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At the limits of language documentation: The future of language revitalization and the Tuscarora language

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Title:At the limits of language documentation: The future of language revitalization and the Tuscarora language
Authors:Hill, Montgomery
Contributors:Hill, Montgomery (speaker)
Date Issued:28 Feb 2013
Description:This talk discusses how a language revitalization program can confront the issue of incomplete language documentation and overcome the pressure L2 language learners face when attempting to acquire all the linguistic abilities necessary to become fluent. Specifically, this paper will discuss current and future efforts being undertaken by the Tuscarora language community to restore a thriving Tuscarora speech community that speaks an accessible and authentic form of the Tuscarora language i.e. the nostalgic reconstruction of the ancestral code (Woodbury 2005).

Currently, the Tuscarora language program is functioning as a small, co-operative group that employs modern linguistic methodology and L2 speaking abilities to work with L1 language elders. The primary impetus is to restore vitality and use of the language in both everyday life and ceremonial purposes, primarily as a matter of pride in cultural heritage (Mithun 2011). There are four remaining speakers of the language, though not always in good enough health to participate constantly with the program—continually keeping us aware of the state of the language, and to use our time with them wisely.

This paper discusses, in the context of the Tuscarora language revitalization, (1) what happens when language documentation is lacking, inconsistent, or contradictory? (2) authenticity (who is a speaker, the ‘proper’ form of the language) and identity (exploring the nature of connections to the language in the community), and (3) language planning and documentation efforts that are empowering (in the sense of Yamada 2007) in the face of these factors. These issues ultimately come together to bear the question: how will we know, if our speakers were to pass on, we are speaking Tuscarora?

Thus, the current problems facing the Tuscarora language program were primarily encountered in attempting to develop L2 skills to talk to L1 speakers, the teaching of those acquired skills and how to access the linguistic data necessary to be confident in making decisions about pedagogy. For example, standardization is vital for consistent learning and teaching, yet standardized forms may push out dialect differences or important features. The phonological features in danger of being pushed out are those which English L1 speakers are largely unfamiliar with, such as the nasal vowel, the Tuscarora ‘r’, as well as the speed of utterances. In addition, the lack of discourse and L1 speakers endangers the further understanding of discourse particles, as well as various metaphor-motivated structures in the verbal morphology, i.e. the body/mind/abstract trichotomy.
Rights:Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections: 3rd International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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