaq language speakers.

The result is that we Mi’gmaq must make that extra effort to keep the language and culture alive. The only thing holding us back is ourselves. And I understand if this is a touchy subject. I don’t want to put blame on anyone or make people feel shame. Quite the opposite – I want nothing more than to see Mi’gmaq who are beyond proud of who they are and what they have, can, and will accomplish.

I wish to speak to the importance of a recent accomplishment. From my perspective, the Mi’gmaq Language Summer Workshop on Tuesday, August 6, 2013, was an absolute success. The speakers were eloquent, a natural occurrence when our People speak from their hearts. The food was fantastic. 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.

There were two things about this gathering that really caught my attention. The first was witnessing the Mi’gmaq Immersion Nursery students singing traditional songs with Pu’gwales, a local drum group. Not only are these children basically the cutest things ever, it was more than heartwarming to see them take pride in their accomplishments as the next generation of Mi’gmaq speakers. The other thing that piqued my interest was the interaction with Elders during the discussions towards the end of the workshop. I was fortunate enough to have been a moderator/note-taker for a group of roughly a dozen Mi’gmaq women.

I learned a lot about how the Elders feel about the language and how the Youth have or have not taken to it. One discussion in particular touched me on a personal level. Without sharing any names, I would like to relate what I have learned with readers. One of my relations talked about how she was confronted by her daughter one day. The daughter resentfully asked the mother why she had failed to pass her native language onto her at a young age. The mother was left speechless. It caught me off-guard to hear her say such a thing because my experience mirrors that of the mother – not the daughter.

Readers who know me may find this strange because I’m only 24 years young, but take note of what I am about to say. It is my experience, and possibly that of other Youth, that Elders sometimes resent the Youth for not already knowing the language. So we have arrived at a situation where Elders sometimes feel like the Youth resent them for not teaching them the language, while Youth sometimes feel as if the Elders resent them for not having learned the Mi’gmaq language. The level of misunderstanding between these two groups is the result of a breakdown in communication. This realization has bothered me since.

While learning the language in the most practical sense is vitally important, learning to forgive each other inter-generationally is a form of healing that I suspect will facilitate language learning and retention. All I can say is that this language workshop was a step in the right direction and it is critical as Mi’gmaq that we organize and participate in more of them. I believe that the importance of the Mi’gmaq language is the one thing we can all agree upon. And while many of us are busy becoming experts in our respective fields, we can all become experts of the Mi’gmaq language together. An “expert” is defined, by the way, as someone who has spent 10,000 hours on a subject. If you were to take a one-hour Mi’gmaq class every day for a year, it would take over 27 years to “officially” become an expert. While I love my Mi’gmaq classes, I think we can all agree that 27 years is unrealistic.

It is incumbent upon us to seek out avenues whereby we can integrate language into our daily lives. We need to take this issue to formal avenues such as Chief and Council, but also realize that the responsibility lies with us to raise the issue in informal avenues. There’s many ways to do this. Allow me to humbly suggest one. It would be great if people could just greet each other in Mi’gmaq. Those who already speak might discover other speakers and network with them, but speakers might also discover that there are people (Youth, such as myself, in particular) who are trying to learn. Learners need to hear Mi’gmaq spoken to them. They need to be prompted to listen. They need to struggle to understand. They also need to be prompted to speak. This effort can only serve to strengthen our language, our culture, and the bond we share as citizens of this paradise we call Mi’gmagi. Wela’lioq!