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We Are Our Language

By Barbra A. Meek

Publication Year: 2010

For many communities around the world, the revitalization or at least the preservation of an indigenous language is a pressing concern. Understanding the issue involves far more than compiling simple usage statistics or documenting the grammar of a tongue--it requires examining the social practices and philosophies that affect indigenous language survival.

In presenting the case of Kaska, an endangered language in an Athapascan community in the Yukon, Barbra Meek asserts that language revitalization requires more than just linguistic rehabilitation; it demands a social transformation. The process must mend rips and tears in the social fabric of the language community that result from an enduring colonial history focused on termination. These "disjunctures" include government policies conflicting with community goals, widely varying teaching methods and generational viewpoints, and even clashing ideologies within the language community.

This book provides a detailed investigation of language revitalization based on more than two years of active participation in local language renewal efforts. Each chapter focuses on a different dimension, such as spelling and expertise, conversation and social status, family practices, and bureaucratic involvement in local language choices. Each situation illustrates the balance between the desire for linguistic continuity and the reality of disruption.

We Are Our Language reveals the subtle ways in which different conceptions and practices--historical, material, and interactional--can variably affect the state of an indigenous language, and it offers a critical step toward redefining success and achieving revitalization.

Published by: University of Arizona Press


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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xxiv

It’s difficult to imagine growing up without a language. Is it analogous to growing up without parents or grandparents? Is it the loss of something near and dear to our hearts, or is it something simply never realized, like growing up without siblings or pets? My mother never seemed to bemoan...

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pp. xxv-xxviii

While singular on cover and in copyright, this text has been composed through the labors and the support of many. Though brief, this is my heart-felt attempt to thank all involved for their commitment to this project and their faith in the author. For funding and support in the United States, I am indebted to the following institutions and departments: the Wenner-...

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1. Ruptured: Kaska in Context

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pp. 1-40

In a small town located near the border of British Columbia just inside the Yukon Territory, a cluster of people converged on the First Nations community center, a single-story, one-room log-cabin-type building with a ramp leading up to the two front doors and steps leading to a side entrance. The building itself was located at Two Mile Village, a First Nations neighborhood...

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2. Endangered Languages and the Process of Language Revitalization

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pp. 41-55

Loss and revitalization have become enduring themes for indigenous communities around the world. In native North America the loss is articulated through discourses on language. Loss stems from a forced assimilation that targeted indigenous languages through institutionalized education. Such colonial practices severely altered the sociolinguistic landscape. While historically...

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3. Growing Up Endangered

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pp. 56-107

It was late May. The snow had finally melted; the ground had firmed up, and driving the Al-Can Highway was no longer a harrowing, lifethreatening experience, at least not until the tourists in their huge RVs would begin to arrive. The monthly Kaska language workshop was in progress, day three, and directionals were the topic of the day. Crowded into...

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4. Manufacturing Legitimate Languages

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pp. 108-135

Educational contexts are prime sites for analyzing the construction of authority in relation to language and circulating (language) ideologies and discourses that support these constructions. Many previous studies have focused on the role the matrix, or dominant, legitimized language plays in these and other institutional settings (see Bourdieu 1977; Errington 1998; Fabian 1986; Heller and Martin-Jones 2001; Jaffe 1999; Kroskrity 2000;...

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5. “We Are Our Language”: The Political Discourses of Language Endangerment

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pp. 136-154

It was the middle of a snowy Yukon winter, near the shortest day of the year. The thermostat recorded a temperature of 250 degrees outside, and if it weren’t for the snow reflecting the illuminated night sky, it would be pitch black. As I wrote out verb paradigms for Kaska, the radio news broadcast reported that another First Nations person was stabbed to death (by accidentally falling on a knife repeatedly), another guy froze to death on his way...

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6. From Revitalization to Socialization: Disjuncture and Beyond

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pp. 155-164

Having journeyed through various “gaps” in one deforested but regrowing sociolinguistic landscape, where have we ended up? We have seen not only that language revitalization is a tremendously political endeavor, as has been pointed out by Michael Walsh (2005), but it is a significantly social one in other respects as well. The fact that a student’s utterance, such as ked¯a (moose), may at the same time refer to a moose, index an important ...

Appendix A: List of Acronyms

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pp. 165-166

Appendix B: Transcription Notation

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pp. 167-168


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pp. 169-176


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pp. 177-198


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pp. 199-204

E-ISBN-13: 9780816504480
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816527175

Publication Year: 2010