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Taking down the barriers: Accessibility by detechnicalization and minimalist presentation

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Title:Taking down the barriers: Accessibility by detechnicalization and minimalist presentation
Authors:Quinn, Conor
Contributors:Quinn, Conor (speaker)
Date Issued:12 Mar 2015
Description:For marginalized languages, barriers to entry are many. And incentives, pressures, and resources to reach real competence are few. In the case of linguistic re-awakening---for heritage communities having few to no native speakers---the oft-lamented "lack of interest" may actually be a calculation, one that assumes high entry costs to the language due to experiences of opaque or even exoticizing presentations to would-be learners.

This can come from linguistic support itself, which still too often provides access only through a dense metalanguage of "linguistese". Which then kindles a false conflict between analysis-heavy presentation vs. naturalistic full immersion---neither being a reasonable approach for the target audience: interested but busy adults. When learners' practical needs and intellectual frameworks are disregarded, the ethical good intent of researcher giveback gets canceled out, as materials provided are inaccessible and off-putting. Entry costs become too high, and potential learners are lost.

Drawing from 20 years of work with heritage learners of several Algonquian languages (primarily Penobscot, Passamaquoddy-Maliseet, and Mi'gmaq), we examine two ways to lower these costs: detechnicalization, and minimalism in presentation. Both inform promising innovations in how we present three traditionally quite technicalized and intimidating linguistic features---

(a) polysynthetic stem-building and complex argument-indexing head-marking
(b) obviation
(c) ±"animate" gender contrasts

---to English-based learners. Looking at each in brief, we derive and describe some general principles by which linguists and language teachers can rethink their technical understandings and keep content presentation to a lesson-by-lesson learnable minimum.

Detechnicalization, for example, finds and teaches from real conversations whose core communication hinges on the meaning contributed by a target grammatical pattern itself. Now tools rather than rules, these patterns become core vocabulary, named by concrete real-use exemplars instead of abstracted terminology. Minimalist presentation replaces the comprehensive (= a whole inflectional paradigm at once) with the less-is-more: starting just with 1s vs. 2s forms, as the minimum for grasping the pattern itself, yet already enough to apply successfully in a simple face-to-face conversation.

Together, these approaches create engaging and accessible learning materials for learners and native speakers alike. And they radically change the calculations of how much beginners get out for what they are asked to put in---which can decide whether they join the speech community, and whether they stay.
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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