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Alaska Native languages hit the road to international convention in Kansas

Posted: August 26, 2012 - 12:00am

University of Alaska Southeast Alaska Native Languages faculty Alice Taff and Marsha Hotch presented at the Institute on Collaborative Language Research, at the University of Kansas June 18-27.

Taff and Hotch presented three sessions: “Steps in Language Documentation,” “Tlingit Language Resources” and “Ethics and Community” which were attended by the more than 80 conference members. Taff and Hotch also taught a 4-day class, “Blurring the Lines” which shared information and skills between Academia and Indigenous community language scholars and activists. Community language activists from indigenous communities in Morocco, Kenya, Nigeria and North America attended. Speakers and signers representing languages as diverse as Amazigh, Uda, North American Indian Sign Language, Nez Perce, and Ekegusii joined forces to raise awareness of their language communities and the endangered status of their languages.

Many have been doing this kind of work for a long time, but this meeting of minds trains a new generation and passes on how-to documentation knowledge from different parts of the world.

“My grandmother chose not to teach me Kickapoo purposefully. She said, ‘You don’t need to know that’ because her hair was washed with kerosene and her mouth was washed out with lye soap for speaking to her sister in our language. She didn’t want that to happen to me,” said JoAnne Grandstaff.

“Often a key factor is that parents have the false feeling that the many languages a child might learn will inhibit their knowledge of English,” said Kennedy Bosire, director of the Ekegusii Encyclopedia and a language activist from Kenya. “To change this, we are here for a good purpose and we want the world to know.”

“For us, it’s not a question of the parents consciously choosing. The only language spoken in school is English.” said Mfon Ibok Asanaenyi, a barrister and an Uda language expert from Nigeria. “Also, the area is so impoverished and there is a movement to the urban area and they switch to the language of the urban area and then their indigenous language is lost.”

Also from the Uda community, Prince Chris Abasi Eyo said “All stakeholders in the project of preserving the diverse human cultures through language revitalization have been asked to re-energize their language activism through participatory advocacy.”

CoLang 2012 focused on language documentation and revitalization. Held in 2010 in Eugene, Ore. and in 2008 in Santa Barbara, Calif., the conference unites linguists and community language activists to attain their common goals. Taff and Hotch have attended all three conferences.

“At this meeting, we’re taking this diverse knowledge base, scientists and community activists, and we’re seeking ways to transform the world through language activism, in the best possible way,” said Phillip Cash Cash, a Cayuse-Nez Perce speaker and scholar.

The workshop consists of two weeks of instruction in intensive short courses, followed by a month-long course which implements that instruction into collaborative practice by documenting one of three different endangered languages.

“We can’t imagine the world with one vegetable, one fruit, and language is part of the nature of the diversity of the world,” said Yamina El-Kirat.

See the CoLang Institute on Collaborative Language Research website at http://idrh.ku.edu/colang2012/

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