Today after giving my presentation at the 2017 Indigenous Mapping Workshop, I was sad to talk to a couple of young people who had tried to learn some Cree at University, but got discouraged when they went home by family who didn’t like their pronunciation. And the family wasn’t willing to help them by slowing down, or correcting their pronunciation, either. It’s almost like a new generation being robbed of their language!
I told them I knew they weren’t alone in this experience – and that it makes me sad. Obviously it’s better to learn some Cree (even in a different dialect) than to learn none at all. And it’s better to risk mispronouncing a few words than not to try (though it may be equally important to maintain the ability to laugh at your own mistakes!)
So for them, I’m assembling a few of Simon Bird’s best anti-bullying and encouragement memes, with my very best wishes for their persistence and success. If you are trying to reclaim the Cree language as your birthright, you have the unconditional support of all of us at the Cree Literacy Network.
In my research this is quite common and in most communities there are a few people that believe the language should not change and should remain pure. These people are referred to as purists and it explains that they are not wanting to change the language and frown upon others that say the words incorrectly in pronunciation and grammatically. I say let us use these as teachable moments. I take every opportunity to teach others how the Cree language works.
What a shame: it’s not what they intend, but those purists are pushing the path to language towards extinction by isolating and restricting and controlling language. I was thinking about that today in my talk as well: how communities resist using books in other dialects even when they have none in their own. Imagine how impoverished English would be if our local libraries excluded English writing from Britain, or Australia, or the US! Surely *some* is better than none.
This reminds me of the attitude in many quarters toward anything but their local dialect of Occitan in southern France. Some localists (to coin a word?) almost fly into a rage at the thought of the “neutral” Occitan that is used as a tool to revive the language in the Calandreta schools and the media. (Though if you read or listen to Occitan media, it’s clear they respect and encourage dialectal diversity).
Isn’t there a way to help bring people around to the idea that all their local dialects are local dialect simply because they are the end results of change from earlier versions of Cree? Must be materials talking about this kind of problem — I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody addressed this problem at the Barcelona conference earlier this year…
Also, bravo, Laura, for grabbing every teachable moment!
Maybe it’s time to start exposing how that purism works against language survival – linguists have been studying language death for ages. Cree is still relatively robust. It’s painful to watch people march it down that path – especially knowing other communities that are struggling right now to pull their language back from extinction – as the Mohegans are doing right now.
The only languages that don’t change are the dead ones!
Yes! We need to embrace both change and new growth while honoring our “linguistic traditions” if we are going to bring our languages forward with us into the future. I think that means we need to be willinging to give everyone who wants is willing to put in the effort to learn the psychological and cultural space to both make mistakes and be creative in our languages. Language purists and those who “hoard” our languages for whatever reason will soon find themselves with no one to share, laugh or pray with if they don’t…. We are at a point that any movement towards proficiency needs to be championed and celebrated. Ahkameyimotan!
Hoarding is a recognized symptom of language death. Not sure how you share that message, either, but I know people in the US who are fighting to revitalize languages that are genuinely extinct – from a few word lists. It’s just so frustrating to see good speakers of a viable language march with such determination toward that awful goal.