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The cultures of Native North American language documentation and revitalization

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Abstract

The reviewed books comprise an emerging ethnographic literature on endangered language documentation and revitalization in Native North America. Language loss and preservation are pressing concerns for tribal communities, galvanizing activists and researchers to develop classroom curricula and literacy traditions in hopes of producing new speakers. While the reviewed books show that this goal often goes unrealized, we nevertheless read them as grounds for optimism. Even if language revitalization rarely increases the everyday use of particular lexical and grammatical codes, it may succeed in accomplishing another important goal: facilitating indigenous communities’ efforts to create for themselves more meaningful contemporary cultures.

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... Some language reclamation projects have found success working exclusively with archival sources (Hinton 2003;ANA 2006;Baldwin & Olds 2007;Whalen et al. 2016Whalen et al. , 2018; 1 such work is a partnership-at-a-distance between the institutions that store and curate the materials, the researchers who deposit them, and the users of the materials. Archival materials are decontextualized (Schwartz & Dobrin 2016;Gaby & Woods 2020:e273;Dobrin & Schwartz 2021) from their original utterance, and depositors and archives both can do much to ensure that language collections are as robust and as useful as possible. In this paper, we report on the results of a review of language archives, with a concentration on sites and organizations with substantial holdings of digital data in and about endangered languages. ...
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Published through the Recovering Languages and Literacies of the Americas initiative, supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Today, indigenous communities throughout North America are grappling with the dual issues of language loss and revitalization. While many communities are making efforts to bring their traditional languages back through educational programs, for some communities these efforts are not enough or have come too late to stem the tide of language death, which occurs when there are no remaining fluent speakers and the language is no longer used in regular communication. The Maliseet language, as spoken in the Tobique First Nation of New Brunswick, Canada, is one such endangered language that will either be revitalized and survive or will die off. Defying Maliseet Language Death is an ethnographic study by Bernard C. Perley, a member of this First Nation, that examines the role of the Maliseet language and its survival in Maliseet identity processes. Perley examines what is being done to keep the Maliseet language alive, who is actively involved in these processes, and how these two factors combine to promote Maliseet language survival. He also explores questions of identity, asking the important question: “If Maliseet is no longer spoken, are we still Maliseet?” This timely volume joins the dual issues of language survival and indigenous identity to present a unique perspective on the place of language within culture.
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This research explores the development of landmark federal language policy in the United States: the Native American Languages Act of 1990/1992 (NALA). Overturning more than two centuries of United States American Indian policy, NALA established the federal role in preserving and protecting Native American languages. Indigenous languages in the United States are currently experiencing unprecedented language shift and NALA is a primary federal resource for Native American language programs. This research examines the local and national contexts and interests in which NALA developed from a grass-roots Native American language movement in the 1980s. The story of NALA stands as a powerful example of traditonally disenfranchised peoples transforming power relationships and creating language policy to support their language educaton practices and goals.
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The alarming projection that up to ninety per cent of the world's languages will become extinct by the end of this century has prompted a new sense of urgency among linguists and other language scholars to rush out and record the last utterances from the last speakers of ‘endangered languages’. As the last speaker utters her/his last words, the ‘expert’ is there to record this important moment and preserve it for all time. Among the benefits from such preservation efforts is the ability to play back the recordings at any time in any place. In popular media this process is described as ‘saving the language’ through recording and documentation. Unfortunately, these recordings are not living voices. Rather, they are zombie voices—undead voices that are disembodied and techno-mechanized. They are cursed with being neither dead nor alive. They become artefacts of technological interventions, as well as expert valorisations of linguistic codes. Expert rhetoric compounds the problem by the use of metaphoric frames such as death, endangerment and extinction. Metaphors not only frame discourses of language endangerment, but they also frame and influence actions and interventions. This essay critically evaluates the metaphors used by language experts to understand the unintended consequences for community members who are actively revitalising and reclaiming their languages. The essay also identifies key strategies used by community language activists to ignore existing metaphors, while creating new metaphors to potentiate new solutions to language death to promote emergent vitalities.
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Varying definitions of culture. The ethnologist's or culture-historian's use of the term. Individual culture as a traditional ideal. The general spirit of the "genius" of a national civilization; France and Rusia as examples. Genuine culture, as here defined, possible on all levels of civilization; culture may be but a spurious thing in the most sophisticated or progressive of societies. Efficiency no measure of culture. Maladjustments between cultural values and new economic conditions. Immediate ends and remoter ends of human activity. Tendency toward a gradual shift of emphasis, the immediate ends coming to be felt as means toward the remoter ends, which originally resulted from the play of surplus energy. Necessity of the psychological shift owing to modern man's inability to arrive at individual mastery within the sphere of direct ends. The relation of the individual to the culture of the group. A rich cultural heritage needed to enable the individual to find himself. The relativity of cultural values. The cultural utilization of the past. The self, finding itself in its cultural environment, must be granted a primary reality. The significance of art for culture. The danger of spreading a culture over a large territory. The independence of economic-political and cultural bounds. The intensive development of culture within a restricted area no bar to internationalism. The unsatisfactory condition of contemporary America from the point of view of a genuine culture.
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As an outsider, I would feel very uncomfortable if I were to advocate to a speech community that it ought to try to keep its language alive. It is entirely up to the community or to individuals within a community as to whether they want to put in the effort to develop new speakers for their language. Community members have the right to advocate within their community for the survival of their language; someone from outside the community does not. The right to language choice includes the right to choose against a language. This is the logical result of believing that maintaining an indigenous language is a matter of human rights, a belief virtually all language advocates must share. The outside expert’s role is to assist in providing the means for language survival or revival to motivated community members and perhaps to provide encouragement and a sense of hope that it can be done. (Leanne Hinton, 2002:151–52)
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This paper reports on findings from an interpretive policy analysis of the development and impacts of landmark federal legislation in support of Native American languages: the 1990/1992 Native American Languages Act (NALA). Overturning more than two centuries of federal Indian policy, NALA established the federal role in preserving and protecting Native American languages. Indigenous languages in the USA are currently experiencing unprecedented language shift. This shift is largely the result of past language education policy for Native Americans which included repressive policies intended to eradicate Native American languages. NALA as it supports and protects Native languages is a reversal of these past policies. Although some argue that NALA has come too late and is largely ineffectual (funding has been limited and most Native American languages are already in serious decline), others link NALA to the twin goals of enhanced tribal sovereignty and academic achievement. This is the first in-depth study that examines the development, implementation, and impact of this policy initiative.
Article
This article sketches the effects of 100 years of missionary presence on how people in the San Carlos Apache community regard language and the idea of a “language expert.” Evangelical Christian practice demands an Apache language emptied of all indexical associations with non-Christian Apache cultural practices. The reservation is home to perhaps two dozen missions and churches, each of which takes a slightly different view of the role of Apache language and culture in religious practice. In an exploration of the translation practices of Phillip Goode, a San Carlos Apache interpreter, and of early Lutheran missionaries on the reservation, it is argued that Bible translation is a key factor in shifting ideas about language as a purely referential system on the reservation. This shifting language ideology has repercussions on how people in the community consider the prospects for language revitalization. a