Reclaiming, Revitalizing and Decolonizing Minority Languages

This month we published Rejecting the Marginalized Status of Minority Languages edited by Ari Sherris and Susan D. Penfield. In this post the editors discuss the themes covered in the book.

Our co-edited volume, Rejecting the Marginalized Status of Minority Languages, develops two themes, among others, within the overall context of language revitalization: human rights and decolonization. As such, it would be fair to place this book in a framework which is gaining attention: language reclamation. Where language revitalization focuses squarely on linguistic achievements, such as developing fluency, language reclamation factors in the community history and dynamics that have contributed to language shift. Wes Leonard (2019) describes it as a blend of language revitalization and decolonization. This makes a larger claim and increases the scope of language work for communities which struggle to balance educational efforts focused on their marginalized, often severely endangered, languages against the hegemonic forces still bent on colonization or political control and dominance.

These social forces exist in all parts of the world and, while community responses vary depending on their unique geopolitical settings, some common concerns emerge. Communities must decide how to strategically reclaim their language and consider all that this effort will entail. Among the issues to be considered are

1. How to secure a place for the language within the educational, social and political fabric of the community?

2. Who should teach the language – how, when and where?

3. Will local resources be developed, such as a community-based archive/library?

4. What technology comes into play, if at all, and for what specific purposes?

5. Is literacy a goal and, if so, how will that be achieved and valued?

6. Who assumes the authority for all of these efforts? Often one or two people emerge who spearhead the reclamation movement; some communities form committees or a group to place in charge.

7. How will language change be addressed?

8. Is language and cultural revitalization seen as an integrated activity?

9. Is there a place/need for ‘language activism’ – outreach through publicity locally, regionally, federally? And, can activism contribute in a concrete way to the creation of language policy?

10. Are there outside entities with which to form useful collaborations (this might be other communities, academic institutions, non-profit organizations).

Each chapter presents scenarios of language situations where steadfast educators, language practitioners and language activists are marching into the winds of more powerful and dominant languacultures (Agar, 1995; 2006). The book brings examples from a wide array of Indigenous languacultures, each situated in its own unique set of parameters to deal with the challenges. Included are case studies from teaching Kamsá in Colombia, Saami in Finland and Manx on the Isle of Man, to the challenges of the language regeneration among the Māori in New Zealand and the digital revolution in Indigenous language education of Taiwan. Cultural and language acquisition among the Wichi of Argentina is described, as is the challenge of literacy in the Safaliba language in Ghana, and the development of place-based language education in Hawaii.

Susan Penfield and Ari Sherris

References

Agar, M. (1995). Language Shock. NY: William Morrow.

Agar, M. (2006). Culture: Can you take it anywhere? International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 5(2), 1-12.

Leonard, W. Y. (2019). Indigenous languages through a reclamation lense. Anthropology News website, September 19, 2019. https://www.anthropology-news.org/index.php/2019/09/19/indigenous-languages-through-a-reclamation-lens/

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like A World of Indigenous Languages edited by Teresa L. McCarty, Sheilah E. Nicholas and Gillian Wigglesworth.

“What Happened to My Language?” Working to Reclaim Indigenous Languages

Earlier this year we published A World of Indigenous Languages edited by Teresa L. McCarty, Sheilah E. Nicholas and Gillian Wigglesworth. In this post Teresa and Sheilah discuss how they came to participate in the global movement for Indigenous language reclamation.

Sheilah Nicholas remembers the rude awakening when, as an adult, her mother said to her, “When you were a child, you were fully Hopi,” referring to the fact that she was a first-language speaker of Hopi as a child. Teresa McCarty, a White scholar-educator, remembers a parallel moment when a Diné (Navajo) elder, referring to the legacy of colonial schooling, said to her, “If a child learns only English, you have lost your child.” Reflecting on this, Sheila and Teresa identify the point when their life trajectories came together and they became participants in a nascent global movement for Indigenous language reclamation.

Sheilah: The very first time I thought about language issues was in a pilot study I conducted for your class at the University of Arizona. I wanted to understand how a K-8 community school on the Hopi reservation was implementing their Hopi language program. At the time my focus was on Hopi language and literacy and the role of Hopi education practitioners as literacy specialists.

Teresa: That would be about the mid-1990s. At that time I was working with Diné teachers at a community school within the Navajo Nation. The teachers were Indigenizing their literacy curriculum. I had been working with this community for many years and we were starting to see a noticeable shift from Navajo to English among the children entering kindergarten.

Sheilah: In 1995, while there were still a large number of Hopi speakers across the reservation, in this particular community school the Hopi education practitioners were also observing a visible shift to English among their students.

These experiences inform our work together and individually in the field of Indigenous language revitalization and reclamation. For both of us, an important site of this work was the American Indian Language Development Institute (AILDI) at the University of Arizona, an international program to train educators and language practitioners in strategies to revitalize and promote the use of Indigenous languages across generations.

Sheilah: I was a graduate student at AILDI and found myself unable to integrate Hopi into my assignment. I asked my instructor, Akira Yamamoto, “What happened to my language?” He said, “It didn’t go anywhere. It’s deep inside you—you just need to pull it up.”

Teresa: Akira Yamamoto, Lucille Watahomigie (Hualapai) and Leanne Hinton cofounded AILDI in 1978, with long-time AILDI director Ofelia Zepeda (Tohono O’odham) joining shortly after. I had been working with them for several years. Each summer the Institute brings together Indigenous community members and educators, and non-Indigenous allies, in collaborative partnerships around language revitalization, documentation, and outreach.

Sheilah: AILDI became the catalyst for my current work.

Our stories are part of a larger story told in the pages of our edited volume with Gillian Wigglesworth of the University of Melbourne, A World of Indigenous Languages. Gillian has worked for many years with Australian Aboriginal communities on the languages Aboriginal children in remote communities learn, the complexity of their language ecologies, and how these interact with English once children enter the formal school system.

Our book exemplifies a movement we characterize with the “4 Rs”: resurgence, reclamation, revitalization, and resilience. From Aotearoa/New Zealand, to South Africa, the Yukon Territory, Western Australia, Latin America, Ojibwe and Hopi in the USA, Aanaar Saami in Finland, Limbu in Nepal, Nahuatl in Mexico, and the “world of Indigenous languages” in cyberspace, every chapter – authored or coauthored by an Indigenous scholar-activist – illuminates the vitalities of this movement.

In gathering these accounts, we are honored to present the diversity of pedagogical innovations and the persistence of this movement. These are not accounts about languages as abstract entities to be “preserved,” but rather a dynamic display of Indigenous voices being heard.

For more information about this book please see our website.