September 20th, 2018

Indigenous Languages Symposium begins Thursday at U of L


By Schnarr, J.W. on June 6, 2018.

J.W. Schnarr

Lethbridge Herald

jwschnarr@lethbridgeherald.com

The University of Lethbridge is hosting an important language conference for indigenous people.

The U of L will be the site for the 25th Stabilizing Indigenous Languages Symposium Thursday through Saturday.

The U of L’s Departments of Modern Languages and Indigenous Studies have teamed with the Peigan Board of Education and Piikani Nation to host the event.

The symposium is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and will bring together indigenous language stakeholders from North America and beyond, including elders, community leaders and academics, as they seek to develop best practices and share resources and knowledge as they attempt to preserve Indigenous languages.

“Communities and universities have been trying for longer than 25 years to figure out what it takes to maintain and revitalize indigenous languages,” said Inge Genee, a professor in the U of L’s Department of Modern Languages in a recent news release.

Genee has done extensive linguistic research on the Blackfoot language.

A number of indigenous communities are seeing their traditional languages fade away with the passing of elders. The local Blackfoot population is no exception.

“The Blackfoot language is under threat of falling out of use,” says Genee. “There are very few children who learn the language as the first language in the home today, and most fluent speakers are over 50 or 60 years old. There are also very few monolingual speakers, or speakers who speak no English. These are all signs that the language is endangered.”

Indigenous culture and traditional language are linked.

“For most Indigenous people, the language and the culture are intimately connected,” said Genee. “Language and culture are one, which means language always needs to be taught through the culture or along with the culture as a unit.”

The symposium will feature 11 keynote speakers and the presentation of more than 40 papers over the course of three days.

Attendees will focus on sharing best practices for stabilizing and revitalizing languages, as well as resources such as curriculum materials that are being used to teach certain languages.

Academics will discuss issues such as policy development and planning, including framework development for communities that wish to begin the difficult process of recapturing their historical language.

“One of the very big, practical issues many of these communities face is they struggle with a lack of resources, so gaining learning strategies from each other is very important,” said Genee, who expects about 250 attendees at the symposium.

For more information on SILS 2018, visit sils2018.ca.

Follow @JWSchnarrHerald on Twitter

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