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Fostering Emotional Resiliency in Language Revitalization: Training Insights from Social Work and Trauma Recovery

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Title: Fostering Emotional Resiliency in Language Revitalization: Training Insights from Social Work and Trauma Recovery
Authors: Lachler, Jordan
Snoek, Conor
Aschenmeier, Layna
Issue Date: 03 Mar 2017
Description: Recent arguments put forward by Whalen et al (2016) and Zuckermann & Walsh (2011) have suggested that language revitalization can be conceptualized as a matter of public mental and physical health for the communities involved. It then follows that the beneficial effects of being involved in language revitalization efforts should ideally be extended to as many people as possible. It can be observed, however, that participation in these efforts is frequently limited to a minority of community members. The reasons that underlie these low levels of engagement with revitalization are numerous and diverse, however we often find that reasons stemming from issues of mental well-being are among the most important and the most challenging to deal with. The issues are related to complex ideological and interpersonal challenges that individuals encounter in the process of (re)learning their language. Language purism, harsh reactions to learner mistakes, delegitimizing ideologies which establish an over-coupling of cultural belonging and linguistic competence -- e.g. "You must speak Xish to be a (real, true) Xian" -- and unrealistic expectations of success (or failure) are commonly reported challenges faced by language activists. Encountering these challenges can trigger a range of language-negative neurobiological responses. These include "fight", "flight" and "freeze" responses (Levine, 2015), all of which are well-known in the clinical literature on trauma recovery. These responses, and other people's reactions to them, can have a direct impact on the communities of practice engaged in language revitalization. Constructive responses can lead to improved well-being and increased emotional resiliency on both the individual and group levels, while negative reactions can often derail individual learners, or even undermine entire language programs. Despite their importance, these issues of mental well-being within the context of language revitalization work have often been overlooked in training programs. We argue here that training in language revitalization -- for academic linguists and community members alike -- should involve some core theoretical and practical concepts from social work, and specifically trauma recovery. These concepts can help in raising awareness and understanding of the range of emotional reactions that are often encountered in this type of work, and give people a set of basic tools for how to cope with them. In this presentation, we offer some specific suggestions for what that training could include, how it can be incorporated into existing training models, and how it can foster emotional resiliency among all parties engaged in language revitalization. References Levine, Peter (2015) Trauma and Memory: Brain and Body in a Search for the Living Past: North Atlantic Books: Berkeley California Whalen DH, Moss M and Baldwin D. Healing through language: Positive physical health effects of indigenous language use [version 1; referees: 1 approved with reservations]. F1000Research 2016, 5:852 (doi: 10.12688/f1000research.8656.1) Zuckermann, Ghil'ad and Michael Walsh 2011 ‘Stop, Revive, Survive!: Lessons from the Hebrew Revival Applicable to the Reclamation, Maintenance and Empowerment of Aboriginal Languages and Cultures’, Australian Journal of Linguistics 31.1: 111-127.
Appears in Collections:5th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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