Grammatical analysis and language pedagogy: Challenges and opportunities in Navajo linguistics

Fernald, Theodore
Fernald, Theodore
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This talk is about interactions between cultures – Navajo & non-Navajo, scholarly & pedagogical, theoretical & descriptive – in research and applications of linguistics. I report on work by Navajo linguists and colleagues in the Navajo Language Academy (NLA) / Diné Bizaad Naalkaah. The NLA has held summer workshops on Navajo linguistics every year since 1997. Members of the NLA held similar workshops during the 1970s. Participants in the workshop include professional linguists, some of whom are native speakers of Navajo, professional language teachers, graduate students in linguistics, and occasionally undergraduates. A range of interests and needs are represented in these groups and after some experimentation, the NLA has settled on a workshop format that is successful at offering a lot to everyone. To address the needs of the language teachers the NLA always offers a course in the structure of the verb and a course in how to teach verbs to students. The structure course usually is based on Faltz (1999) or Williams (2009), although sometimes is focuses on using the Young & Morgan (1987) dictionary. The pedagogical course is usually based on Wallace, Holm, & Silentman's (1997) Situational Navajo. The linguists who attend the workshops give colloquia on developing research that, in addition to serving the needs of the presenters also help get other participants interested in scholarly work. To help with the development of prospective linguists the workshop always offers a course is one of the basic sub-fields of linguistics. Beyond the courses and colloquia, there are discussions about language planning, the needs of teachers, and topics such as what kinds of reference works would be useful to develop. The workshop is a bridge between linguists and language teachers. Linguists make an effort to relate their often-esoteric work to language teachers, thus developing an immediately practical use for it. At the same time, language teachers are gaining skills in the linguistic analysis of human languages. We discuss some challenges that can arise and ways the NLA has tried to get beyond them. For example, research on verb morphology requires attention to small parts of words. This kind of attention has sometimes made people feel that the language was being dissected in a disrespectful way. I discuss ways in which we have tried to show respect for the beauty of the language while also attending to the needs language teachers have for understanding the function of each morpheme.
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