Treasure Language Storytelling: Cross-cultural Language Recognition and Wellbeing

Perry, Robyn
Bird, Steven
Perry, Robyn
Bird, Steven
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The dominant “monolingual mindset” in many anglophone countries rewards the use of English only, at the cost of other languages, by assuming that competence in one language inhibits competence in another. This does harm to historically traumatized indigenous and immigrant groups, especially accompanied by racism, classism, and assimilation pressures (1). However, there is opportunity for building connections between communities by strengthening small languages and, we hypothesize, for increasing community wellbeing. The colocation of immigrant and indigenous communities in cities opens the possibility for building solidarity across language communities, and for sharing treasure languages with mainstream monolingual audiences. An upwelling of interest in the storytelling genre has created eager audiences, primed to listen respectfully and witness the storyteller’s transformation while sharing their story. Treasure Language Storytelling brings indigenous and immigrant people together to share stories in original languages, and then translate them into a language of wider communication such as English. A panel of language champions also discusses maintaining language in their communities. Speakers have typically never been publicly recognized as speakers of their languages, and report that it is extraordinary to be acknowledged. Some renew their resolve to speak their languages with their children. By-products include high quality video recordings of the stories, evidence of the storytellers’ bravery and skill, that add to the documented materials for the language. It’s been shown that knowledge of heritage language (2, 3), as well as participation in language revitalization work can serve as protective health factors. As we have refined Treasure Language Storytelling, we now investigate the degree to which this approach also can promote individual healing and community wellbeing. Audience responses like the following have further bolstered our hypothesis (4): "After the event, I could see the potential for healing. I thought I knew one of the storytellers, but I realized when he told his story I only knew part of him. I felt like I was taken back with him to his country, instead of him being in my world. There is much more to him than what I know of him here. That's where there’s value for community members and storytellers." —Andrea VanDerWerf, Melaleuca Refugee Centre staff We will present the results of our investigation into the impact of Treasure Language Storytelling on community wellbeing. The work will involve developing evaluation measures for storytelling events and piloting several school-based treasure language appreciation activities. (1) De Leo D, Ratkowska KA. Suicide in Immigrants: An Overview. Open Journal of Medical Psychology, 2013, 2, 124-133 Published Online July 2013 at (2) 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) (3) McIvor O, Napoleon A. Language and Culture as Protective Factors for At-Risk Communities. Journal de la santé autochtone, novembre 2009. (4) More about the events, including additional quotes, at
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