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Developing metalinguistic competence at CILLDI

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Title: Developing metalinguistic competence at CILLDI
Issue Date: 12 Mar 2015
Description: In this methods paper, we exemplify how we work with students in CILLDI’s Community Linguist Certificate (CLC) program to help them uncover the morphosyntactic and discourse patterns of their languages. Many of these students are fluent speakers who may also be veteran language teachers with years of experience in the classroom but very little formal training. Others are young professionals recently tasked with developing language revitalization programming in their home communities. One of the primary challenges that our students face in carrying out language revitalization efforts is that the existing curricula available for most Canadian Indigenous languages focus on topics with minimal conversational value or cultural relevance (numbers, colors, animals, body parts) and burden students with decontextualized language activities (memorizing verb paradigms, translation exercises). Our experience shows that the best way to combat these shortcomings is to develop the students’ linguistic and meta-linguistic competence, by which we mean both an understanding of the lexical and grammatical patterns of one's language, as well as the ways in which those patterns can be meaningfully and systematically manipulated in context.

Most Indigenous language practitioners lack exactly this type of knowledge, not due to an inability to introspect about their own languages, but rather a lack of appropriate training that can capitalize on the insights they do have. As such, the linguistic analysis courses at the centre of the CLC focus on the guided use of linguistic discovery procedures in order to develop this essential type of linguistic and meta-linguistic competence in practitioners. Using this heightened awareness, we work with students to demonstrate how they can apply this new knowledge to re-conceptualize classroom language teaching, diagnosing the shortcomings in existing materials and approaches, as well as outlining practical steps for integrating these ideas throughout the community’s language revitalization efforts (language nest, school programs, adult language classes, master/apprentice programs, etc.).

The CLC courses try to keep the morphosyntactic complexity in perspective by focusing on how each language imposes its own grammatical and lexical filter on concepts and how these, in turn, relate to conventionalized uses of language across a range of communicative contexts (making statements, seeking information, expressing uncertainty, reporting information, etc.). With regular comparison and contrast with English and other First Nations languages, students develop confidence in their ability to deconstruct and reconstruct expressions, while producing a lexico-grammatical sketch of their own language.
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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