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Defying Maliseet Language Death

Emergent Vitalities of Language, Culture, and Identity in Eastern Canada

Bernard C. Perley

Publication Year: 2011

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.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press


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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

This book would not have been possible without the generosity and the encouragement of many people. I have had the great fortune to have outstanding teachers, friends, and family throughout the duration of my research and the writing of this book. The strengths and gifts that...

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Notes on Terminology and Orthography

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pp. xiii-xiv

This ethnography uses the terms aboriginal and its derivatives interchangeably with Native American and American Indian as the context of the discussion requires. The Canadian context favors aboriginal and aboriginality to refer to the indigenous peoples of Canada. American...

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1. The Specter of Language Death

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pp. 1-30

On the reservation they call it “Indian time,” and this was the perfect example. I was on time, but then again I had spent years in the white world. The notice said 2:00 p.m. at the school so I was there at 2:00 p.m. One by one people began to trickle in. Everyone on the reservation knew the meeting would not start until two-thirty at the earliest...

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2. “Tipping” toward Maliseet Language Death

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pp. 31-62

In the late nineteenth century the United States expansion had stretched out to the West Coast and the dream of transcontinental “manifest destiny” was finally fulfilled. In the taming of the West there was still some work to be done in pacifying hostile Indians. The military machine that was used to win the “war between the states” was turned to winning...

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3. Programming Language Maintenance

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pp. 63-84

The formal exercise of diagnosing the vitality of Maliseet language in terms such as those presented in the previous chapter conveys rational knowledge of the causes and factors that contribute to the phenomenon referred to as language death. The seeming objectivity and rationality of linguistic diagnostic analyses are not ideologically neutral. Experts...

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4. From Spoken Maliseet to Text

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pp. 85-100

One day I watched students at Mah-Sos School come into their Maliseet language class carrying pencils because they had just come out of the French class. Sue asked why they had pencils, and they responded by saying that they were told they would need pencils “because they...

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5. Elementary Language Curriculum and Practice

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pp. 101-120

Mah-Sos School was the elementary school on the reservation when I started my research. The school provided instruction to kindergarten students as well as students in grades one through six. During the years of field research, the school was located at the heart of the village next to the medical clinic and fire hall, adjacent to the ballpark...

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6. Death by Suicide

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pp. 121-148

The form of language death that best characterizes the Maliseet case for Tobique First Nation is death by suicide. I argue that the Maliseet language is undergoing a shift in ontological states from a living language to a language imminently to be dead. I do so for the following reasons. First, it recognizes the language experts’ “problematic” use...

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7. Language and Being in Maliseet Worlds

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pp. 149-183

The issue of identity has a vast literature in anthropology alone, and Native American articulations of identity have a rich history that goes back to time immemorial.1 Time and space being limited for this project, I confine my discussion to three key components of Maliseet identity that I found to be particularly salient for this ethnography. They are...

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8. Emergent Vitalities of Language, Culture, and Identity

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pp. 184-200

Linguists, sociolinguists, and other language scholars have published numerous comparative studies of endangered languages detailing common causes for the decline of minority and indigenous languages. My analysis of the Maliseet case at Tobique indicates that the language is indeed in serious jeopardy. Even though the many factors contributing...


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pp. 201-212


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pp. 213-224


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pp. 225-235

E-ISBN-13: 9780803238107
E-ISBN-10: 080323810X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803225299
Print-ISBN-10: 0803225296

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 1 map
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 859673006
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Defying Maliseet Language Death

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Tobique Indian Reserve (N.B.) -- History.
  • Tobique Indian Reserve (N.B.) -- Social life and customs.
  • Communication and culture -- New Brunswick -- Tobique Indian Reserve.
  • Language and culture -- New Brunswick -- Tobique Indian Reserve.
  • Language obsolescence -- New Brunswick -- Tobique Indian Reserve.
  • Passamaquoddy language -- New Brunswick -- Tobique Indian Reserve -- Revival.
  • Passamaquoddy language -- New Brunswick -- Tobique Indian Reserve -- History.
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