Roundtable Abstracts

Small language—big differences: Variation and change in a Coast Salish language

Donna B. Gerdts, Simon Fraser University

Halkomelem is a Coast Salish language that has never had a large population and occupies a relatively compact territory in British Columbia. Nevertheless, variation is so extreme that at times speakers cannot understand each other. This paper explores the nature of these differences. Geographically, there are three (and a half) dialects with major differences between them. Certain features vary micro-dialectally, basically at the level of the extended family. There are noticeable differences between older and younger speakers, and these are accelerating as fluency in English among speakers increases. There are also gender differences. Today, some homogenization is happening due to the standarizing effect of educational materials and shared cultural ceremonies. However, most Halkomelem First Nations have language policies that encourage the maintenance of differences.

Speech-Language Pathology and Indigenous students using dialects: hazards and solutions.

Pat Hart Blundon, University of Victoria

It is challenging for Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) to provide valid assessments and interventions for Indigenous students who speak dialects of English that are distinct from the mainstream standard. Information about the dialect features of these varieties is scant, making it difficult to determine which features of speech are dialectal and which reflect the need for specialized help. Also, it is challenging for SLPs to support schools in their desire to help children add the standard model to their repertoire because information about how a second dialect may be acquired in Indigenous contexts is lacking. This dearth of information motivated a research project that is being carried out in Northern BC. In this presentation I review this project and give suggestions for current best SLP practice.

Why First Nations Languages Matter and What is at Stake:
Addressing and Reversing the Impact of Cultural Genocide on Indigenous Languages in British Columbia

Marianne Ignace, Simon Fraser University

The survival of indigenous languages in northwestern North America, one of the “hotbeds” of linguistic diversity on the continent, is hanging by a thread, following a century of what the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission has called cultural genocide combined with other factors of oppression and neglect. Based on more than thirty years of community engaged research with First Nations language communities in BC, Dr. Ignace will discuss the causes and implications of indigenous language loss from a variety of perspectives, including what is at stake for the future of linguistic and biocultural diversity. However, in recent years, Indigenous language activists and learners have resorted to new and enterprising ways of revitalizing competence and use of their ancestral languages in our communities. A discussion of new approaches and achievements gives hope, but also invites us to re-think what the future of Indigenous languages will hold.

Chet Mi K’anatsuts Ta Snichim-chet (We’re Bringing Back our Language)

Peter Jacobs, University of Victoria

Chet mi k’anatsuts ta snichim-chet (we’re bringing back our language) is the way that our Skwxwu7mesh speakers describe our language activities, what is commonly called language revitalization (Baker-Williams 2005). This Skwxwu7mesh description reflects a duality we have with our language efforts, the language which was forcefully taken from the community and our own role to restore it to community status. In my presentation, I discuss how a community-based viewpoint is both helpful and necessary to our efforts, bringing back not just linguistic structures but an integration of a community way of life.

Indigenous Language Reclamation in 21st Century Canada

Khelsilem Tł’akwasik’an, Simon Fraser University and Kwi Awt Stelmexw Society

Canada has emerged out of the 20th century facing the continuing rise and implementation of Indigenous rights. It was also no happenstance that caused the population of first-language speakers of Indigenous languages to decline throughout the 20th century. Deliberate policy aimed at Indigenous language disruption and disuse was used. In 2016, Official Minority Language funding was nearly 24000% higher than funding provided for Indigenous languages, despite Indigenous languages being the original languages of this country. The time has come for Indigenous language advocates and its allies to advocate for the protection of Indigenous languages through enshrined and operationalized Indigenous language rights.