November 28, 2010

National Geographic's Enduring Voices Project

Enduring Voices ProjectLosing Our World's Languages

Every 14 days a language dies. By 2100, more than half of the more than 7,000 languages spoken on Earth—many of them not yet recorded—may disappear, taking with them a wealth of knowledge about history, culture, the natural environment, and the human brain.

National Geographic's Enduring Voices Project (conducted in collaboration with the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages) strives to preserve endangered languages by identifying language hotspots—the places on our planet with the most unique, poorly understood, or threatened indigenous languages—and documenting the languages and cultures within them.

Why Is It Important?

Language defines a culture, through the people who speak it and what it allows speakers to say. Words that describe a particular cultural practice or idea may not translate precisely into another language. Many endangered languages have rich oral cultures with stories, songs, and histories passed on to younger generations, but no written forms. With the extinction of a language, an entire culture is lost.

Much of what humans know about nature is encoded only in oral languages. Indigenous groups that have interacted closely with the natural world for thousands of years often have profound insights into local lands, plants, animals, and ecosystems—many still undocumented by science. Studying indigenous languages therefore benefits environmental understanding and conservation efforts.

Studying various languages also increases our understanding of how humans communicate and store knowledge. Every time a language dies, we lose part of the picture of what our brains can do.

November 26, 2010

Defending a thesis in Mi'gmaw

PhD student defends thesis in Mi'gmaw language, a York first

By Sandra McLeanWhile researching the historical rights of his First Nation’s community of Listuguj in the Gespe’gewa’gig district of the Mi’gmaw on the southwest shore of the Gaspé peninsula for his doctoral thesis, York PhD candidate Alfred Metallic came to believe there was something missing in what he was doing--an integral piece of a larger picture.

Not much had been written about that part of the Gaspé Peninsula and northern New Brunswick, the seventh district of the Mi’gmaw Grand Council, until Metallic turned his eye to it, but that didn’t explain the feeling he had.

It wasn’t until after he had written his comprehensive exams and was back in his community that he realized what was missing was the Mi’gmaw language--its connection to the spirit of the people, their ways of life and the land--and the way stories are presented back to the people, his people. Metallic’s dissertation was his story, and he needed to tell it using the oral traditions of his people in the Mi’gmaw language of his community and district, to share the knowledge and learning he’d accumulated, but also to help preserve his native language, which is at risk of disappearing.

“Our language, it’s how we maintain our relations and how we understand where we come from. It gives you access to your place in the world,” says Metallic. In the Mi’gmaw language, the action comes first, then the person. It’s the opposite with the English language.
Below:  "Alfred Metallic, centre, defending his dissertation."

November 25, 2010

Teaching Lakota as a second language

Lakota LLEAPs to the leading edge of second-language educationThe revival of the Lakota language opens a new chapter in 2011, as two institutions of higher learning in the Great Plains initiate undergraduate degree majors for teachers of Lakota as a second language--making Lakota the first Native American language to achieve this kind of professional recognition.

Beginning in January 2011, the University of South Dakota School of Education in Vermillion, S.D. and the Sitting Bull College Education Department, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, in Fort Yates, N.D. will each offer a two-year Lakota Language Teaching and Learning curriculum, as a degree major for a Bachelor of Arts in Education at USD or Bachelor of Science in Education at SBC.

This two-year curriculum will be taught, administered, and evaluated over the four-year grant period by LLEAP, the Lakota Language Education Action Program, developed by the Lakota Language Consortium to coordinate this effort by USD and SBC. This coordinated program systematically addresses the problem of how to generate high-quality teachers of an important Native American language--teachers who have deepened their own fluency in the language through college-level study, and who understand how a second language is taught and learned.
Lakota language gets a boost

Grant aims to help develop teachers, cultivate students

By Steve Young
Officials at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion and Sitting Bull College in Fort Yates see those possibilities, too. That's why they are developing bachelor's-degree programs to train teachers of Lakota as a second language.

The two schools have been awarded a four-year, $2.4 million grant by the Department of Education to institute the programs beginning next year and, within the initial four years, to educate 30 new Lakota language teachers.

The grant will pay for one instructor at each school--a Lakota linguistics expert for USD and, at Sitting Bull, an instructor specializing in second language methodology. The schools will be able to share the instructors, either through distance learning or possibly some travel, officials say.

The grant also will allow 16 Native American students at USD and 14 at Sitting Bull College to receive $2,000 a month for two years to pay their tuition, fees and living expenses.

November 24, 2010

Language whipped out of Indians

In Language Whipped Out of Indians, Melvin Martin explains how boarding schools literally did just that. No wonder Indians have suffered such a terrible loss of language.

November 16, 2010

Basket making in Abenaki

Language keepers

By Donna Laurent Caruso“L8dwaw8gan wji Abaznodakaw8gan” (The Language of Basket Making) is a newly available book (November 2010, Bowman Books, New York) by Jesse Bruchac with Elie Joubert and Jeanne Brink that presents a unique way to continue the revitalization of the Abenaki language.

Bruchac writes in the preface that this is “the first attempt at creating a ‘how-to’ manual within the Abenaki language.” Western Abenaki is translated into colloquial English in a series of steps with clear black and white photographs showing the process–and thus revealing the culture–of wood splint ash basket making in the Wabanaki culture.

November 14, 2010

Ktunaxa for Tots

New curriculum helps to promote Ktunaxa languageThe Ktunaxa for Tots curriculum is a new Ktunaxa language program designed by Paqmi Nuqyuk Aboriginal Early Years employee, Chelsea Nicholas. The program developed by Nicholas, in collaboration with the Little Badger's Learning Centre, was designed to help children under the age of six connect with their culture and language. It is at this age when children have the greatest capacity to learn something that they can carry with them the rest of their lives.And:Nicholas, a Ktunaxa Nation Member, has already seen the benefits in a very short period, with many children having already graduated from the eight session program. The curriculum covers topics such as body parts, colours, animals, numbers, seasons and basic expressions. Each session also includes a craft or activity that enhances the learning by making it fun.Below:  "Chelsea Nicholas, of Paqmi Nuqyuk Aboriginal Early Years, is holding a flash card, one of the many tools developed to support the Ktunaxa language."

November 10, 2010

Tomson Highway plays in Cree

Tomson Highway releases plays in CreeAward-winning Canadian playwright Tomson Highway is releasing two of his most famous works in his first language—Cree.

The Cree versions of the plays The Rez Sisters and Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing were officially released at a launch party at the University of Ottawa Monday night. Highway, 58, said a publisher, Fitzhenry and Whiteside, approached him earlier this year and expressed its interest in releasing the plays—both of which have been performed in English since the 1980s—in Cree.

Highway, who was born near Maria Lake, Man., said when he writes, the characters speak in Cree in his head but the words often come out in English or French.

"So actually the Cree versions that are coming out tonight are actually the original versions. As it turns out, the original ones that came out 20 years ago were the translation," Highway said.
Below:  "Tomson Highway says he hopes new Cree translations of his work will be taught in Cree language classes across the country." (CBC)