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My Plains Cree (nêhiyawêwin) language classes

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Title: My Plains Cree (nêhiyawêwin) language classes
Authors: Thunder, Dorothy
Issue Date: 12 Mar 2015
Description: I would like to share some of the experiences I have had as a Cree speaker and language instructor who is now becoming a Cree linguist. CILLDI’s Community Linguist Certificate program has provided me with much insight about my language. As a fluent speaker who also studied Cree at the university for 4 years, I was not aware of the importance of morphological structure, meaning, and sentence patterns of nȇhiyawȇwin. The Cree courses I took focused on formal grammar and the rules and functions of nouns, verbs, and sentences in isolation. With the CLC courses, I began to think deeply about how rich nȇhiyawȇwin is and started to understand the complexities of the language and how everything is interconnected. In the CLC classes, we examined word formation patterns and explored ways to coin new words without losing the trail of meaning. For example, in Cree the word for ‘green’ is askihtakwâw and is connected to askiy, the word for ‘mother earth’. In English, what is the word ‘green’ connected to? I believe that in learning Cree, one needs to make these cultural and environmental associations. The CLC has helped me better understand the relationship between Cree words and Cree language and culture.

In this paper, I describe how the CLC has affected my teaching of Cree at the University of Alberta. I will use the example of an intensive Introduction to Cree class in an immersion setting. This is a 7-day, all-day course for adult beginners offered through CILLDI. I use story-telling (both traditional Cree stories and familiar English fairytales) as the starting point for lessons on pronunciation, word structure, and word order in sentences. By basing my lessons around stories, I can use a lot of visual props and repetition, which help my students understand what I’m saying. With stories and simple commands and questions based on the expressions in the stories, I can keep my utterances whole and constantly contextualized. nȇhiyawȇwin remains the focus, not a set of lessons based on greetings, lists of object names, or TPR-commands that wouldn’t be very appropriate with adult learners. After working through individual stories, I give my students a written and glossed version of each story to reinforce the utterances that they have heard. I do not arrange the lessons from simple to more complex words and sentences, but take the language as it comes in the stories and build what I do in the classroom from there.
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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