Jon Reyhner and Louise Lockard, eds.: Indigenous Language Revitalization: Encouragement, Guidance & Lessons Learned.
Proceedings from the 2008 Stabilizing Indigenous Language Symposia (SILS) provide the content for this book edited by Jon Reyhner and Louise Lockard, both from Northern Arizona University's College of Education. The book provides readers a sampling of papers, keynote speeches, and presentations prepared by various authors for the fifteenth session of this annual language symposium. The editors note that their subtitle, Encouragement, Guidance & Lessons Learned, is taken from a keynote presentation given by Darrell Kipp, a Blackfoot language activist. The book covers a broad variety of topics and information that will be of interest to practitioners, researchers, and advocates of Indigenous languages. Each of the five sections of the book contains individually authored papers.
Section 1 begins with contributions from two veteran language revitalization activists, Darrell Kipp of the Blackfoot Piegan Institute and Margaret Noori from the University of Michigan. Each author shares firsthand experiences in language revitalization initiatives and witnessing the challenges that accompany community-based and home-based language teaching initiatives. Darrell Kipp recounts the problems and difficulties that had to be overcome over the course of twenty years of language activism in his community. Margaret Noori shares her observations of teaching and listening to her own children as they took "ownership" of their language learning, using it in different contextual circumstances within family and public settings. She provides insights into family-based efforts to teach the Annishinabewomen language, a task that is both challenging and rewarding for her and her family. Both accounts emphasize the importance of reinforcing such efforts using various means and strategies for encouragement and support.
Section 2 highlights another level of challenge in language revitalization work but from a more academic perspective. Four authors discuss various concerns, potential conflicts, and cautionary advice regarding the role of academics, namely, linguists, in Native language revitalization work. Margaret Speas, Keren Rice, and Lenore Grenoble, all noted linguists in their own right, pose important questions for consideration regarding the goals and training of linguists and how their expertise can best be applied to the work of language communities. Speas makes a clear distinction between the type of training in elicitation, documentation, and linguistic data analysis that most linguists are trained to do versus the pedagogical training needed for developing language teaching materials and language teaching. The authors' discussions point to the critical need for understanding the goals and responsibilities of linguistic fieldwork, and those who carry out such activities, in relation to the needs of local language communities. Paul V. Kroskrity expands the academic perspective further in his discussion about the ideological conflicts arising from community-level expectations and beliefs about language. As an "outside" language documentation expert, Kroskrity recounts his experiences working with several Indigenous groups, providing his perspective about the need to resolve such conflicts as part of the language renewal process.
Other dimensions of language renewal work are discussed in the book's remaining three sections. Section 3 includes firsthand accounts about ongoing issues and concerns evolving from revitalization efforts among the Maori, Hawaiian, and Alutiiq people of Alaska. Ongoing analysis of phonological changes among second-language Maori learners, for example, is discussed by Jeanette King, Ray Harlow, Catherine Watson, Peter Keegan, and Margaret Maclagan and the implications for the inevitable process of language change. Increased awareness among language teachers with regard to these changes is a key message pointed out by the authors in their discussion. King provides an additional account of case studies in language transmission in a second paper entitled "Language Is Life: The Worldview of Second Language Speakers of Maori." The research being conducted with adult Maori language learners and families explores the motivation for language learning and some of the more complex issues surrounding language transmission within the domains of family and home life. A paper prepared by Hawaiian and Alaskan authors Larry Kimura and Islik April G. L. Counceller recounts experiences in dealing with new word creation. The authors provide background information about the formation of their respective lexicon committees (the Hawaiian Lexicon Committee in the early 1980s and the Alutiiq New Words Council in 2007) in order to meet the expanding functions of Indigenous language use beyond traditional cultural contexts. Charged with the responsibility of developing new vocabulary and modernizing their lexicons to meet the demands of academic, scientific, and political domains, the authors share comparative examples of the processes each committee has utilized to develop and coin new words.
Section 4 includes the contributions of four authors who discuss the role of technology in language revitalization efforts. Their descriptions include initiatives taking place among the Ottawa and Chippewa, the Labrador Inuttitut, and Blackfoot language communities. Haley De Korne describes efforts to create a user-friendly multimedia dictionary for the Burt Lake Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. Joan Dicker, Ewan Dunbar, and Alana Johns discuss the development of a story database for intermediate language learners of Inuttitut in Canada. The process of documenting Blackfoot lullabies, preserving and using them as a teaching resource, is shared by Shirley Crow Shoe, a native Blackfoot speaker, and linguist Mizuki Miyashita. Candace Galla, a second-language learner of Hawaiian and now a graduate student at the University of Arizona, provides a general overview of technology applications among various Indigenous language communities, categorizing the different types of language materials production according to the level of technology used in their creation.
Although the editors feature the last section of their book as an assessment of language revitalization efforts, Melissa Borgia's paper more precisely addresses issues of language learning assessment, an important dimension of language teaching efforts in school settings. Borgia's discussion about the Seneca Culture-Language School in upstate New York illustrates the complexities of using and adapting existing mainstream standardized assessment protocols to determine the progress students are making in learning an Indigenous heritage language in a culturally focused education program.
Borgia's paper as well as those of all the aforementioned authors surface a critical need to continue to examine and understand more fully the nature of Indigenous language learning as well as the implications for maintenance and revitalization efforts and the restrengthening of Indigenous languages as viable spoken languages. These discussions will undoubtedly be revisited in future symposia and hopefully expanded through ongoing collaborative research with Indigenous communities engaged in such efforts.
Christine Sims, University of New Mexico
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|Publication:||The American Indian Quarterly|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2010|
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