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Language revitalization as rebuilding a speech community

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Title: Language revitalization as rebuilding a speech community
Issue Date: 12 Mar 2015
Description: The guiding principle of the Shoshoni Language Project (SLP) is that revitalizing a language is rebuilding a speech community, a group of people characterized by frequent social interaction in and with a language (Gumperz 1972). Rebuilding the Shoshoni speech community is possible because there are physically-active, fluent speakers in most Shoshone/Goshute communities, many reservation children still hear the language, and most tribes are engaged in revitalization.

Since 2003, the SLP has been collaborating with individuals and tribes in Nevada, Utah, and Idaho on activities that have increased social interaction in Shoshoni by providing opportunities for people of all ages and levels of interest in their ancestral language. Our work includes legacy materials dissemination; Teacher Education Workshops; standards-based curricula and materials for secondary, K-6, and Pre-K programs; and a university-based summer Shoshone/Goshute Youth Language Apprenticeship Program (SYLAP).

While the main purpose of the Teacher Education Workshops is to train elders in communicative methods of language teaching and to familiarize them with the curricula and lesson plans the SLP has created, the Workshops also build a cohort of teachers who support each other. The elders who come to the Workshops are often accompanied by family members of different ages; this, too, builds a community of people who share an interest in their language.

The school-based language programs build the speech community in two ways: by connecting generations, as young people learn Shoshoni from elders, and by creating peer groups of young language learners. For example, in program year 1, some of the K-6 learners spontaneously used the language with each other at recess.

Finally, SYLAP, a residential program for high school students, focuses on the next generation of parents. Since 2009, it has created strong language-based bonds between the SYLAPers and elders, parents, and young children in home communities. Many SYLAP students return in subsequent summers to continue to study the language, working as Resident Assistants for the new SYLAP high school students or as interns for the SLP. SYLAPers produce Shoshoni-language materials such as a Talking Dictionary, children’s books, a video game, and a play. They communicate year round via social media—using Shoshoni to text, Facebook, and tweet.

Our current challenge is providing learning activities to improve Shoshoni language skills for advanced second-language speakers, such as returning SYLAPers, and for young adults able to participate in conversations in Shoshoni at home but not ready to do so in other settings.
Rights: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections:4th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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