February 27, 2008

Recording Alaskan languages

UAF gets $1.2 million to record Native languages

Some are on the verge of extinctionA researcher at the University of Alaska Fairbanks has been awarded $1.2 million by the National Science Foundation to document the endangered languages of Alaska and other areas of the Arctic.

“If it’s ever going to be done, it has got to be done now,” said Michael Krauss, professor emeritus of linguistics at UAF. “Making a record, as much as we can, of a language while it is still there is vital to the future of the language and the people.”

On Jan. 21, Marie Smith Jones died at the age of 89. Her death, Krauss said, marked a “tragic new phase of history” in Alaska because she was the last remaining speaker of Eyak. The language may be extinct, but Krauss will continue his work to document it. The grant, funded from the National Science Foundation, will enable the detailed documentation of Eyak and 10 other languages. A number of linguists will be working with speakers of various languages from across Alaska and the Arctic.

February 22, 2008

Rescuing languages is impossible?

No Tears For Dead TonguesMany hope that we can turn back the tide with programs to revive indigenous languages, but the sad fact is that this will almost never be seriously effective. For an educated English speaker, learning to hold a conversation in French or Spanish isn't too difficult. But learning small, endangered languages is a much tougher business, because they are often as different from European languages as Berik.

I once taught a class of Native Americans their ancestral language in a summer program. This had the positive effect of helping them feel connected to their ancestors, but there was no possible way they were going to be able to converse in the language. Native American languages seem almost designed to frustrate someone who grew up with English. There are sounds it's hard to make unless you were born to them.

February 20, 2008

Crash courses in Quileute

Non-Native teaching Quileute tongue-twisting languageHe hasn't tried to make his students fluent in Quileute.

"We don't know of a single child raised speaking English who has learned a native language in a classroom," Powell said, despite educators' spending $2 billion on such efforts.

"Fluency wasn't one of the alternatives. It just wasn't achievable."

Instead, at the invitation of the Quileute Tribal Council, Powell and Jensen devised a series of intensive courses, four to five weeks long, held twice a year over two years.

The Quileute reached the halfway point of the curriculum last month.

What is emerging is a language of English mingled with Quileute words and phrases—greetings, common comments and "useful terms of various kinds," Powell said.

February 17, 2008

Reclaiming Algonquian languages

Mashantucket Pequots Seek To Reclaim, Preserve Language

Tribe's children are keys to reviving ancient tongue[T]here is an entire field of anthropology and linguistics that specializes in reclaiming indigenous languages. For the fourth time in eight years, those professionals will gather at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, starting Wednesday, to discuss everything from poetic form to developing an Algonquian dictionary.

For the first time, the tribe's children will be involved. Their artwork, featuring animals and the corresponding Pequot word showcased in pastel drawings and on clay tiles, will be on display.

The next major step for both tribes is initiating a major push to teach all tribal members the language. Jones said two dozen members have graduated from a beginner-level language course and several are in advanced-level courses.

The Mohegan tribe has also developed a phrase book and dictionary and is currently putting together language programs for adults and children.

February 16, 2008

Cayuga immersion school

School fights to revive native Canadian language Jamieson is a teacher at the Gaweni:yo High School, part of the same Cayuga language immersion program that also includes Jacobs' kindergarten class, as well as a parallel Mohawk language program.

"I think the language speaks to their spirit," Jamieson said of the 35 pupils at the high school, located about 70 miles (120 km) southwest of the Ontario capital Toronto. "They're able to grasp it and go with it."

While the linguistic knowledge of native speakers like Jamieson is irreplaceable, Gaweni:yo--which means "nice-sounding words"--is helping to slow the erosion of the Cayuga language, and young people are becoming a viable population of fluent speakers.

The most dedicated meet up regularly to chat in Cayuga and practice new words and some even use Cayuga as the primary language at home.

February 07, 2008

Arapaho immersion school

Reviving a dying languageTo save the language, the Council of Elders has completed a strategic plan, and has secured funding, to create a new Arapaho Immersion Grade School, set to open in August.

If the council succeeds in its efforts to revitalize the Arapaho language, new generations of fluent speakers will begin to emerge in a few short years, Redman said. And the language will not only survive, but the Arapaho people will gradually reclaim more of their traditional culture, and become, on the whole, a more vibrant and healthy nation.

The Arapaho Immersion Grade School aims to build upon the foundation laid by the preschool.

The school will teach all standard elementary school subjects, save English, with all instruction and interaction done in Arapaho. Children who attend the school will be effectively immersed in the language for eight hours at a time, every school day.

The students will receive an English education, Redman said--but after school in their homes, with tutors.

If everything goes as planned, the children will be completely fluent in the Arapaho language by the third grade. But the more modest goal set by the council for the first crop of children will be fluency for all students by the time they finish the sixth grade.
Tribe:  Plan follows successful modelsPrevious efforts to revitalize the Arapaho language have largely failed, but the Northern Arapaho Council of Elders believes it has developed a plan that will finally succeed, taking cues from recent, successful language revival programs in Hawaii and New Zealand.

In both cases, the Hawaiian and Maori languages were moribund before revival efforts.

The Northern Arapaho Council of Elders estimates that there are 225--maybe 230--fluent speakers of Arapaho left on the planet. Almost all are over the age of 60, and every time a fluent speaker dies, usually of old age, the number drops by one. The Arapaho language "is now in its 59th minute of the last hour of survival," the Council of Elders wrote recently.

The revival of indigenous languages is a worldwide movement, which has gained significant momentum over the past two decades. A few flourishing programs around the globe have helped establish something of a blueprint for success, the council believes.

Arapahoe School, which last spring completed the first year of a five-year federal grant to create a bilingual, English-Arapaho, program, also took inspiration from the successful Hawaiian and Maori language programs.

February 04, 2008

Utah considers Navajo classes

Utah educators want schools to teach Indians native languagesThe state Board of Education wants to offer classes in American Indian languages to Utah students.

The board is asking the Legislature for $275,000 to fund the classes, which it says have been shown to reduce the achievement gap between white and American Indian students.

"Take a look year after year at low test scores and a 50 percent dropout rate," said state Associate Superintendent Brenda Hales. "We have a whole generation of students we're going to lose if we don't start making immediate attempts to help them."

State test results show Navajo students trail white students by 45 percentage points in language arts, 48 percentage points in math and 57 percentage points in science.

In a San Juan School District pilot program where students were immersed in Navajo language classes, those gaps fell to 15, 23 and 10 percentage points difference, respectively.

February 02, 2008

More on the Odawa class

Odawa language course part of school's curriculumSusan Jacobs, principal at Harbor Springs High School, said she had recognized the need for such a course for several years.

"Native American students do not feel part of our system because very little about the system honors who they are," she wrote in a 2006 letter to the Harbor Springs Public Schools Board of Education.

She contacted Ray Kiogima, a tribal member and elder, about offering an Odawa language course at the high school. Kiogima had co-authored a book entitled, "Odawa Language and Legends," which translates more than 1,000 common words and phrases from Odawa to English.

Kiogima set up a meeting between Jacobs and tribal members.

"The tribe thought it was wonderful; everybody thought it was great," she said. "We wanted to give the Native American students exactly what we give to the white children. We wanted to do something within the curriculum that implicitly said, without saying a word, that 'You are just as valued as anybody else.'"