Pedagogy and practice: Grammatical analysis in a revitalization project

Garrett, Andrew
Garrett, Andrew
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The Yurok Language Project at UC Berkeley engages in grammatical and text analysis based on legacy documentation (from 1901 onward) and recent fieldwork, and provides support of various kinds for the language education activities of the Yurok Tribe. Yurok is an indigenous language of northwestern California with fewer than half a dozen first-language speakers, all elderly, and an increasing community of second-language speakers who have acquired some communicative competence through tribally-sponsored community and school language classes. In this presentation, I describe some of the activities and challenges associated with providing grammatical support for indigenous language pedagogy. One notable aspect of the California language context is that tribes now have the legal right to certify indigenous language teachers, and are thus actively devising teacher assessment procedures. This intersects with centralized curriculum development so that a graded pedagogical scheme is needed, with specific linguistic concepts associated with specific levels of certification and instruction. For linguistic research at Berkeley, this has meant prioritizing analytic work on concepts at the earlier certification levels and deferring work on topics (in some cases linguistically more "interesting" topics) at more advanced levels. For example, research on the most frequent tense/aspect markers has been essential for ensuring basic competence in their distribution, while the equally interesting system of paratactic discourse markers remains understudied. A striking feature of the current Yurok language setting is that language revitalization is so successful in the community, and so many young people are learning to use and teach the language, that they now mainly learn from one another rather than from the very few remaining first-language speakers. (Most elder speakers who were closely involved with language teaching have passed away.) In some cases the communicative practice of younger speakers has introduced obvious calques on English morphosyntax for example, in the tense/aspect system, a preverb expressing perfect aspect is now widely used in all present-time situations as an equivalent of the English present tense. Such changes offer an interesting challenge for grammatical descriptions that are meant to be useful to learners and teachers but at the same time based on the practice of first-language speakers who lacked such English interference effects. Both points will be exemplified with detailed discussion of the tense/aspect system, how it has functioned over the last century, how it can be described grammatically, and how it is changing in current usage.
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