We want to say “you’re welcome”: case studies of early revitalization

Carson, Erica
Jeannette, Kayleigh
McCullough, Teddy
Kaplan, Max
Sbordone, Jimmy
O'Conner, Catherine
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In situations where a language is in the very earliest stages of revitalization, it is important to customize materials for groups that want them, in ways that honor their goals. For example, young people often want materials built around phrases that are socially useful, that build solidarity and cultural identity (e.g. phrases such as thank you, you’re welcome, how are you?, where are you from?, I’m sorry). Preschool teachers want basic vocabulary and ways to address the group (e.g. everyone stand up! everyone sit down!). Tribal elders may want more emphasis on traditional materials. Yet each customized goal brings its own challenges and opportunities. In this paper we present two case studies from Northern Pomo (a dormant language of California), one about designing materials containing socially useful phrases for young people, and one about designing materials for Head Start teachers. As others have observed (e.g. Rotet 2014, Zuckerman & Walsh 2011), smaller languages being revived may not have equivalents for all desired words or phrases. This may call for borrowing or coinages, each of which entail complicated cultural and linguistic decisions. The first case we’ll present (design of materials to introduce socially useful phrases to young people) involves a collaboration between a linguist and Pomo language teacher in designing materials and presenting them to focus groups (held in Fall 2016) with young people from the tribal community. The second case concerns design of materials for Head Start teachers. Here the challenge is trying to make the materials educative for children, but also useful for teachers as a source of easy exposure to the grammar of the language. For example, the pre-school context is well-suited to pointing out the difference between imperatives (sit down!) and declaratives (he is sitting), as well as simple questions. But here too, coinages departing from the traditional may emerge. These cases are relevant to the ICLDC theme of wellbeing: Author 1 has taught both Head Start students and young people in Northern Pomo tribal communities. The youth culture camps she ran were supported by suicide and drug abuse prevention grants to the tribe. She has specific knowledge of how engagement with the language supports the development of a positive cultural identity. Author 6 has spent several decades describing the language and oversees development of a website that houses these materials. Their collaboration provides a context to examine the multi-faceted challenges of bringing language materials to life. Rottet, K. J. (2014). Neology, Competing Authenticities, and the Lexicography of Regional Languages: The Case of Breton. Dictionaries: Journal of the Dictionary Society of North America, 35(35), 208-247. Zuckermann, Ghil'ad and Walsh, Michael 2011. 'Stop, Revive, Survive: Lessons from the Hebrew Revival Applicable to the Reclamation, Maintenance and Empowerment of Aboriginal Languages and Cultures', Australian Journal of Linguistics 31.1: 111-127.
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