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Strategies for Overcoming Linguistic Genocide: How to Avoid Macroaggressions and Microaggressions that Lead Toward Indigenous Language Annihilation

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Family settings that value indigenous languages, cultures, and identities are ideal for language preservation for future generations. Government policies and education reform efforts are also helpful in indigenous language preservation efforts. Some government initiatives make every effort to preserve indigenous languages. In other contexts, there are intentional local and national efforts to annihilate indigenous languages. Regardless of the circumstance-intentional or unintentional-many indigenous languages worldwide are threatened with extinction or a linguistic and cultural genocide. This chapter outlines the vicious cycle role that microaggressions and macroaggressions play in perpetuating indigenous language stigma that in many ways leads to diminishing, devaluing, and eliminating indigenous languages. This vicious cycle is unfortunately irreversible in many instances; in others, there is still hope. Four strategies are introduced to avoid linguistic genocide: (1) parental involvement, (2) indigenous peoples involvement, (3) governments should play a leading role, and (4) leverage advances in technology to best meet the needs of language learners. Parents and indigenous peoples are essential in sustained indigenous language acquisition and preservation. Governments also play an important role in establishing and implementing policies that help support language acquisition and eliminate scenarios for micro- and/or macroaggressions. Finally, with current and undoubtedly future advances in technology, languages can be made accessible to learners of all ages, whether in the formal education system or in nonformal, business, and other settings.
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Chapter 7
Strategies for Overcoming Linguistic Genocide:
How to Avoid Macroaggressions
and Microaggressions that Lead Toward
Indigenous Language Annihilation
W. James Jacob
Abstract Family settings that value indigenous languages, cultures, and identities
are ideal for language preservation for future generations. Government policies and
education reform efforts are also helpful in indigenous language preservation efforts.
Some government initiatives make every effort to preserve indigenous languages. In
other contexts, there are intentional local and national efforts to annihilate indige-
nous languages. Regardless of the circumstance—intentional or unintentional—
many indigenous languages worldwide are threatened with extinction or a linguistic
and cultural genocide. This chapter outlines the vicious cycle role that microag-
gressions and macroaggressions play in perpetuating indigenous language stigma
that in many ways leads to diminishing, devaluing, and eliminating indigenous
languages. This vicious cycle is unfortunately irreversible in many instances; in
others, there is still hope. Four strategies are introduced to avoid linguistic genocide:
(1) parental involvement, (2) indigenous peoples involvement, (3) governments
should play a leading role, and (4) leverage advances in technology to best meet
the needs of language learners. Parents and indigenous peoples are essential in
sustained indigenous language acquisition and preservation. Governments also play
an important role in establishing and implementing policies that help support
language acquisition and eliminate scenarios for micro- and/or macroaggressions.
Finally, with current and undoubtedly future advances in technology, languages can
be made accessible to learners of all ages, whether in the formal education system
or in nonformal, business, and other settings.
Keywords Indigenous education • Indigenous language • Macroaggression •
Microaggression • Stigma
W.J. Jacob ()
University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
e-mail: wjacob@pitt.edu
© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015
W.J. Jacob et al. (eds.), Indigenous Education,
DOI 10.1007/978-94-017-9355-1_7
127
128 W.J. Jacob
Table 7.1 World languages by global region of origin
Living languages Number of speakers
Geographic region Count Percent In trouble Dying Tota l Percent
Africa 2,146 30.2 209 137 789,138,977 12.7
Americas 1,060 14.9 307 336 51,5109,910 0.8
Asia 2,304 32.4 685 178 3,742,996,641 60.0
Europe 284 4.0 49 48 1,646,624,761 26.4
Pacific 1,311 18.5 231 207 6,551,278 0.1
Tot a l s 7,105 100.0 1,481 906 6,236,421,567 100.0
Source: Lewis et al. (2013)
Many original aspects of indigenous culture and traditions have been lost as a result
of the oppression accompanied by colonization, modernization, and globalization.
For indigenous peoples, modernization often meant moving off of native lands,
learning the national dominant group’s tongue, and assimilating into mainstream
society. In so doing, hundreds of indigenous languages have disappeared, along
with their traditions. Many others are in trouble or dying. Table 7.1 portrays the
disparity that exists between the region of origin of living languages and the number
of speakers.
Although only 4.0 % of the world’s languages are spoken in Europe, 26.4 % of
the world’s total population speaks a European native tongue. This highlights the
vast influence European languages have on the world today and relative weakness
of the indigenous languages of the Pacific Region (with only 0.1 % of these less-
commonly taught languages spoken worldwide). Roughly 80 % of the world’s
906 dying languages are in three regions: 37.1 % are in the Americas, 22.8 %
in the Pacific, and 19.6 % are in Asia (see Fig. 7.1). The contemporary global
community is comprised of a spectrum of indigenous living languages still in use
today, which are spoken by the majority (as in China, Democratic Republic of the
Congo, Kiribati, Japan, and Tonga), roughly half (such as in Fiji), and in many cases
the minority (Australia, Taiwan, and the United States) of the total population (see
Table 7.2). Melanesia is home to approximately 19 % (1,319) of all living languages;
yet 190 of these are threatened today, according to M. Lynn Landweer (2012,p.
154).
Still, the term indigenous is very much a relative one that is often politicized
to the benefit of the dominant group(s) in power. “Conquerors and elites often,
overtly and covertly, impose their language on those inferior in power and prestige”
(Karttunen and Crosby 1995, p. 160). Regardless of the context, power seems to
be a central variable in determining indigenous sovereignty in the preservation of
languages, cultures, and identities (Alleyne and Hall-Alleyne 1982). This chapter
will focus on the imbalance that prevails among global and national dominant
languages and the thousands of indigenous languages that are threatened with
extinction. This destruction of indigenous knowledge and traditions is termed
linguistic and cultural genocide. Other synonymous terms exist in the literature,
including language death,language extinction, and linguicide.
7 Strategies for Overcoming Linguistic Genocide 129
Fig. 7.1 Breakdown of endangered languages by global region (Source: Artwork by the Author,
data adapted from Lewis et al. 2013)
Table 7.2 Indigenous languages in select countries
Living languages
Country Count Percent Indigenous Immigrant
Australia 245 3.45 214 31
Brazil 228 3.21 215 13
China 301 4.24 298 3
Democratic Rep. of the Congo 215 3.03 212 3
Fiji 21 0.30 10 11
Indonesia 707 9.95 706 1
Japan 16 0.23 15 1
Kiribati 30.04 2 1
Mexico 288 4.05 282 6
Mongolia 14 0.20 12 2
Tai w a n 27 0.38 22 5
Tonga 50.07 3 2
Uganda 43 0.61 41 2
United States 420 5.91 214 206
Vie tn am 111 1.56 109 2
Source: Lewis et al. (2013)
130 W.J. Jacob
The term genocide is used with the intent to highlight how central language is in
ecology, whereby if one’s indigenous language is restricted, forgotten, stigmatized,
or unlearned, it is in essence lost. And like the dinosaurs that once ruled the earth,
indigenous languages will one day be a thing of the past. Only those with skeletal
(written) remains will be recordable in historical archives. How many indigenous
languages have been or will shortly be lost with no written record of their existence?
The written word is the foundation for all sustainable languages. This is espe-
cially the case in contemporary times where relationships, networks, and linkages
are as easily made on opposite sides of the earth as was once only possible within
a few kilometers of walking distance. The languages with the strongest roots on the
Indigenous Education Tree are those with rich vocabulary that have been recorded
and which are accessible to the masses. Innovations in disseminating written and
spoken languages—not just through the invention of the printing press, movable
type, phonograph, and television in previous eras, but also via modern technologies
and the Internet—are essential elements that are helping to strengthen existing
languages and provide opportunities for less-commonly spoken ones to flourish.
Many contemporary indigenous peoples are trying to revive their native lan-
guages and traditions. Larger tribes have been able to keep many of their original
traditions and preserve their languages. Unfortunately for the smaller tribes, this
is not always possible and hundreds of distinct indigenous languages have either
disappeared because no one living can speak the language or so few people currently
speak the languages that they will be the last generations to speak the dying tongues.
Cultural and traditional losses accompany this linguistic genocide phenomenon that
is plaguing thousands of indigenous peoples.
Indigenous language destruction can be portrayed and experienced in many ways
that mirror a spectrum, ranging from nonaggressions to macroaggressions. There
are also many other less obvious or even subconscious types of indigenous language
eliminators that are based on microaggressions—a concept grounded in the critical
race theory literature (see for instance, Gordon and Johnson 2003; Nsubuga and
Jacob 2006; Solorzano and Yosso 2003; Villalpando 2003; Huynh 2012). These
can be more subtle, and they include verbal innuendos or negative body language
expressed toward indigenous peoples. Neil Harrison (2005) considers the many
different types of interactions that occur between indigenous peoples and non-
indigenous peoples as a “metalanguage” that are often unnoticed and unseen but
are real. “The [interaction and] relation is negotiated through a metalanguage that
is outside the conscious intentions of both participants. They are doing something
of which they are both unaware insofar as they are unconsciously reflecting on
how they position themselves through discourse for the other person” (p. 878).
Comments like “they” or “them” versus “us” place minority indigenous students
in a stigmatized state by forcing them into an “other” category (see Fig. 7.2).
Expelling a child out of school, or forcing them to attend boarding schools to
ensure they are prevented from speaking their indigenous language are examples of
linguistic genocide macroaggression policies and practices. Historically, linguistic
genocide often followed forced migrations of people due to emergency, conflict, and
post-conflict contexts. Some of these contexts included enslavement, war, extreme
7 Strategies for Overcoming Linguistic Genocide 131
Fig. 7.2 Indigenous Language Stigma Model
or prolonged periods of poverty, epidemics, natural disasters, and exposure to new
religions, races, and commuter inventions that would enable indigenous peoples
to expand their mobility and outreach (Hill 1983;Wurm1991; Landweer 2012).
Each of these contexts generally included some form of overt or covert macro- or
micro-aggressive repression of indigenous peoples speaking their mother tongues.
Contemporary linguistic stigma situations in many ways mirror the historical
ones listed above. They also include urbanization trends;1perpetuating negative
indigenous stereotypes through mass media outlets (via the Internet, movies, TV
shows, newspapers, etc.); and fueling a viscous cycle fad that learning one’s indige-
nous language is out-of-date or unnecessary for individual progress in mainstream
society.
Continuously belittling or treating indigenous languages as inferior to dominant
languages are forms of indigenous language microaggression stigma. Macroaggres-
sions include government policies of linguistic assimilation or preventing indige-
nous students from speaking their native languages in school and public settings.
These macroaggression policies and practices can have long-lasting implications on
a person’s self-esteem, reputation, and interactions with others. Increased exposure
and understanding of indigenous knowledges, cultures, and languages are important
predictors to supporting indigenous language recognition and preservation.
Indigenous language preservation is best achieved through support from families
and where possible, the formal education system. Children are best able to learn
to read and write when they begin to learn reading in their mother tongue. Yet
macroaggressions and microaggressions can exist within families as well (Nadal
1Urbanization especially impacts Indigenous migrant workers who are forced to seek out greater
economic opportunities away from their homelands, tribespeople, and family members who they
may converse with in their native language. In some cases Indigenous migrant workers leave their
families home; in others they bring them with them to the city where their children are prevented
from being able to speak their Indigenous language in school and among friends.
132 W.J. Jacob
et al. 2013). Some parents may entirely restrict the use of native indigenous
languages in their homes. In such macroaggression cases, these parents may feel that
in order for their children to succeed in their future career paths and life in general,
they will need to master the predominant national languages of business and society.
Indigenous children often join this anti-indigenous language acquisition movement
by choosing not to take courses in their native language when it is given as an option
in schools. This was a common response from administrators, teachers, and students
in a study we conducted among Native American students in the Seneca Nation of
Indians in New York (Jacob et al. 2009). Microaggression examples in this case
include students thinking, “How will learning my indigenous language help me to
pass a state, provincial, or national exam that is written in the dominant language?”
or parents discourage their children from speaking in their native languages because
they know that most high-paying jobs in the local and national economy will require
fluency in the dominant language. Even if positive government policies exist that
provide indigenous language instruction to children and youths in formal school
settings, self-perceived negative stereotypes that undervalue indigenous language
acquisition are strong factors that too often prevent parents and children from
choosing to teach and learn their indigenous language when permitted the agency to
choose.
Parents are the world’s largest language teacher force. While not all indigenous
parents speak their indigenous languages, they do nonetheless constitute the largest
group of indigenous language teachers on the earth. Parents must be involved
if indigenous languages are to flourish and be preserved. The first few years of
instruction in the mother tongue are critical to reading and writing proficiency.
Countless studies also note how children can learn non-native dominant national
languages (e.g., Chinese, English, French, etc.) after they first learn to read and
write in their own language (see for example Oxford and Leaver 1996; Cohen
2003; Bethel 2006; Taylor et al. 2008; Zhang et al. 2008; Nikolov and Csapó 2010;
Ball 2011; van Staden and Howie 2012). Many scholars take this a step further
to advocate that the optimal learning scenario is for indigenous students to first
learn reading in their mother tongue as a foundation and springboard for greater
success in a second language (Brock-Utne 2000; Myburgh et al. 2004; Kosonen
2005; Backman 2009; Cincotta-Segi 2011).
Governments are often strained by limited budgets to offer curricula in more than
one national language. In many cases, governments don’t have sufficient funds to
offer quality teacher training and instruction materials in one language, let alone two
or more. Thus a highest return-on-investment perspective in language instruction
is one that has dominated language instruction debate since the founding of the
Bretton Woods institutions. For countries like Zambia, where 53 languages are
spoken (Lewis et al. 2013),2the government supports where possible instruction
2Of the 53 languages Lewis and his colleagues (2013) identify, 46 are Indigenous. Some scholars
claim that as many as 70 distinct languages and/or dialects are spoken in Zambia (see Kashoki and
Ohannessian 1978; Bickmore 2007).
7 Strategies for Overcoming Linguistic Genocide 133
at the early-grade levels in seven languages in addition to English.3The Zambian
Ministry of Education, Science, Vocational Training, and Early Education policies
are favorable toward children learning to read, write, and acquire basic math and
science knowledge in indigenous languages, but finding and training qualified
teachers in these many indigenous languages is often difficult. This creates a gap
between policy (what is mandated by the government to be taught in schools) and
practice (what is actually happening on the ground). HIV and AIDS is another factor
that significantly strains already limited human resource limitations of qualified
teachers in Zambia and many other Sub-Saharan African nations (Jacob 2009).
Four Strategies to Avoid Linguistic Genocide
Below are four strategies to help avoid the genocide of indigenous languages. These
strategies can be implemented by all who care about the preservation of indigenous
people’s languages, cultures, and identities.
Parents Are Central to Indigenous Language Preservation
No success in language preservation can compensate for a failure to preserve native
languages being spoken in indigenous people’s homes. Parents and grandparents
are keystones to encouraging intergenerational language use among their posterity.
Families using indigenous languages in everyday normal conversations within the
home is the gold standard for language preservation according to Joshua A. Fishman
(1991). “The issue of language in education is a very real problem for many”
indigenous peoples (Bethel 2006, p. 37). Indigenous children often “speak a home
language that differs from the language of instruction in education programmes”
and yet many studies conclude that children learn best if their education instruction
begins in the early-grade levels with instruction in their mother tongue (Ball 2011,
p. 6). When indigenous children have opportunities to learn in their mother tongue,
their parents are also more likely to get involved in their education and engage with
their child’s teachers (Benson 2002; Kemppainen et al. 2004). Learning to speak,
read, and write an indigenous language is best accomplished within a safe and loving
environment. Who could better share their rich heritage of culture, identity, and
language than the parents of indigenous children? Parents are the central piece to
the indigenous language preservation puzzle.
3In addition to English, early-grade instruction is offered on a limited scale in the following
Indigenous languages: Bemba, Kaonde, Lozi, Lunda, Luvale, Nyanja, and Tonga.
134 W.J. Jacob
Indigenous Peoples Must Be Involved
If indigenous peoples are to avoid the death of their native language, culture, and
identity, they must take a proactive stance. Fence sitting will only offer participants
seats on a linguistic genocide stage. Action and engagement are required to
preserve what could otherwise be lost. All stakeholders should be involved in
the preservation process. Begoña Echeverria (2010) notes how too often, women
and children are neglected from involvement in curriculum design of indigenous
languages. This significantly hinders some of the key people who otherwise would
be instrumental in helping to promote language preservation. Involving inputs from
all stakeholder groups—women, men, and children; the young and the old; those
who live on indigenous lands and those who have migrated elsewhere; policy makers
and government planners; teachers, school administrators, students, and parents
of students; native speakers and non-native speakers—empowers the linguistic
preservation movement and instills a sense of ownership and unity among all groups.
Governments Should Play a Leading Role
Governments are in a pivotal position to either prevent or facilitate linguistic
genocide. There has been tremendous progress by several governments to reach
out to and preserve indigenous languages, cultures, and traditions. Recent positive
examples include the active role government has played in Canada, New Zealand,
Taiwan, and in the Sami region of Scandinavia. But several factors within and
outside of the control of governments often take precedence over what theoretical
stance governments play in policy making and implementation of those poli-
cies. Modernization, globalization, Californization,4McDonaldization,5and more
recently, Googlization6are paradigmatic influences that work in conjunction with
4This geographic state reference is used to denote the location of Hollywood in Southern California
and the dominant influence cinemas and the mass media play in perpetuating (negative/positive)
stereotypes, histories, and news stories about Indigenous peoples and languages.
5McDonaldization is a metaphoric term that has been used in multiple fields, and is used in this
case to refer to the homogenization of cultures, cuisine, ideas, education systems, and business
across the earth (see for instance Ritzer 1993; Slater 1999).
6Google has risen to dominate the Internet search engine world, and has expanded to where it
now serves as the primary source of information for billions of Internet users across the earth.
The term Googlization represents Google and all Internet search engines, which play a key role in
helping to preserve or hinder Indigenous languages depending on the quality, accuracy, and intent
of the information organized and filtered through the Internet. Governments often monitor and filter
communication, media, terms, and historical data on the Internet and must have the cooperation of
search engine companies in order to accomplish this regulation.
7 Strategies for Overcoming Linguistic Genocide 135
and often overshadow local and national governmental influence in support of or
against indigenous sovereignty. While there is no stopping each of these dominant
tidal paradigms from continuing to shape our world, there is a need for greater
understanding and efforts from lawmakers and government planners at all levels to
reach out and work with indigenous leaders in a mutually-beneficial and synergistic
way to preserve the rich diversity of each nation. This synergistic approach is more
effective in building unity within a nation than one that posits the government
against its indigenous citizenry by subjugating them with linguistic limits.
Perhaps the most important role governments can play in support of indigenous
language preservation is in creating an enabling environment that facilitates and
actively protects the sovereign rights to speak one’s own language. An enabling
environment provides a foundation for enhanced and sustained language preserva-
tion. The key features of a supportive and enabling environment include leadership
and advocacy, being able to address stigma and discrimination, planning for the
future, creating a supportive educational structure, establishing guiding policies
and legal frameworks, and committing appropriate resources to the indigenous
language-preservation cause.
Leverage Advances in Technology
Advances in technology can help in many ways to document and disseminate
indigenous languages on a scale previously unimaginable. Where fiscal limitations
in publishing and distribution have been hitherto significant deterrents in the
argument for language instruction, technology helps to level the fiscal playing
field so that indigenous languages can be made more accessible at reasonable
costs. Indigenous language lexicons, grammars, e-books, and online games are
excellent materials at any teacher’s fingertips so long as they have access to the
digital materials. While the optimal scenario for involving technology in indigenous
language instruction is to have access to the Internet, other modes of accessing
IT language materials area also available through CD-ROMs, DVDs, flash drive
storage devices, and increasingly through apps accessible through hand-held smart
phones and tablets. Research indicates a positive relation between access and use of
the latest technologies and language learning among children in schools (Román
Carrasco and Torrecilla 2012). User access to the Internet has increased at a
tremendous rate since the beginning of the twenty-first century. In Africa alone,
the number of Internet users increased from just over 4.5 million in December 2000
to more than 167.3 million in June 2012 (an increase of 3,600 %). All other global
regions increased at lower rates during the same period: Asia from 114.3 to 1,076.7
million users, Australia and Oceania from 7.6 to 24.3 million, Europe from 105.1
to 518.5 million, Latin America and the Caribbean from 18.1 to 254.9 million, the
Middle East from 3.3 to 90.0 million, and the United States and Canada from 108.1
to 273.8 million (Internet World Stats 2012). Access to the Internet will continue to
increase dramatically among indigenous peoples worldwide.
136 W.J. Jacob
The dominance of a handful of languages, and one in particular (English), are
the immovable foundation of the Internet, which serves as the greatest linguistic
technological invention that can help prevent or facilitate language genocide. While
the Internet and other modern technological advances are not an anti-linguistic
genocide panacea for all indigenous languages and contexts. And there is no
replacing the fact that language acquisition relies heavily upon social interaction
and engagement. Yet, Indigenous leaders would do well to advocate training their
youth to embrace the window of opportunity the Internet affords in language
preservation. In this way, advances in Internet technology can be viewed as an
indigenous language preservation tool, even an Archimedean lever, which can help
overcome many of the linguistic genocide macro- and microaggressions we see in
play throughout the world today.
Conclusion
Hundreds of evidences indicate how fast languages can vanish from the earth.
While causes of linguistic genocide vary depending on the time, circumstances,
and choices that indigenous peoples face, there are likewise many examples of
how to prevent language death from occurring. Some living languages only have
a handful of elderly speakers remaining. Others have hundreds or a few thousand
native speakers. Some governments have policies that promote indigenous language
use in schools and society; other governments seek to curtail or regulate how
non-mainstream languages are used. In this chapter, I have addressed how trends
toward linguistic genocide continue to advance despite many efforts to defray the
movement.
Indigenous language preservation faces many challenges in contemporary soci-
ety. Each of these challenges comes in the form of various macro- and microag-
gressions. Understanding how to identify and overcome these linguistic genocide
challenges are essential if we are to succeed. Four strategies of note can help
empower indigenous peoples in a sustained effort toward the preservation of their
native tongues. First, ensure that parents are involved in leading the education
process of indigenous languages. This begins in homes and spreads outwards into
schools, communities, and the global society. Second, language preservation cannot
be accomplished in a vacuum and must involve all stakeholders to ensure that it is
sustained. Indigenous peoples must lead this engagement initiative, but every effort
should be made to include all relevant stakeholders and government partners. Third,
governments should likewise take leadership roles in establishing enabling and
supportive environment by which indigenous languages can flourish. Finally, recent
advances in technology should be embraced to help facilitate the documenting,
teaching, and preservation of indigenous languages.
7 Strategies for Overcoming Linguistic Genocide 137
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