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Selected Resources on Native American Language Renewal

Jon Reyhner, Northern Arizona University
Updated August 14, 2023

Below are described some of the important literature on Indigenous language revitalization with an emphasis on the United States of America along with a list of organizations supporting language revitalization (for a more recent list of organizations go to Indigenous Language Links).

The annual Stabilizing Indigenous Languages Symposia (SILS) have sought since 1994 to bring together language activists and teachers to meet together and with experts on linguistics, language revitalization, and language teaching to support policies, educational reforms, language teaching methods, and community initiatives to maintain and revitalize American Indian, Alaska Native, and other Indigenous languages. Much of the relevant previous literature on the subject is cited in the various papers included in Gina Cantoni's edited book Stabilizing Indigenous Languages, especially in Dr. Burnaby's paper in Section I, which emphasizes the Canadian experience. Since the 1996 publication of Stabilizing Indigenous Languages, ten other SILS monographs have been published, seven of which are on-line:

  • Crowshoe, L.; Genee, I.; Peddle, M.; Smith, J. and Snoek, C. (Eds.) (2021). Sustaining Indigenous Languages: Connecting Communities, Teachers, and Scholars. Flagstaff, AZ: Northern Arizona University. On line at https://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~jar/SILL/
  • Reyhner, J., & Lockard, L. (Eds.). (2009). Indigenous Language Revitalization: Encouragement, Guidance & Lessons Learned. Flagstaff, AZ: Northern Arizona University. On-line at http:/jan.ucc.nau.edu/~jar/ILR/
  • Reyhner, J.; Trujillo, O.; Carrasco, R.L.; & Lockard, L. (Eds.). (2003). Nurturing Native Languages. Flagstaff, AZ: Northern Arizona University. On-line at http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~jar/NNL/
  • Burnaby, B., & Reyhner. J. (Eds.) (2002). Indigenous Languages Across the Community. Flagstaff, AZ: Northern Arizona University. On-line at http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~jar/ILAC/
  • Reyhner, J.; Martin, J.; Lockard, L.; Gilbert, W.S. (Eds.). (2000). Learn in Beauty: Indigenous Education for a New Century. Flagstaff, AZ: Northern Arizona University. On-line at http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~jar/LIB/LIBconts.html
  • Reyhner, J.; Cantoni, G.; St. Clair, R.; & Parsons Yazzie, E. (Eds.). (1999). Revitalizing Indigenous Languages. Flagstaff, AZ: Northern Arizona University. On-line at http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~jar/RIL_Contents.html
  • Reyhner, J. (Ed.). (1997). Teaching Indigenous Languages. Flagstaff, AZ: Northern Arizona University. On-line at http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~jar/TIL_Contents.html
The proceedings of the 19th SILS held at Thompson Rivers University, Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada, in 2012 titled Living Our Languages is available at https://linuslearning.com/product/living-our-languages/. The proceedings of the 1999 Stabilizing Indigenous Languages Conference in Tucson, Arizona and the 2009 Conference held in Tempe, Arizona are available from the Center for Indian Education, Arizona State University, PO Box 874902, Tempe, AZ 85287-4902 (Phone 480-965-6292). One Voice, Many Voice--Recreating Indigenous Language Communities (2006) edited by Teresa McCarty and Ofelia Zepeda contains 23 papers and is dedicated to the memory of Ken Hale. It is highlighted by Wayne Holm's keynote speech on "The 'Goodness' of Bilingual Education for Native Children." Indigenous Languages Across the Generations: Strengthening Families and Communities (2011) edited by M.E. Romero-Little, S. Ortiz & T.L. McCarty contains 21 papers. Papers from the 11th Symposium edited by Wesley V. Leonard and Stelómethet Ethel B. Gardner, (2009) were published as Language is Life by the Survey of California and Other Indian Languages.

Toward a new conceptualisation of language revitalisation Lenore A. Grenoble & Lindsay J. Whaley Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 2023

Health effects of Indigenous language use and revitalization: a realist review D. H. Whalen, et al. International Journal for Equity in Health 2022

The Handbook of Linguistic Human Rights edited by Tove Skutnabb-Kangas & Robert Phillipson 2022

Indigenous Language Revitalization: Innovation, Reflection and Future Directions 2021 WINHEC Journal

Published in 2018 by Tribal College Journal, Language Revitalization at Tribal Colleges and Universities: Overviews, Perspectives, and Profiles, 1993-2018 is an edited volume with an array of articles, essays, reports, and speeches showcasing the efforts being made to preserve, protect, and revitalize Indigenous languages at tribal colleges across the United States.

Language Rights edited by Tove Skutnabb-Kangas and Robert Phillipson (2016) is a comprehensive four volume contribution to Routledge's Critical Concepts in Language Studies series.

Indigenous Language Revitalization in the Americas edited by Serafin M. Coronel-Molina and Teresa L. McCarty (Routledge, 2016) contains 14 chapters covering policy and politics, processes of language shift and Revitalization, The Home-School-Community Interface, Local and Global Perspectives, Linguistic Human Rights, Revitalization Programs and Impacts, and New Domains for Indigenous Languages.

Free to be Mohawk: Indigenous Education at the Akwesasne Freedom School (University of Oklahoma Press, 2015) by Louellyn White describes a small Mohawk language immersion school that has operated over three decades in upstate New York.

Indigenous Youth and Multilingualism: Language Identity, Ideology, and Practice in Dynamic Worlds edited by Leisy T. Wyman, Teresa l. McCarty, and Sheilah E. Nicholas (Routledge, 2014) brings together studies by Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars/language activists who focus on the complex ways American Indian and Alaska Native youth view their heritage languages and cultures and what some are doing to bring them into the future.

Leanne Hinton's edited book Bringing Our Languages Home: Language Revitalization for Families (Heyday, 2013) provides personal accounts by language activists of the rewards and struggles involved in their personal language revitalization efforts, including languages that had ceased to be spoken. Languages included are Miami, Wampanoag, Karuk, Yuchi, Mohawk, Maori, Hawaiian, Anishinaabemowin, Irish, Kypriaka, Warlpiri, Kawaiisu, and Scottish Gaelic. The contributors emphasize the "cultural, social, and identity issues behind speaking a heritage language" (p. 176).

The summer 2013 issue of Tribal College Journal focused on language revitalization and included a resource guide.

Revitalizing Indigenous Languages: How to Recreate a Lost Generation by Marja-Liisa Olthuis, Suvi Kivela and Tove Skutnabb-Kangas (Multilingual Matters, 2013) describes the revival of the Aanaar Saami language in Finland by a small language community of 350 speakers.

Teresa L. McCarty's Language Planning & Policy in Native America: History, Theory, Praxis (Multilingual Matters, 2013) is a comprehensive study of the issues surrounding language revitalization that includes descriptions of current efforts to revitalize languages through immersion schools, master-apprentice programs, and other efforts and includes youth views about their Indigenous languages.

Youth Culture, Language Endangerment and Linguistic Survivance by Leisy Thornton Wyman (Multilingual Matters, 2012) documents how rapidly language shift occurred in an Alaskan Yup'ik communtiy owing to federal educational policies, youth culture, and other factors.

The Cambridge Handbook of Endangered Languages edited by Peter K. Austin and Julia Sallabank (Cambridge University Press, 2011) offers 23 chapters by leading figures involved in studying and helping document and revive endangered languages.

The Fall 2010 issue of the Heritage Language Journal includes an article by Jon Reyhner on Indigenous Language Immersion Schools for Strong Indigenous Identities and an article by Rebecca J. I. Luning and Lois A. Yamauchi on The Influences of Indigenous Heritage Language Education on Students and Families in a Hawaiian Language Immersion Program.

Re-awakening Languages: Theory and Practice in the Revitalisation of Australia's Indigienous Languages edited by John Hopson, Kevin Lowe, Susan Poetsch and Michael Walsh (Sydney University Press, 2010) gives and comprehensive overview of language revitalization efforts in Australia. Sections include language policy and planning, language in communities, language centres and programs, language in education, literacy and oracy, language and technology, and language documentation.

Nicholas Evans' Dying Words: Endangered Languages and What They Have to Tell Us (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010) describes one linguist's study of Indigenous languages in Australia and his appreciation for them.

I would rank the 2009 Native American Language Ideologies: Beliefs, Practices, And Struggles In Indian Country edited by Paul V. Kroskrity & Margaret C. Field up there with the classics on language revitalization, including Joshua Fishman's Reversing Language Shift and Leanne Hinton and Kenneth Hale's The Green Book of Language Revitalization in Practice as "must reads" for anyone interested in language revitalization.

Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, Robert Phillipson, Ajit K. Mohanty and Minati Pandas edited book Social Justice Through Multilingual Education (Multilingual Matters, 2009) discusses the general principles and challenges of multilingual education and presents case studies from around the world. A review of this book can be found at http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~jar/NABE/Dec-Jan2009Mother.pdf

The 2008 issue (Vol. 3) of the Intercultural Human Rights Law Review has a set of papers from St. Thomas University's Eighth Tribal Sovereignty Symposium that focused on "Indigenous and Minority Languages Under Siege: Finding Answers to a Global Threat." It includes Allison M. Dussias's "Indigenous Languages Under Siege: The Native American Experience" (pp. 3-78), Douglas A. Kibbee's "Minority Language Rights: Historical and Comparative Perspectives" (pp. 79-136), Antti Korkeakivi's "In Defense of Speaking Out: The European Human Rights Regime and the Protection of Minority Languages" (pp. 137-149), and Jon Reyhner's "Promoting Human Rights through Indigenous Language Revitalization" (pp. 151-189).

A 2007 Oregon State University Press book edited by Joan Gross, Teaching Oregon Native Languages, contains interviews with 52 native speakers, discusses state and federal policies, explores how archival collections can be used, and describes strategies for creating a successful teaching environment. The Summer 2007 issue of Cultural Survival Quarterly is dedicated to rescuing endangered Native American languages.

Arizona State University's Center for Indian Education published in 2006 a 156 page monograph describing the results of their five year Native Educators Research Project titled The Power of Native Teachers: Language and Culture in the Classroom. Chapters include A Changing Political Context, The Native Educators Research Project, Issues Facing New Native Teachers, Defining the Context and Understanding Behind Language and Culture in Native Communities, Re-Envisioning Indigenous Teacher Education, and Exercising Our Power as Native Teachers. Of special interest is information from case studies of two new Native teachers: one taught in an Hawaiian Immersion school and the other in a Navajo (Diné) Immersion School.

Jon Reyhner's Education and Language Restoration (Chelsea House, 2006) briefly traces the history of education from Indian boarding schools to the present day and includes information on language revitalization. It has chapters on assimilation and the Native American, community-controlled schools and tribal colleges, Native American identity, language and culture revitalization, language policies and education goals, language teaching, language and reading, and teaching and learning styles.

The Winter/Spring 2006 issue of The American Indian Quarterly (Vol. 30, No. 1&2) is a special issue on Indigenous languages and Indigenous literatures. Articles include "Reclaiming the Gift: Indigenous Youth Counter-Narratives on Native Language Loss and Revitalization," "Rethinking Native American Language Revitalization," and "Native American Languages in Print: A Student Research Project."

Lenore A. Grenoble and Lindsay J. Whaley's Saving Languages: An Introduction to Language Revitalization (Cambridge University, 2006) discusses the issues involved in revitalization, models for revitalization, literacy, orthographies,and program creation. Short case studies are included on Siberiean languages, Shuar (South America), Mohawk, and Hawaiian. Their earlier edited book Endangered Languages: Current Issues and Future Prospects (Cambridge University, 1998) is also very useful. Among the contributors are Ken Hale, Nancy Dorian, and Anthony Woodbury. Of particular interest in regard to the various roadblocks faced by indigenous language revitalization is the chapter by Richard and Nora Marks Dauenhauer titled "Technical, emotional, and ideological issues in reversing language shift: Examples from Southeast Alaska."

The Canadian Task Force on Aboriginal Languages and Cultures published in 2005 Towards a New Beginning: A Foundational Report for a Strategy to Revitalize First Nation, Inuit and Metis Languages and Cultures. Tasaku Tsunoda's Language Endangerment and Language Revitalization (Mouton De Gruyter, 2004) describes how languages can be endangered to different degrees, endangerment situations in selected areas of the world are surveyed and definitions of language death and types of language death presented. It also examines causes of language endangerment, speech behavior in a language endangerment situation, structural changes in endangered languages, as well as types of speakers encountered in a language endangerment situation. In addition, it proposes methods of documentation and of training for linguists which can enable scholars to play an active role in the documentation of endangered languages and in language revitalization. The author draws on his own experience of documenting endangered languages and of language revival activities in Australia.

In The Challenge of Indigenous Education: Practice and Perspectives by Linda King and Sabine Schielmann and published by UNESCO in 2004 the challenges facing both the providers of education for indigenous peoples and indigenous communities themselves are discussed and placed within a framework of good practices in quality indigenous education. Part I deals with the challenges and obstacles in indigenous education including legal and political contexts. Part II focuses on the key areas of concern that affect the quality of indigenous education. In Part III, 16 different education programs concerned with indigenous peoples worldwide are analysed in detail in terms of the new ways they have developed to address the issues of access and quality. The programs are located in Botswana, Brazil, Cambodia, Guatemala, India, Malysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Russia, and the United States. Insights are provided for education policy makers, researchers and all those concerned with educational provision for indigenous peoples.

Norbert Francis and Jon Reyhner in Language and Literacy Teaching for Indigenous Education: A Bilingual Approach (Multilingual Matters, 2002) advocate the inclusion of indigenous languages in classrooms. Based on extensive research and field work by the authors in communities in the United States and Mexico, the author's explore ways in which the cultural and linguistic resources of indigenous communities can enrich language and literacy programs. Leanne Hinton with Matt Vera and Nancy Steele in How to Keep Your Language Alive: A Guide to One-on-One Language Learning (Heyday Books, 2002) describe the Master-Apprentice Language Program that has been used successfully in California to keep alive severely endangered languages with only a few elderly speakers. Using immersion teaching methods, including adaptations of Stephen Krashen and Tracy Terrell's Natural Approach and Asher's Total Physical Response, this book gives step by step suggestions how a young adult can learn their ancestral language from an elderly speaker. Go to Book Review Hinton's 1994 Flutes of Fire: Essays on California Indian Languages, also published by Heyday, is a recommended companion book. Another recent book edited by William Frawley, Kenneth Hill, and Pamela Munro is Making Dictionaries: Preserving Indigenous Languages of the Americas (University of California Press, 2002).

The Indigenous Language Institute is published a series of handbooks on "Awakening Our Languages." Published in 2004 are an introduction, conducting a language survey, envisioning a language program, knowing our language learners, knowing our language teachers, designing curriculum, evaluating our language program, and understanding first and second language acquisition.

The Spring 2004 issue of Tribal College Journal (Vol. 15, #3) focused on the question of "English Only?". It included articles by Richard Little Bear on "One Man, Two Languages: Confessions of a freedom-loving bilingual" in which he explains how Cheyenne enhances his life, by Janine Pease on "New Voices, Ancient Words: Language immersion produces fluent speakers, stronger personal and cultural identities" where she explains how "Language immersion not only saves languages and cultures. It also may reverse dismal student test scores and restore fractured families and communities," and by Ron Seldon on "Back from the Brink: Innovative language program involves three generations." The editor's essay "Native Languages: a question of life or death" is on line as well as a Resource Guide.

The Alaska Native Knowledge Network's Guidelines for Strengthening Indigenous Languages adopted in 2001 and available on-line at http://ankn.uaf.edu/publications/language.html provide important guidance to anyone interested in indigenous language revitalization. The Green Book of Language Revitalization in Practice (Academic Press, 2001) edited by Leanne Hinton and Kenneth Hale focuses on 23 case studies of language revitalization. It includes sections on Language Policy, Language Planning, Maintenance and Revitalization of "National Indigenous Languages," Immersion, Literacy, Media and Technology, Training, and Sleeping Languages.

The summer 2001 issue of Cultural Survival Quarterly titled "Endangered Languages, Endangered Lives" presents examples from Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and the Americas and is guest-edited by Eileen Moore Quinn. Included are the writings of indigenous peoples, ethnic minorities, research activists, and scholars.

Can Threatened Languages be Saved? Reversing Language Shift, Revisited: A 21st Century Perspective edited by Joshua A. Fishman (Multilingual Matters, 2000) provides both practical case studies and theoretical directions from around the world and advances thereby the collective pursuit of "reversing language shift" for the greater benefit of cultural democracy everywhere. It includes a preface by Dr. Fishman on "Reversing language shift-why is it so hard to save a threatened language?" and includes "Reversing Navajo language shift, revisited" by Tiffany Lee and Daniel McLaughlin, "Reversing Quecha language shift in South America" by Nancy Hornberger and Kendall King, "Is the extinction of Australia's indigenous languages inevitable?" by Joseph Lo Bianco and Mari Rhydwen, "RLS in Aotearoa/New Zealand 1989-1999" by Richard and Nena Benton, and a conclusion by Dr. Fishman titled "From theory to practice (and vice versa) - review, reconsideration and reiteration." Fishman's earlier Reversing Language Shift: Theoretical and Empirical Foundations of Assistance to Threatened Languages (Multilingual Matters, 1991) is a must read for anyone interested in language revitalization.

The Grotto Foundation published in 2000 two booklets. The first titled Native Languages as World Languages: A Vision for Assessing and Sharing Information About Native Languages Across Grantmaking Sectors and Native Country examines efforts to revitalize indigenous languages and proposes what private philanthropic foundations can do to help this process. The second by Darell Kipp titled Encouragement, Guidance, Insights and Lessons Learned from Native Language Activists Developing Their Own Tribal Language Programs presents "a conversation with twelve visiting Native American Language Activists providing guidance and an analysis of some of the essentials for developing immersion language programs." The Grotto Foundation is located at 1050 -W First National Bank Building, 332 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101-1312. The second booklet is available from the Piegan Institute, PO Box 909, 308 Popimi Street, Browning, MT 59417. E-mail piegan@3rivers.net

The Spring 2000 issue of Tribal College Journal explores efforts to revitalize Native languages.The Spring 2000 issue of Whole Earth magazine had a section "More Than Words" on language endangerment and revitalization with the following articles: Matt Vera's "Yowlumni: The Path to Revitalization" [an excerpt from News from Native California]; Rosemarie Ostler's "Disappearing Languages" [overview article with quotes from Stephen Wurm, Michael Krauss, Leanne Hinton, Nick Ostler, and others]; Richard Littlebear's "Just Speak Your Language: Hena'haanehe" [an excerpt from his 1997 speech at the 4th annual Stabilizing Indigenous Languages Symposium]; Poetry by Ofelia Zepeda; Joshua Fishman's "English: The Killer Language? Or a Passing Phase?"; A Whole Earth Forum of Compassionate Linguists [commentary from Kenneth Hale, Elena Benedicto, Douglas Whalen, Don Ringe, Nora England, and Leanne Hinton]; and Darryl Babe Wilson's "Salila-ti Mi-mu d-enn-i-gu: I Wish You Would Come Home" [a story originally published in News from Native California]. There are also several informational sidebars with names, addresses, books, etc.

A special issue of the International Journal of the Sociology of Language (Vol. 132, 1998) is on "Indigenous Language Use and Change in the Americas" edited by Teresa McCarty and Ofelia Zepeda. The papers in this issue assess the status and role of indigenous languages in the Americas, with special focus on the ideological and social forces that influence their use and vitality with many of the contributions being speakers of the languages in question. A second special issue is on "Reversing Language Shift in Indigenous America: Collaborations and Views from the Field" edited by Teresa McCarty, Lucille Watahomigie, and Akira Yamamoto (Practicing Anthropology, Vol. 21, #2, 1999). A third special issue is Anthropology and Education's (Vol. 30, #1, March 1999) "Authenticity and Identity: Lessons from Indigenous Language Education" edited by Rosemary Henze and Kathryn Davis. It contains five articles that discuss lessons from Alaska, California, and Hawai'i. Fourth, there is the 1999 special issue of the International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism (Vol. 2, #3) edited by Jane Freeland on "Maintaining and Revitalizing Indigenous Languages in Latin America: State Planning vs. Grassroots Initiatives."

Indigenous Literacies in the Americas: Language Planning From the Bottom Up (Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 1997) edited by Nancy H. Hornberger has sections on North America and Meso America. North American papers include "Teaching and preserving Yup'ik traditional literacy" by Nastasia Wahlberg, "Reclaiming Navajo: Language renewal in an American Indian community school" by Galena Sells Dick and Teresa McCarty, and "Language revitalization efforts in the Pueblo de Cochiti: Becoming 'literate' in an oral society" by Rebecca Benjamin, Regis Pecos, and Mary Eunice Romero. The Proceedings of the 1996 World Conference on Literacy includes a paper on "Mother Tongue Literacy and Language Renewal: The Case of Navajo" by Teresa McCarty and Galena Sells Dick.

Two doctoral dissertations of special interest are Richard Little Bear's An Ethnographic Study of Cheyenne Elders: Contributions to Language and Cultural Survival (Boston University,1994) and Evangeline Parson Yazzie's A Study of Reasons for Navajo Language Attrition as Perceived by Navajo Speaking Parents (Northern Arizona University, 1995).

The winter 1994 issue of the Journal of Educational Issues of Language Minority Students (Vol. 14, 23-42) has Teresa McCarty's article on "Bilingual Education Policy and the Empowerment of American Indian Communities." The winter 1994 special issues of the Peabody Journal of Education (Vol. 69, #2) titled "Negotiating the Culture of Indigenous Schools" and edited by Jerry Lipka and Arlene Stairs has a dozen articles on indigenous education, including an article by Lucille J. Watahomigie and Teresa L. McCarty on "Bilingual/bicultural Education at Peach Springs [Arizona]: A Hualapai Way of Schooling" (pp. 26-42). The Winter 1995 (Vol. 19, # 1) special issue of the Bilingual Research Journal titled "Indigenous Language Education and Literacy" edited by Teresa L. McCarty and Ofelia Zepeda contains useful articles in four sections. Part 1 is "Conceptualizing indigenous literacies," part 2 is "The status of indigenous languages in the U.S. and Canada," part 3 has "Models of indigenous language education," and part 4 contains a "Synthesis and discussion: The Role of indigenous communities in language and culture renewal." The Spring 1995 issue (Vol. 19, #2) of the same journal contains Jon Reyhner and E d Tennant's article "Maintaining and Renewing Native Languages" (pp. 279-304, on-line at http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~jar/Main.html. Reyhner's Teaching American Indian Students (University of Oklahoma, 1992) also contains useful information on maintaining American Indian languages in his chapter on bilingual education. Another book of interest is Indigenous Literacies in the Americas: Language Planning from the Bottom Up (Mouton de Gruyter, 1997 ) edited by Nancy H. Hornberger. It has sections on North America and Meso America.

The summer 1993 issue of The Journal of Educational Issues of Language Minority Students (Vol. 12, 35-59) has Jon Reyhner's article on "American Indian Language Policy and School Success," available on-line at http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~jar/BOISE.html.

The 1989 special issue (Vol. 16, #2) of the Canadian Journal of Native Education titled "Language is a gift from the Creator" is a valuable resource, especially the article by Elizabeth A. Brandt and Vivian Ayoungman titled "Language renewal and language maintenance: A practical guide" (pp. 42-77). In the same issue Augie Fleras gives a good description of the New Zealand language nests in her article "Te Kohanga Reo: A Maori renewal program in New Zealand" (pp. 78-88).

The Winter 1988 (Vol. 47, #4) issue of Human Organization was largely devoted to indigenous language articles. Individual articles of interest include William L. Leap's "Indian Language Renewal" (pp. 283-291) and Elizabeth A. Brandt's "Applied Linguistic Anthropology and American Indian Language Renewal" (pp. 322-329). H. Russell. Bernard 1992 article "Preserving language diversity" in the same journal (Vol. 51, #1, pp. 82-89) is also recommended.

The published proceedings of the Native American Language Issues (NALI) Institutes from 1986 to 1989 contain excellent material. They are:

  • Suzanne Weryackwe (Ed.). (1986). Sixth annual international Native American Languages Issues Institute proceedings: Selected papers and biographics. Choctaw, OK: Native American Language Issues.
  • Freda Ahenakew and Shirley Fredeen (Eds.). (1987). Our languages: Our survival (Proceedings of the 7th annual Native American Languages Issues Institute). Saskatoon, Saskatchewan: Saskatchewan Indian Languages Institute.
  • Arizona Department of Education Staff (Eds.). (1989). Proceedings of the Eighth Annual International Native American Language Issues Institute. Choctaw, OK: Native American Language Issues Institute.
  • Jon Reyhner (Ed.). (1990). Effective language education practices and native language survival (Proceedings of the 9th annual NALI Institute). Choctaw, OK: Native American Language Issues. ERIC Document No. ED342512, on-line at http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~jar/NALI_Contents.html
A seminal work on stabilizing indigenous languages is Robert St. Clair and William Leap's edited volume Language Renewal among American Indian Tribes: Issues, Problems, and Prospects (Rosslyn, VA: National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education, 1982).

One of the best-known school-based indigenous language maintenance program is the one at Rock Point Community School on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona. The most complete description of this program can be found in Paul Rosier and Wayne Holm's The Rock Point Experience: A Longitudinal Study of a Navajo School Program (Saad Naaki Bee Na'nitin). Papers in Applied Linguistics, Bilingual Series: 8 (Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics, 1980). An update on Rock Point can be found in Jon Reyhner's "A description of the Rock Point Community School bilingual education program" in his 1990 Effective Language Education Practices and Native Language Survival (pp. 95-106). Choctaw, OK: Native American Language Issues. Dan McLaughlin's When Literacy Empowers: Navajo Language in Print (University of New Mexico, 1992) is a study of the Rock Point- community with interesting insights into how their community school was founded.

Below is a list of indigenous language related organizations and web sites (adapted from a list compiled by Anthony C. Woodbury):

General Focus: (see also http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~jar/links.html for more organizations).

First Voices is an organization providing web-based tools and services designed to support language revitalization.

The Foundation for Endangered Languages supports language revitalization efforts through small grants. Publishes a newsletter and annual conference proceedings. Contact Nicholas Ostler, Batheaston Villa, 172 Bailbrook Lane, Bath, BA1 7AA, England

Terralingua Partnerships for Linguistic and Biological Diversity is an international, non-profit organization concerned about the future of the world's biological, cultural, and linguistic diversity. 1630 Connecticut Avenue N.W., Suite 300 , Washington, DC 20009, U.S.A. URL: http://www.terralingua.org/

Focus on the Americas:

American Indian Language Development Institute (AILDI) is a summer institute for Native American teachers, para-professionals, and parents. Department of Language, Reading & Culture; University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721-0069, U.S.A.

Centro Editorial en Literatura Indigena, A.C. (CELIAC) A not-for-profit, indigenous-language publishing center.

Index of Native American Language Resources on the Internet: The WWW Virtual Library's very comprehensive list of web links at http://www.hanksville.org/NAresources/indices/NAlanguage.html

The Indigenous Language Institute (formerly the Institute for the Preservation of the Original Languages of the Americas): 560 Montezuma Ave., 202, Santa Fe, NM 87501, U.S.A. Phone: 505 820-0311 URL: http://www.indigenous-language.org/

Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas. Sponsors annual Conference on American Indian Languages: Publishes a newsletter. URL: http://www.ssila.org/

Teaching Indigenous Languages: Northern Arizona University web site focusing on the linguistic, educational, social, and political issues related to the survival of the endangered indigenous languages of the world with full text articles and books from annual conferences held since 1984. URL: http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~jar/TIL.html

Electronic List:

Endangered-Languages-L: A forum and central electronic archive for those interested in the interested in, the study and documentation of endangered languages. To subscribe, send e-mail to LISTSERV@LISTSERV.LINGUISTLIST.ORG with the message "subscribe Endangered-Languages-L (your e-mail address)".

Other readings:

Brenzinger, Matthias. (Ed.). (1992). Language death: Factual and theoretical explorations with reference to East Africa. Berlin: de Gruyter.

Crystal, David. (2000). Language death. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dorian, Nancy C. (1981). Language death: The life cycle of a Scottish Gaelic dialect. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania.

Dorian, Nancy C. (Ed.). (1989). Investigating obsolescence: Studies in language contraction and obsolescence. Cambridge: Cambridge University.

Dressler, Wolfgang U. (1988). Language death. In Frederick J. Newmeyer (Ed.), Linguistics: the Cambridge survey (Vol. 4: Language: The socio-cultural context, pp. 184-192). Cambridge: Cambridge University.

Fase, Willem, Koen Jaspaert, & Sjaak Kroon. (Eds.). (1995). The state of minority languages: International perspectives on survival and decline. Lisse, the Netherlands: Swets & Zeitlinger.

Fase, Willem, Koen Jaspaert, & Sjaak Kroon. (Eds.) (1992). Maintenance and loss of minority languages. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Gal, Susan (1979). Language shift: Social determinants of linguistic change in bilingual Austria. New York: Academic.

Greaves, Tom. (Ed.). (1994). Intellectual property rights for indigenous peoples, a source book. Oklahoma City, OK: Society for Applied Anthropology.

Hale, Ken, Michael Krauss, Lucille Watahomigie, Akira Yamamoto, Colette Craig, LaVerne Masayesva Jeanne, & Nora England. (1992). Endangered languages. Language, 68(1), 1-42.

Hill, Jane. (1983). Language death in Uto-Aztecan. International Journal of American Linguistics, 49, 258-76.

Karttunen, Frances E. (1994). Between worlds: Interpreters, guides, and survivors. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University .

Kulick, Don. (1992). Language shift and cultural reproduction: Socialization, self, and syncretism in a Papua New Guinean village. Cambridge University.

Mithun, Marianne. (1994). SSILA Presidential Address, 1993. SSILA Newsletter, 12(4), 10-11.

Newman, Paul. (1992). Fieldwork and field methods in linguistics. California Linguistic Notes, 23(2), 1-8.

Robins, Robert H. & Eugenius M. Uhlenbeck. (Eds.). (1991). Endangered languages. Oxford: Berg. [See also Nancy Dorian's 1994 review, Language, 70(4), 797-802.]. This book includes Lucille Watahomigie and J. Hill's chapter "The condition of Native American languages in the United States" (pp. 135-155).

Silver, Shirley & Wick R. Miller. 1997. American Indian languages: Cultural and social contexts. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

Woodbury, Anthony C. (1993). A defense of the proposition 'When a language dies, a culture dies.' Texas Linguistic Forum 33: Proceedings of the first Annual Symposium on Language in Society-Austin.

A Model for Promoting Native American Language Preservation and Teaching
Richard E. Littlebear3


"Are you an English speaker?" Says a school administrator to a person walking down a street.

"Yep, ah sho' am." The person replies.

"Good! We don't have anyone to teach English at the school. You're the one we've been looking for. Come and teach English for us."

"Don't mind if I do," Replies the person, and off that person goes to teach English at the local school.

While the above scenario may not happen in reality where the English language is concerned, it is a scenario, with variations, that occurs in many Native American language development programs, except that the players are usually administrators of Native American language programs. The administrators select someone to teach the Native American language simply on the basis of fluency. While fluency is an essential qualification for all Native American language teachers, the ability to teach that fluency to students is equally important. To counteract the result of the scenario illustrated in the introduction, which usually contributed to program failure, the staff at Interface Alaska Multifunctional Resource Center (MRC) 16 developed a model aimed at providing Native American language teachers with the necessary classroom knowledge to effectively teach their languages.

The Issues

This model was born out of frustration with the process to select Native American language teachers and with the lack of appropriate training for them. There are many fluent speakers who are also effective teachers of their languages; this model is no t directed at them. There are also many fluent speakers teaching their languages who know nothing about classroom management, teaching methods, or develop appropriate practices. It is this group of people for whom the model was created. Many conditions and situations contribute to the development of this model.

The model was developed primarily because too many Native American language development programs fail because they are usually staffed with paraprofessionals. Many of these paraprofessionals have little or no training in how to teach their languages.

Secondly, it was developed because often state certification processes may not include certification for people who have special skills, such as fluency in a Native American language or knowledge of a Native American culture. This then does not encourage institutions of higher learning to have a program for Native American language instruction.

Thirdly, it was developed because some of these teachers are older, have had less schooling, are more traditional, may not have access to teacher preparation programs, or may simply not have the academic or economic resources to return to school for additional training.

Fourthly, the model provides Native American language teachers with a foundation of the skills and knowledge that they could add to their language fluency and cultural knowledge and make them effective teachers of their own languages.

It was developed to eliminate program failure because, often when Native American language programs fail, they lose advocates in the school and in the community. Consequently, it takes the passage of time to regain advocates. In the meantime, many elders will have journeyed on, taking with them their cultural and language knowledge.

This model is just a stop-gap measure. It does not take the place of a full-scale teacher training program. It is designed to provide Native American language teachers some knowledge of classroom teaching, language teaching, and other effective teaching strategies.

This model does not teach the language; however, a language teaching model can be developed locally from this first model. Training and continued education have to be central to any Native language development program, especially if that program hopes to be successful.

Total Physical Response and the Natural Approach

This whole training process is designed to introduce and expand upon the Total Physical Response (TPR)Approach and The Natural Approach [See the work of Stephen Krashen] as the primary teaching methods to be used by the Native American language teachers. These approaches are orally-based, meaning that they develop language from the smallest oral components of the language to eventual conversational and technical fluency. These approaches are easily transportable from one language to another. Even though they require much preparation and constant application, they d o not need the in-depth preparation demanded by regular teacher preparation courses. Most importantly, both approaches require fluent speakers of the Native American language. On the other hand, if a Native American language teacher prefers to use other methods, they are free to do so. In so doing, though, methods selected must teach the very basic sounds of the language on an oral basis.

In implementing this model, the TPR Approach is introduced as part of the "Ice-Breaker" section of the first day's presentations. Five commands are initially introduced and they are practiced before every refreshment break, before the noon meal, and just before the end of the day's session throughout the duration of the training.

This use of the TPR Approach provides immediate application of a powerful language teaching method for the Native American language teachers. It is also included throughout because it gives the Native American language teacher a sense of the anxiety and uncertainty that their students are experiencing as they go about acquiring and learning their own Native American languages.

Background Information

To backup somewhat, before the model is actually discussed, some background material must be provided. One of the dialogues that the director of the Interface Alaska MRC 16 has been involved in for the past 15 or so years concerns Native American language preservation. [This essay will use "language preservation" to encompass all the other phrases like "language rejuvenation," "language conservation," "language maintenance," which focus on the perpetuation of languages. The term "Native American" will also be used simply because the issues discussed herein also refer to Alaska Natives and Hawaiian Natives].At any rate, this dialogue that the director has been involved in has to do with the very evident fact that Native Americans are losing their languages. This dialogue has been just that: a dialogue. The topic of language death has been "dialogued" to death. Those who are serious about preserving their languages must act now. They have to start tape-recording and video-taping their elders, to begin developing curriculum for language development and content area instruction, and begin comprehensive, college-credit training programs. Whatever action is taken, it must emanate from the Native American cultures whose language is to be preserved.

At Interface Alaska MRC 16, the staff took a look at how Native American language teachers are trained, if they are trained at all, about how to teach their languages. To overcome that frustration that was previously mentioned, the Interface Alaska MRC 16 decided to teach Native American language teachers how to teach their languages to slow or even stop the loss of languages that is occurring at an alarmingly high and accelerating rate. This is what will be outlined in the following narrative.

The Model

This model is designed to address topics that enable Native American language teachers to teach their languages. It has been used at four different locations: Ketchikan and Galena in Alaska and at Lame Deer and Busby in Montana.

The basic format for the model entails a 7.5 hour day lasting five days. It can be expanded or contracted, depending on the time constraints of the local program. This model takes a Native American language teacher from the affective domain, to the theoretical, to the mission statement development, to the introduction of classroom strategies, and finally to the practical application of all the previous topics.

The First Session: the affective domain and emotions

This session addresses the affective domain of teaching and learning. It also addresses the emotional aspects of language loss by presenting topics on the cycle of grief, the long-term effects of deprivation of land and culture, and positive self and cultural concepts. Along with the latter two topics, relevant activities were introduced and applied for the benefit of the Native American language teachers so that they could use these activities in their classrooms. There are also people who speak about w hat it means to speak a Native American language, and what it means to be a Native American and not to be able to speak a Native American language.

At this session, five commands are also introduced using the TPR Approach. These commands along with other vocabulary that will be added later on will be continued throughout the training process.

The Second Session: building a theoretical base

The second session established a theoretical base for the Native American language teachers by presenting them with the selected theories of first and second language acquisition. This theoretical base focused on the writings of Jim Cummins, James Asher, Steven Krashen, Lily Wong-Fillmore, and Tracy Terrell. All of these researchers produced classroom oriented information and theories. They are used because, if the Native American tribes are going to abdicate their responsibilities of teaching their languages and cultures to the schools, then the schools will have to devise strategies that actually teach students to become conversationally proficient in their own languages.

This session also dealt with Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills and Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency, BICS and CALP respectively. Also discussed was language acquisition and language learning and the differences between these two.

The Third Session: forming a personal or group rationale

This third session centers around forming a rationale as to why each of the Native American language teachers are in the language preservation program. The reason for this topic is to make the Native American language teachers think about why they are really in the program. This is to help set them firmly as to why they are in the program. The topics from the first two sessions will provide them with information to help them begin formulating their own personal rationale.

The reason for rationale-forming is that too often when Native American language teachers are asked why they are in a language preservation program, their rationale goes only as deep as their immediate economic needs: it provides a check. While this is a justifiable rationale in its own right, it does not speak of long-term commitment to the language program, nor does it prioritize for the language teacher the need for continued education and training. It does not speak to the need for constantly honing their teaching skills. Having a shallow rationale for being a part of a language preservation program often leads to the failure of that program because a person who is not committed will abandon the preservation program when a better paying job becomes available .

The Fourth Session: classroom methods

In this session, the Native American language teachers are introduced to whole language, sheltered language, accelerated learning, Total Physical Response Approach, The Natural Approach, and cooperative learning. Just by the sheer range of classroom management topics involved in this session, all are necessarily just introductions. This session presents the above topics to acquaint the Native American language teachers with classroom management skills. Each of these topics are in harmony with teaching language by an oral-based approach. The linguistic structure of many Native American languages demands that more than simple, discrete, individual vocabulary word lists be taught. Native American languages have been characterized as being "polysynthetic" languages, which means that many elements are pulled together, usually around a verb, to produce coherent meaning. In the meantime, some of those words that have been taught in vocabulary lists of ten disappear completely. The whole language approach lends itself to teaching Native American languages as whole phrases, clauses, or sentences and presents the learning of those languages in context. Accelerated learning techniques take advantage of the readily available, culturally embedded stories and songs to teach the language, which is one of their original purposes anyhow. The sheltered language method acquaints the students with those words, phrases, clauses, sentences that they will be learning and it teaches about them in preparation for the students to actually begin using them in context. Cooperative learning techniques use another culturally embedded value, sharing, to enable the Native American language teacher to manage the classroom.

The Fifth Session: practical applications

At this session, the presenters focus on lesson plan building, curriculum development and materials development. The various kinds of curriculum--such as the integrated, the parallel, and the thematic--are discussed. The presenters also introduce scoping, sequencing, expanding, or contracting curriculum that has been developed. These concepts are such essential classroom skills that the presenters introduce them because the Native American language teachers may also have to be the curriculum developers for their programs.

Follow-up: the aftermath of training

In later follow-up sessions, the presenters will go into depth concerning any of the above topics. The Native American language teachers will decide on the topics they want training. The whole idea behind this training model is to tailor the training process to meet the needs of the Native American language teachers. Embedded in the whole process is the flexibility to address other topics that the Native American language teachers need to discuss rather than providing "canned" or "prefabricated" training . Those kind of presentations usually do not address the immediate needs of the Native American language teachers.


Finally, it is hoped that the dialogue that the director has been involved in for the past 15 years will be translated into action. Native Americans are aware that they are losing their languages and cultures, but it is useless for them to continuously lament these losses, to continuously blame the schools, the government, the churches, and the mass media for these losses. Native Americans know these organizations are to blame, but they must further realize that these organizations are going to do little if anything to help languages and cultures.

It is up to Native Americans to preserve their languages and cultures. To help reinforce what the schools are trying to do, Native Americans should just talk their languages everywhere, with everyone all the time.


3This model was developed by the Interface Alaska Bilingual Multifunctional Resource Center 16 staff and consultants, Richard E. Littlebear, Director. The information was compiled and written by Dr. R. E. Littlebear and edited by Dr. Alicia Martinez.

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