fwd, Re: Elder Speaker issues

Terry J. Klokeid klokeid at VICTORIA.TC.CA
Thu Mar 20 22:39:17 UTC 2008


Gunalchéesh, háw'aa, doykshn, dogidinh, qag^aasakung, quyana, thank  
you, Terry, for raising this issue on this forum.

Probably each of us can remember an occasion when a listener sneered  
at our wrong word choice or pronunciation; that felt bad. How about  
having your hand smacked with a ruler for speaking the only language  
you know; how about having your mouth washed out with soap for  
talking with your friends in your language; how about being stuffed  
in the coal bin on your 7th birthday in your white shirt on your  
first day of school for using your language; how about being banned  
from the high school dance for joking with your friends on the  
playground in your language; how about having your teachers berate  
your parents in class for their language; how about being whipped for  
talking in your language; how about as an adult not being able to  
enter a dormitory bathroom alone because of what happened to you as a  
youth in your boarding school: how about having your food denied  
because you speak in your language; how about seeing your mother  
hung, dying for speaking her language? How bad would that feel?

My current understanding of parents not teaching their children their  
ancestral languages is that they did so for the children's  
protection, protection from the physical/emotional/psychological  
abuse the parents received for using their language. I write  
"physical/emotional/psychological" without breaks because abuse in  
one area has repercussions in the others, evidence of their unity.

Neurolinguists identify brain locations devoted to specific language  
functions and find evidence that brain circuitry separates one  
language from another. To drastically oversimplify, imagine the  
neural superhighway leading to (or from) the mental circuitry of  
one's ancestral language being blocked by emotionally induced  
chemicals and physical atrophy. Can this account for speakers and  
understanders being physically/emotionally/psychologically unable to  

I agree with Bill Poser that education (an intellectual gain of  
facts) about language acquisition, bilingualism, and the intricacy,  
beauty, full expressability, and critical world views embodied in  
indigenous languages can be helpful in encouraging people to talk.  
But FIRST, and then continuously with other activities, can Language  
Healing take place? Safe talking circles and sweats with trusted  
leaders may help speakers and fluent understanders talk for the first  
time about their personally damaging experiences and come to terms  
with the pains of fear, anger, guilt and grief so that more can go  
forward with their languages.

While I have been told that many communities "down south" (outside  
Alaska) are engaged in language healing, I know specifically of only  
one such group who have done so, facilitated by Victor and Joyce  
Underwood, Saanich, from Saanichton near Victoria, BC, Canada.

Does anyone else have Language Healing experience?

Gil dodo iy,
Alice Taff

On Wed, Mar 19, 2008 at 8:09 PM, Terry J. Klokeid  
<klokeid at victoria.tc.ca> wrote:
The most significant problem we face in our language recovery program  
has nothing to do with technology, it is this.
Our Elder Speakers had their language literally beaten out of them by  
the vile, criminal school system imposed by the British and later  
governments. They have started to speak again, but find it hard to do  
so. They speak their language to the linguist, but cannot speak  
freely to the Nation's own children, and young parents in the  
community. I can supply many anecdotes if you wish.
How do we deal with this?
How can we help our Elders to overcome the criminal way they were  
treated, to speak without shame,  and pass the Language on to the  
next generations?

Alice Taff, PhD
Research Assistant Professor
Alaska Native Languages
University of Alaska Southeast
alicetaff at gmail.com
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