A community reference grammar of Labrador Inuttitut

Johns, Alana
Nochasak, Christine
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This paper outlines a model of community collaborative research in which the linguist aligns documentary research with the needs and linguistic capacities of a community that is trying to reverse language shift. The linguist working on a grammar of the language responds to community topics and questions as they arise. At the same time, the writing of the grammar crucially involves members of the community as assistants. We discuss one project of this type, where the goal is the production of a grammar designed for use both by linguists and members of the community. This follows in the growing tradition of writing high quality reference grammars which can be used by speakers of that language (c.f. Valentine 2001). A community reference grammar for Inuktitut has as its primary goal that the grammar be broad ranging in topics, extending beyond the pages of inflectional paradigms which characterize most grammars of this language. Issues such as WH questions and how quantifiers are used will be included. A second goal is that the grammar be of immediate and direct use to the community. In order to ascertain that the grammar is readable and therefore useable by members of the community, the linguist must obtain feedback from language professionals (translators, language teachers, curriculum developers) within the community. This is done through the internet, where draft sections of the grammar are posted. Assistants have been hired to serve as readers and liaison to the other interested members of the community. This has two secondary purposes. Errors or omissions in the discussion are caught; the online drafts serve as a catalyst for discussion about language within the community and on the radio. A linguist is unlikely to be aware of what language professionals within the community actually need and want to know at any particular moment. In one recent case the linguist was asked to identify a set of elements. These elements are possessive suffixes which have a complex set of portmanteau features, including a) person and number of possessor, b) number of possessum and c) case. There is also some slight variation within the community. The question led to a draft entry on this topic, which is being read by the liaison assistants. In this manner, the construction of a reference grammar is one intersecting piece in the overall community effort to reverse language shift.
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