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A 45-year old language documentation program first aimed at speakers: the case of the Innu

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Title:A 45-year old language documentation program first aimed at speakers: the case of the Innu
Authors:Baraby, Anne-Marie
Junker, Marie-Odile
Mollen, Yvette
Contributors:Baraby, Anne-Marie (speaker)
Junker, Marie-Odile (speaker)
Mollen, Yvette (speaker)
Date Issued:04 Mar 2017
Description:Many minority languages are the subject of scientific descriptions made by and for linguists. We present here a 45-year retrospective of an original and successful long-term documentation program primarily aimed at speakers of such a language. The Innu (formerly Montagnais), Indigenous language of the Algonquian family is still spoken today in Quebec and Labrador (Canada) by approximately 12 000 people living in a dozen communities scattered over a large area. It is a traditionally oral language, alive but still fragile. Since the 1970s, linguists and speakers have drawn up projects in order to support speakers in their efforts to preserve their ancestral language. We show here how these projects have affected education (training of language teachers, creating teaching materials, developing a curriculum of language, various educational activities), literacy (development of one pandialectal spelling system) and linguistic description accessible to non-specialists (reference works design: dictionaries, grammar, conjugations guide, etc.). As a result, the Innu language is currently one of Canada's best documented Aboriginal languages, especially for speakers and anyone else interested in learning more about the language. We also show how in recent years the documentation of Innu took a more technologically-oriented turn, with new tools being available online and interconnected: pandialectal Dictionary, conjugations guide, spelling and grammatical forms, online lessons, oral history database, terminology development, and applications for mobile devices. Initially the efforts of Innu linguists and speakers engaged in various language-development projects were not part of a structured program of language documentation, as the concept did not really exist at the time. Also, the transition of a language community from an oral tradition to a standard form of literacy has not been smooth. However, looking back, we find that the experiments conducted with Innu can be a model on how to conduct a real linguistic documentation program first aimed at speakers. By sharing this experience, we hope to offer guidance and inspiration to other minority language communities of oral tradition.
Appears in Collections: 5th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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