Our Mother Tongues Blog

The Indigenous Language Challenge

November 6, 2014 - 12:24 PM | by Our Mother Tongues

by Colleen M. Fitzgerald
Professor of Linguistics and Director of the Native American Languages Lab at The University of Texas at Arlington
Originally in the Huffington Post

People are posting videos where they take on dramatic challenges and tag others to join in. It's an energetic effort to raise awareness...to use Native American languages. The 2014 Indigenous Language Challenge is on. Comedian Tonia Jo Hall, a Lakota teacher in training, posted a video of her young daughter singing in Lakota. "Whatever your native language is, we challenge you to post a 10-15 sec video no matter what it is as long as you're speaking your language," Hall wrote. She's not the only Native American language activist, learner, or teacher to promote indigenous language use via social media video challenges.

Many of these videos come from adults who are second language learners. For many years, government-run boarding schools in both the U.S. and Canada took children from Native families. This had an immense effect on Native language acquisition. Children lost priceless years of daily home environments with parents and grandparents communicating to them in their language. Home is where children's language development thrives and grows, and where children acquire the many different speech forms that express the human experience. What gets lost? So much, from the everyday language of instructions, telling jokes, or a recipe, to the ritual language of prayers, ceremonial speeches, or sharing stories of the ancestors. For too many families, the home language shifted to English, to the detriment of Native American language and culture. Educational policies were one of the factors that accelerated shift to English, resulting in Native languages becoming endangered languages. 

Read the complete article in the Huffington Post

Add comment


This website was produced by Makepeace Productions in partnership with Cultural Survival and Interactive Knowledge
with funding from the Independent Television Service (ITVS) and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).
©2011 Makepeace LLC