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View Diary: "Native languages in 'a state of emergency'" (256 comments)

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  •  Because in many cases (4+ / 0-)

    parents aren't equipped to teach their own children their tribal language - in many cases there are only a few people in a tribe who still speak it fluently - the fact that the tribe's language is not the primary language of instruction in the elementary schools means that children are not learning it during the window for language acquisition.

    English-only and English-first laws are problematic, but even states that don't have these laws nevertheless have a lack of support for native-language curricula, and having high-stakes testing in English starting in the elementary years makes schools that serve Native American students (who are often economically disadvantaged) understandably reluctant to implement non-English curricula.

    •  You don't learn your native language in school (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      capelza, RandomActsOfReason

      When kids go to school at age 5 or 6, they are already fluent in their native tongue. By age 6, the brain is already beginning to change in ways that cause languages to be learned very differently from how preschoolers learn them. That is one reason why langauges learned in school are rarely adopted as a primary language unless one moves to a place where they are dominant.

      As a matter of legal rights, I believe that there is a tremendous difference between demanding that the government allow people to speak their native language versus demanding that the schools teach children a certain second language. The second is obviously possible, but is not usually considered to be a right.

      If preserving these languages is important to people, then adults will have to learn to speak them fluently enough to make them the primary language used at home so that their kids will learn them as a native language. I don't think the government, whether tribal or federal, can do that job for them, but I also don't think the governments of today will stand in their way.

      •  Children can become fluent in elementary school (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        osterizer, capelza

        Adults learning a second language can never reach the level of fluency needed to pass it on as a native language to their children without the support of a society around them that uses the language regularly. It's going to take a full generation - one which will have to be taught in schools - to create parents who can speak these languages at home.

        It's sort of strange that you would use the research on language acquisition to argue that kids won't learn the language well enough to pass it on, and then in the same breath argue that adults can do it.

        •  Adults can also become fluent (1+ / 0-)
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          The question isn't so much about fluency as it is about first versus second languages.

          There are many, many cases of immigrants who come to another country where they speak a different language. The adults learn the new language as a second language, which they speak with an accent and with some effort perhaps, but they insist on speaking it in the home. Their children learn it as their first/native language and when they go to school, they are fluent in it like the other kids.

          Another example of this is Hebrew which, when Israel was founded, was spoken by no one in the world as a native language, and which didn't really even exist as a spoken language. Everyone learned it as a second language and their children learned it as a native language; now it is strongly established.

          On the other hand, I was just speaking last week with a woman from Côte d'Ivoire regarding the rôle of French versus native languages in her country. There are several large language groups and a total of about 70 indigenous languages spoken there. Virtually everyone speaks one of them as their native language in the home and among fellow members of the linguistic group. However, the national language is French, which is taught in every school, is the language of government, the main language of the media, and so on. It is true that it is a burden for them to conduct affaires in a second language, but they do it as a matter of course: for the Ivoiriens, their native languages mark their tribal and familial identities and are as natural to them as their own skin, while French is the language of national unity and facilitates access to the international community.

          It strikes me that the ivoirien and Israeli models could be useful here: their languages are strong and vibrant, and in no immediate danger of dying out, because most of the people use them in the home, even if, as in the case of Israel, all of the adults learned it as a second language and speak it with a foreign accent.

          And this something that can be (and really, must be) done by the people themselves, simply by learning and using the language at home and in their language group. Let the government help by not interfering.

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