We Are Our Language
An Ethnography of Language Revitalization in a Northern Athabaskan Community
In presenting the case of Kaska, an endangered language in an Athabascan community in the Yukon, Barbra A. Meek asserts that language revitalization requires more than just linguistic rehabilitation; it demands a social transformation. The process must mend rips and tears in the social fabric of the language community that result from an enduring colonial history focused on termination. These “disjunctures” include government policies conflicting with community goals, widely varying teaching methods and generational viewpoints, and even clashing ideologies within the language community.
This book provides a detailed investigation of language revitalization based on more than two years of active participation in local language renewal efforts. Each chapter focuses on a different dimension, such as spelling and expertise, conversation and social status, family practices, and bureaucratic involvement in local language choices. Each situation illustrates the balance between the desire for linguistic continuity and the reality of disruption.
We Are Our Language reveals the subtle ways in which different conceptions and practices—historical, material, and interactional—can variably affect the state of an indigenous language, and it offers a critical step toward redefining success and achieving revitalization.
“A scholarly but personal reflection on language issues faced by the Kaska community in British Columbia. The author, Barbara A. Meek, uses language renewal efforts as a lens through which she pulls into focus the language challenges the community faces as well as some of the reasons those challenges exist. [Meek] also presents ideas for how to move forward.”—Spoken First
“This is an important book. Anyone involved in language revitalization would gain a lot by reading it. Original, informative, and well written.”—Leanne Hinton, co-author of How to Keep Your Language Alive: A Commonsense Approach to One-on-One Language Learning