Teaching Indigenous Languages  

Teaching Indigenous Languages

books |  conference |  articles |  columns |  contact |  links |  index |  home 

Chapter 12, Teaching Indigenous Languages (pp. 129-143), edited by Jon Reyhner. Flagstaff, AZ: Northern Arizona University. Copyright 1997 by Northern Arizona University. Editor's Note: Some of the Apache language text in this paper is incorrectly written because the font used does not support the special diacritical markings used in writing Apache.

White Mountain Apache Language:

Issues in Language Shift, Textbook Development, and Native Speaker-University Collaboration

Bernadette Adley-SantaMaria

This paper is an overview of topics covered during two presentations at the Fourth Annual Stabilizing Indigenous Languages Symposium from the perspective as a native speaker of an indigenous language and a member of the University of Arizona (UA) academic community in graduate studies. The first section describes my master's thesis on White Mountain Apache language shift, including my recommendations for further research studies on the White Mountain Apache language.1 The second section is on the panel presentation on "School-Community-University Collaborations in Language Restoration," in which I participated with the University of Arizona's American Indian Language Development Institute faculty. The third part is a commentary on "Issues in language textbook development: the case of Western Apache," a paper by Willem J. de Reuse, UA linguistic anthropologist, on our collaborative grammar book project. Following these is a summary of some language learning methods, ideas, and other information previously described in various works that could be regarded as repetitious and "preaching to the converted," but I agree with Robert W. Rhodes in Nurturing Learning in Native American Students (1994) who states that, "being a little redundant serves to reinforce conceptsSince you will probably have a different mindset at different times, the redundancy may serve a purpose" (p. vi). My native speaker's perspective might, therefore, present and develop some ideas, insight, and possibilities that may prove helpful for our topic of language renewal.
The White Mountain Apache Tribe (WMAT), located in east-central Arizona on 1.6 million acres, is the fourth largest reservation in Arizona with 12,500 tribal members and is the third largest Arizona Indian tribe in population. Nationwide, the WMAT is in the top ten for land area and population of federally-recognized indigenous nations (Adley-SantaMaria, 1997). White Mountain Apache (WMA) is an Athabaskan language; Athabaskan language subgroups are Northern, Pacific Coast, and Southern Athabaskan. Western Apache and Eastern Apache are Southern Athabaskan languages. Eastern Apache varieties are Chiricahua, Mescalero, Jicarilla, Lipan, Kiowa-Apache, and Navajo. Western Apache includes the WMA, Cibecue, San Carlos, Northern and Southern Tonto, and Yavapai-Apache language varieties (Adley-SantaMaria, 1997). Michael Krauss, president of the Native American Language Center at the University of Alaska and a well-known language expert, places the Western Apache and Navajo languages among those in Category A (indigenous languages still spoken by children) of the threatened language categories (Krauss, 1992).

At face value, Krauss's classification makes the prospects for preserving the WMA language look good, but when one examines the rapidly-changing dynamics of shift to English occurring in these same speech communities, there is cause for concern. That knowledge led me to select my thesis topic last year. The premise for my thesis, "White Mountain Apache Language Shift: A Perspective on Causes, Effects, and Avenues for Change," is that the illumination of linguistic and non-linguistic causal factors that negatively affect transformations in the White Mountain Apache language is a priority, not only to reverse continued language shift to English, but also to preclude holistic changes in White Mountain Apache culture and society.

The theory adopted in my thesis is that language is linked, directly and indirectly, to the content in cultural teachings of indigenous societies in the Americas (Fishman, 1991; Woodbury, 1993). Therefore, language shift to the dominant language by indigenous societies creates not only monolingualism, but also impacts heavily on maintenance of cultural teachings thereby affecting the indigenous peoples holistically. In applying this theory to the White Mountain Apaches specifically, the effects on their people encompass the psychological, social, religious (spirituality beliefs), political, legal, educational, and other areas of life.

Findings from research on the non-linguistic causal factors regarding the erosion and loss of the WMA language are similar to studies done on other tribes (Crawford, 1996; Watahomigie & McCarty, 1997). These include socioeconomic factors, politicization of language, long-term effects of formal schooling, mass media, the advent of technology, and changes in values. Another causal factor among WMAs includes attitudes towards their language (or language ideology) underlying decisions to pass on their language to the younger generations. To gather information about the attitudes, opinions, and beliefs of WMAs and to illuminate the attitudes of educators and church leaders, I used three different evaluative instruments utilizing closed- and open-ended questions: an Apache Language Survey questionnaire for adult WMA volunteer subjects and separate questionnaires for educators and church leaders on the WMA reservation. These questions were designed to elicit information on demographics, tribal affiliation, background, Apache language ability, language transmission, language use by domain, and attitudes on education, religious beliefs, and beliefs about Apache language and culture. Linguistic causal factors include: monolingualism, code-switching, semilingualism, interlanguage, language transfer, use of nonstandard English (Apache-ized English), language policies, and linguistic human rights. The foregoing topics were not researched in depth for my thesis; therefore, are briefly mentioned here.

The subjects

About 3,000-4,000 of the total WMA tribal population is school aged, and approximately one-half (6,500) of the total population are adults 18 and over, with about one-third (2,600) of these age 60 and over. I interviewed 41 (68%) females and 19 (32%) males (total: 60) adult WMAs between 18 to 91 years of age from eight of the fifteen communities on the reservation. The average age of respondents was 41 for females and 45 for males. The data by age groups were: 18 to 29 year olds (16=27%); 30 to 49 year olds (26=43%); and 50+ (18=30%). Of the 60 respondents, 40 (67%) claimed full WMA affiliation, 12 (20%) claimed WMA/other tribe, and 8 (13%) claimed mixed heritage, WMA and/or other tribe and non-Indian.

Regarding Apache language ability, most (95%) respondents 40 years of age and over speak Apache, compared to 41% of respondents age 39 and under; 88% of those 30 years and over speak Apache compared to 28% of those under 30. The greatest difference (80%) in Apache language ability was predictably between the oldest and youngest age groups. A surprising finding was the difference (31%) between the 20- and 30-year olds in that the older age group had such a greater language ability than the younger group. More (43%) respond to parents/guardians in Apache only, while fewer (28%) speak to their children/grandchildren in Apache only. Between one-quarter to one-third (28-30%) of the total respondents speak bilingually to both parents/ guardians and children/grandchildren. About one-tenth of respondents speak English only. Some respondents (42%) believe that learning about Apache culture is affected by whether an Apache understands/ speaks their language. Fully 100% of respondents respect Apache language and culture, but changes in values are negatively impacting Apache language preservation.

Impact of missionaries

Responses to my questionnaire revealed that a change in values has occurred as a result of the continuing practices of cultural genocide by Protestant missionaries on the WMA reservation. This is a potentially controversial and sensitive topic but one that should be addressed by insiders of the communities and not by outsiders who may be resented. Many respondents (72%) were taught by their Protestant churches not to attend Apache ceremonies and that traditional Apache spirituality beliefs are wrong or paganistic. Interestingly, only 16% of these respondents taught their children what their churches taught them. One-half (50%) of Protestants and most (83%) Roman Catholics believe that Christian missionaries are incorrect to teach against attendance at Apache ceremonies and spirituality beliefs. The Roman Catholic churches on the WMA reservation currently teach their parishioners to value their culture and Apache spirituality as "gifts from God" and more of those (72%) who were respondents in this study identified themselves as both Roman Catholic and believers in the traditional Apache spirituality beliefs; none of the Protestant respondents did the same.

Questions on religious affiliation and beliefs were included in this study because I suspected that there were adverse teachings against Apache spirituality beliefs and ceremonies by some Christian fundamentalist churches on the reservation through anecdotal and experiential knowledge. These teachings affect the Apache culture (and thereby, language) negatively and the findings from these types of questions confirmed my suspicions in addition to creating more questions which, I believe, should be addressed by tribal leaders with a more comprehensive survey of the Protestant church teachings on the reservation for assessing and determining the extent of their impact on the WMA language and culture maintenance and with tribal constitutional rights already in place.

Recommendations for further study

Since there is very little data or documented research on the language issues of the WMA Tribe, this small research survey constitutes a necessary beginning. The following are my condensed recommendations for further study. There is a need for:

1. Comprehensive studies to assess intergenerational language transmission.
2. Studies to determine connections between the loss of language/culture and social problems on the reservation.
3. In-depth analysis to evaluate the adequacy of bilingual/ bicultural curriculum implementation in the educational system of the WMA reservation, and if lacking, to investigate successful community-controlled schools on other reservations that have developed bilingual programs to utilize for models.
4. Compilation of information and solutions to Protestant church teachings to minimize the adverse effects on Apache language/cultural beliefs.
5. A study to determine language revitalization, maintenance, and preservation programming needs.
6. Development of Apache language materials for use by Apaches.
7. Assistance in and advocacy for an Apache-speaking committee to research/compose a comprehensive tribal language policy to add/integrate with the section on language in the pending WMAT's Heritage Preservation Ordinance.
8. A feasibility study for establishing a tribal college that could become a center for teacher training, language revitalization and maintenance programs, language materials development, language classes, bilingual/bicultural education classes, and a resource/archives center.
9. Research and compiling useful information on various language learning methods and development of language materials.
10. Advocacy, tribal support, and encouragement for more Apache-speaking students to become educators.
Recommendations such as these can be accomplished by tribes with the technical assistance of language experts and training of their educators by faculties of programs such as the American Indian Language Development Institute (AILDI) of the University of Arizona. The following section describes these types of collaborations.

School-community-university collaborations

The education of Native American youth is one of the major problems facing us in the 21st century. We have suffered historically in the American educational system and it still is problematic. We discuss these issues to generate insight into pressing problems of Indian education and to build consensus for change. The erosion of indigenous community and family structures (thereby the language and cultural teachings) are not isolated problems with singular causes. The common denominator of all the educational problems in regards to native students is that they are systemic problems. They arise from a system of public education that inevitably rests on theories of knowledge in the West based on reductionism, fragmenting complex phenomena into components, and building up specialized knowledge of the parts.

In regard to the theme of "Sharing Effective Language Renewal Practices" for this year's Stabilizing Indigenous Languages Symposium, our panel's2 position on School-Community-University Collaborations in Language Restoration is that while schools cannot be held solely responsible for reversing indigenous language loss, their personnel must be prominent in efforts to maintain and revitalize those languages. The family and home still have the primary responsibility for language transmission to the younger generation in the indigenous communities, but schools are where the children spend a large part of their time and should be a place where language and culture teaching is a natural part of a young person's overall learning process with the involvement of all elements of the community: the family, the school, and the student.

The traditional American educational process is based on competition and individual learning, whereas competition was not stressed in native societies and learning was connected with the common good and interdependence in their holistic societies. The American process, founded on fragmentation and rivalry, starts in elementary school and continues right through university, getting worse and worse the further one "progresses" in higher education. Such an educational process can never lay a solid foundation for understanding interdependency and for fostering genuine dialogue that integrates diverse points of view such as the indigenous society's.

Concerns today with public education focus on achievement relative to traditional standards. But the real problem lies with the relevance of the traditional (or Western educational theoretical) standards themselves, especially to the indigenous youth. In their traditional societies, indigenous people educated the youth in holistic ways teaching them that all of life is interconnected. Those teachings fell on the wayside along with many of our cultures and languagesa tragedy of our times. The more we revive and understand the traditional skills, knowledge, and beliefs needed to succeed in an interdependent world, the more one sees the error of thinking that we can focus exclusively on the dominant societal education system and ignore our indigenous ways of teaching of the past.

Some sophisticated educators of the dominant society do not believe in bilingual/bicultural education and do not see the system as an interdependent whole (as many natives do). They see only the piecesthe educational theories, special education, traditional way of education, same age group in a class, and gifted and not-gifted children. Maybe it is simply because the professional educators have spent their whole lives in schools that have never taught the true history of this country and its oppressive practices against indigenous peoples or history as seen from the perspective of the original inhabitants of this country that is not in any school textbook. Maybe, despite their knowledge about learning theory and research, some educators also have the hardest time seeing beyond "the way it's always been done," or understanding other cultures and perspectives of America's history. Some members of the dominant society are actually shocked when told that some of us (Native Americans) do not consider ourselves Americans or a part of the dominant society and that some of us also do not believe ourselves to be a "conquered" people as taught in history texts. Some natives consider themselves spiritual caretakers of this land (no matter who "owns" it now) and keepers of sacred knowledge for all.

In spite of the fact that the majority of United States education has historically been oppressive to Native Americans and that many educators are still not truly educated about Native Americans, the leadership that will be needed must come from those of us (indigenous or non-indigenous) who know the issuesthe parents, communities, tribes, schools, educators, and universities collaborating for indigenous language/culture restoration in a sustained and mutually supportive relationship. The goal would be to benefit all children by teaching them culturally-relevant curriculum in schools. Such ideas may seem naively idealistic, but that can be refuted with some contemporary examples of what has been accomplished with such collaborations.

In Arizona, examples include programs such as AILDI and its almost 20 years of training reservation-based educators. After working at the AILDI office at the University of Arizona (UA) for a year as a graduate assistant, I have gained invaluable firsthand experience and suggest that reservation-based educators take advantage of their excellent summer institute. Another example is the Rough Rock Community School, a Navajo community-controlled school in northeastern Arizona on the Navajo reservation that emphasizes teaching through Navajo language and culture. And another is the Hualapai bilingual/bicultural program at Peach Springs school founded by Lucille Watahomigie (also one of the founders of AILDI) on the Hualapai Reservation in northern Arizona. The next section of this paper is on a project that is also an example of university-native speaker collaboration, although, as a UA doctoral student, I am in the dual positions of being an Apache speaker and a member of the academic community.

Commentary on issues in language textbook development

As described above, collaboration between native speakers (or communities), university personnel, and reservation schools is an important component of planning for indigenous language renewal. The grammar textbook, Ndee Biyáti' Bígoch'il'aah (Learning Apache): An Introductory Textbook in the White Mountain Apache Language for Non-speakers (de Reuse & Adley-SantaMaria, 1996) that Willem de Reuse and I worked on is an example of university-native speaker development of teaching material for language revitalization efforts.

The involvement of native speakers is a critical element in this type of collaboration. In his article, "Theoretical Linguistics in Relation to American Indian Communities," Kenneth Hale, a well-known language expert from MIT, stated that,

It has become increasingly clear in recent yearsthat many important aspects of linguistic structure are essentially beyond the reach of scholars who are not native speakers of the language they study[and that] a native speaker's command [of the indigenous language] is critical in the linguistic enterprise. (1976, pp. 35-36)
This observation was made when indigenous language issues were fairly new to the academic community but is still true today. Though not trained in linguistics, I have knowledge from fluency in Apache, Spanish, and English, and from extensive experience working with de Reuse, I am also somewhat self-educated on aspects of linguistics. This section, therefore, is not meant as a critique of my coauthor, but as an example of how we native speakers can share our knowledge and insight into language renewal practices in collaborations with linguists, identifying and finding solutions for problems and assisting in shaping and defining how our languages can be taught and documented accurately for future generations.

Linguists, anthropologists, and other scientists extol methods of scientific inquiry utilizing the Euro-Western philosophical underpinnings of the various disciplines in American academics. Linguistics seemed like anthropology, a field of study that did not have a good reputation among some of us Native Americans because of its connection with scientific inquiry that has exploited indigenous societies and kept us rooted in the past. It seemed as if we native people were like "bugs" on a microscopic slide for anthropologists (scientists) to examine and "dissect" into our varied parts: kinship patterns, material subsistence, cultural artifacts, marriage obligations, types of shelter, ceremonial life, and so forth, all of the past, as if we are invisible in contemporary society. Some of us have long abhorred the tunnel vision of these disciplines that generally do not consider non-Western societal world views as legitimate. As an undergraduate at the University of Arizona, I attempted an introductory linguistic course but found it vastly boring and dropped it quickly. Now I realize that it might have been helpful, so the need to study linguistics is still an ambiguous subject.

Differences in world view between the scientific disciplines and the indigenous people is one obstacle in collaborations between the two, but practical differences aside from ideological ones also emerged as a result of our work. One is the assumptions about language universals. Language is a universal human ability (Comre, 1989; Yule, 1996), but one should not infer that all languages have similar grammar rules from this. Those who speak English and an indigenous language will readily tell you that they are very dissimilar. Some language experts (Comre, 1989; Greenberg, 1966) do not agree with assumptions about language universals because they disagree with methodological approaches to making such assumptions. One is that there has not been an adequate sample of languages included in making such assertions because they are based on only a few languages researched in depth. I believe indigenous languages have innate grammar rules that defy generalizations and comparison with other world languages.

Speakers of Chinese, Spanish, or other so-called "world languages" have non-speakers who can always find a speech community even into the future that will be available to them if they want to learn their languages, but indigenous languages are unique speech communities. Once our native speakers are gone and the younger generations become completely monolingual in English, the loss of our languages is permanent. The urgency of our mission is another reason I believe we should not wait for linguists to study our grammar rules and document them before we begin revitalizing our languages.

Another obstacle to learning indigenous languages is a lack of pedagogical materials and one of the reasons for that lack is because some native people oppose having their languages written down or recorded. Elizabeth Brandt, professor of anthropology at Arizona State University (Tempe), in "Native American Attitudes Toward Literacy and Recording in the Southwest" discusses attitudes on language that are generalizable to many tribes, including the WMAs. She believes that the aversion to writing and recording our languages is "grounded in religion" (1981, p. 186). That is true to some extent, but "religion" (we call it "way of life") in native societies permeates and is interconnected with all areas of our lives. That is a given.

The reasons for opposition to writing and recording are deep and complex. Many of us do not discuss publicly or to non-indigenous peoples their reasons because their revelation can be dangerous. There are those of us who respect each other's beliefs and resent the continuous probing by outsiders who want answers and knowledge for curiosity's sake, for exploitation, or for research that does not benefit us. Our wise elders tell us that there are things in this world best left uninvestigated, unsaid, and not revealed. My own feelings on this issue are ambiguous. On the one hand, I do not want our languages exploited and also believe that study of our languages should be done only for our people who want to learn their language and not for the wider audience. On the other hand, writing and video- and audio-recordings of our languages should be done for our tribal archives to be preserved for future generations of Apaches.

When some native people express their opposition to exploitation of their languages, some who regret this type of opposition and wish to study these languages denigrate this opposition as "political correctness." I object to using this new terminology to describe concerns of indigenous peoples who have inherent human rights to use and protect their languages and cultures that predate by centuries, if not millennia, today's ephemeral political labels.

Brandt (1981) also writes that the lack of permanent means of recording Native American language/information or opposition to it allows for "structural amnesia" or "selective forgetting" by native people. This might be true to a certain extent but (also mentioned by Brandt) our creation stories and ritual words are encoded in songs that have not changed for centuriesone way for preservation of our languages. I believe that the real experts at selective forgetting are the authors of the historical books who omit the true historical record of the genocidal and oppressive practices against Native Americans by the government and dominant society. Meantime, the contentious issue of whether to allow our languages to be studied, written, and recorded will not be resolved soon.

With the foregoing foundation of different cultural beliefs and world views that form a basis to my own language philosophy, next are comments on several points of contention that occurred in this project. After long hours, over days or weeks of note-gathering, translation, pronunciation, and compilation of grammar and sample sentences, de Reuse would input the lessons on the computer. Then I checked the rough draft and noted revisions on things I disagreed with or thought should be added/deleted. In this way, points of disagreement were uncovered.

One point of disagreement was that I viewed the Apache language as interconnected with all aspects of the Apache society rather than the minutiae we always focused on. As our work became more complex, I began to articulate to de Reuse that there is more to consider in speaking Apache and began relating some of the beliefs, attitudes, and opinions of Apache speakers about their language (language ideology) that put much more meaning contextually in the syntax and structure of speech. Thus "culturally sensitive connotations" are actually differences in world views between the traditionally-raised indigenous person and the Western-educated non-indigenous person. In my experience, the cross-cultural understanding of our indigenous lifeways by many non-indigenous people is lacking no matter how well educated that person is in the formal education system.

Another problem that came up as we worked extensively on WMA verb paradigms for another project was that I did not see why we needed to take verbs apart and analyze them by verb stems, special constructions, subject and object prefixes and affixes, and so forth, because in our language verb stems by themselves make absolutely no sense and we would never think of them in that context. Grammar rules seem innate in Apache speakers for they rarely make mistakes in grammar when they are fluent speakers, even among children. Not all Apaches (even those from the same speech communities) agree on how to say something for there are individual differences between them, but these are stylistic and dialectical variations. Although, I probably exasperated my coauthor at times with my objections on verbs, with this process, I did learn one thingthat Athabaskan languages are well known for their formidable verb morphology. I agree with experts (Fishman, 1991; Hale, 1976; Hinton, 1994b) who state that literacy is not necessary to learn one's heritage language. All the emphasis for this project was on grammar, reading, and writing Apache when computers, dictionaries, grammatical discussions, texts, literacy, or even linguistic (scientific) study of indigenous languages should not be the focus of language learning.

Furthermore, there was confusion on my part on exactly who our audience is. Even after we agreed on a high school and college-level audience, my coauthor would seem to continue aiming at the linguistic academic audience in his grammatical explanations. On the one hand is my view that, although some basic grammar is necessary, the technical linguistic grammatical explanations for this project are too extensive, complex, and unnecessary for the audience (the average young Apache) I envisioned, and on the other hand, de Reuse's inclusion of in-depth grammatical explanations to teach elementary conversational Western Apache seem necessary to him.

Considering the foregoing statements, one might wonder why I became involved in this project. When de Reuse first approached me to do translation work from Western Apache to English, I agreed to participate not expecting remuneration but was later pleasantly surprised to find that his grant funding provides payment for consulting work. Anyone who has been a graduate student knows of the constant need for funds to cover basic living expenses, so one reason was financial. Following this we decided to work on this project but apparently with different expectations.

Preserving indigenous languages for posterity is another reason. Because I had often heard my late maternal grandmother, my parents, and other Apache elders complain that today's Apache youth are not learning their ancestor's language, and therefore, not learning what it means to be Apache, I knew that language and culture loss was becoming an issue among some of our people. Those of us who are native speakers of indigenous languages need to share our expertise and to preserve our languages in any form we can. These forms include pedagogical (instructional) materials, literature in native languages, and video and audio tapes of native speakers. Although I agree with language experts who argue that literacy and grammatical explanation (linguistics) are not necessary for language acquisition, I saw documentation of our languages as "tools" for the future because of the rapid acceleration of shift to English occurring in Western Apache and other indigenous languages.

For these reasons, I do not believe that it is absolutely essential for native speakers to study linguistics. Although Apache students should be encouraged to seek degrees in linguistics to assist with future technical advice for the WMAT's language preservation efforts, they should first know their language. Some training (in language learning methods, developing teaching materials, and other literature) is necessary to teach the language even if one is a native speaker but that does not require formal higher education or linguistics degree.

Language learning methods, especially if they have been successfully utilized, are important information for tribes to share in their language renewal efforts. There are a variety of educational approaches and methods aimed at language acquisition. These programs include James Asher's (1996) Total Physical Response (TPR) method. This method is based on language acquisition in stages. At first, the instructor ask students to do various physical activities that are modeled by the instructor. Learning a language with this method is similar to learning a first language with the following themes: subconscious picking up, implicit/automatic, informal, use of cues, concrete experiences, active involvement by learner and teacher, non-corrective, praise/reinforcement, involvement of student-centered situational activities, and stresses use of right brain processes with a focus on ideas, meaning, and communication, not grammar or mechanics. This method was used by a San Carlos Apache consultant who also collaborated with de Reuse on a book project (de Reuse & Goode, 1996), but it is sometimes inappropriate in Apache culture if students are asked to touch each other.

Another language teaching method is Communication-Based Instruction (CBI), a five-step lesson planning method based on a view that function (what language is used for) should be emphasized rather than the forms of the language (correct grammatical or phonological structure). Lessons are constructed around oral communication (Supahan, 1995).

The grammar-translation method "treats second, or foreign, language learning like any other academic subject. Long lists of words and a set of grammatical rules have to be memorized, and the written language, rather than the spoken language is emphasized" (Yule, 1996, p. 193). Learners of second languages using this method in schools sometimes achieve high grades in a language class and then find themselves at a loss when it comes to actually using the language.

The Master-Apprentice Language Learning Program (MALLP) was developed by the Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival with a goal of creating an immersion experience for one or two language learners with a master speaker trained in the development of communicative competence in a native language. This method includes no use of English or literacy, learning to ask questions in target language, listening, reminders, use of nonverbal communication, use of pictures/objects, teaching in full sentences, learning about culture, doing activities together, use of audio and video taping, and use of social skills (see Hinton 1994a).

Immersion Programs, with many variations in use today, begin with the basic premise that use of any language other than the target language is to be discouraged based on the "notion that people can learn second languages similarly to the way in which they learn first languages, through being immersed in an environment where the language is the dominant one being used" (Hinton, 1994b, p. 19).

Many experts (Dick & McCarty, 1992; Fishman, 1991; Hale, 1976; Hinton, 1994b) agree that the best means of achieving language renewal is for the older and middle generations of indigenous people to speak to and teach their language to the younger generations (one of the definitions of intergenerational language transmission). De Reuse agrees with that assertion, but the grammar of Western Apache remains a primary interest of his, which could prove beneficial for the Apache people in the long run because there are so few working on it.

Hinton states unequivocally that "people almost never learn how to speak a language fluently when writing and grammar are the focus" and that "to learn how to speak a language fluently, writing and grammar are not as important as just listening and talking, talking and listening," although she admits that grammatical analysis and literacy in native languages might be useful in the long run (1994b, pp. 18-19). In applying her reasoning to the WMA speech community, I agree that the immediate concern should be convincing parents and grandparents of Apache children to speak to and teach them in their language.

The above descriptions of language learning methods leads into a discussion next of what would be best for the WMAT to use for their language revitalization efforts. De Reuse suggests a combination of grammar-translation and TPR for Western Apache, but I believe that the literacy aspects of our language can come at a later time when the basics of oral communication in the language have been accomplished. I agree with Hinton's assertion that,

reading and writing even gets in the way of learning to speak because the words you are going to learn should be recorded in your mind according to sound, not according to some visual system.If you need reminders of what you are learning, use recordings. (1991, p. 35)
I suggest that a combination of CBI, MALLP, and immersion methods would probably work best for the WMA language learners. Taking myself as an example, I learned Spanish and English as my second and third languages by immersion and communicative ways and the reading and written forms came later. I recently learned to read and write my first language that I had spoken fluently all my life because I sensed the complexities involved that have now been verified through experience. By these negative comments, I do not mean to discourage others from attempting it and would encourage other native speakers to become literate in their languages because it is interesting, an advantage, and useful for creative writing and reading (and understanding) papers and books written by anthropologists and others earlier this century who gathered information from native informants. I recommend that native language learners utilize immersion and communicative approaches as primary means of language acquisition and to enhance language renewal.


Research on my thesis topic and composition of my master's thesis has opened my eyes as a native speaker to the complexity and importance of language renewal efforts for our people. I have learned that there is controversy on language-learning and linguistic theoretical methodologies because various disciplines involved in the study of language have opposing views and arguments. What is most often forgotten is the perspective of those of us who are native speakers who should be helping shape the inquiry on issues of indigenous language revival.

The results of the questions on language ideology from a small segment of my tribe revealed that they value their language and culture and that there are many causal factors for the erosion and loss of their language and a rapid shift to English. Therefore, I have proposed that holistic changes are necessary for Apaches to reverse the effects of language shift although some of these factors are beyond their control. This study also revealed that more research and study on various language issues are crucial for the WMAT's initiation of language revitalization, maintenance, and preservation program planning.

We have established that school-university-community (tribal) collaboration in language restoration are important components to enhance and support the efforts of tribes to preserve their languages and cultures. The systemic problems of traditional education in this country is a major problem that adversely affects Native Americans everywhere. Reservation-wide solutions "to fix" things from tribal governments are crucial for the future of all. However, the types of collaboration in bilingual/bicultural education for our communities described in this paper should be expanded and continued.

Most native people have lived in both worlds successfully; they understand and respect other cultures and sometimes take the best from both worlds. Dominant society members can choose to do the same. In these collaborations with non-indigenous linguists, educators, researchers, language experts, and others, native people need culturally-sensitive outsiders who do not have the tunnel vision created by Western education and who understand and value our different cultures.


1Bernadette Adley-Santa Maria. (1997). White Mountain Apache language shift: A perspective on causes effects, and avenues for change. Unpublished master's thesis. The University of Arizona. In the spirit of continued "sharing of effective language renewal practices," Ms. Adley-SantaMaria (White Mountain Apache), a University of Arizona doctoral student, welcomes comments (negative or positive), suggestions, and information on these topics and dissertation research on intergenerational language transmission. These may be sent to her at: American Indian Studies Program, UA, Harvill Bldg., Rm 430, Tucson, AZ 85721.

2This panel presented at the Symposium on May 2, 1997, and consisted of Bernadette Adley-SantaMaria, Karen Francis-Begay, Teresa McCarty. Ofelia Zepeda, and Lucille Watahomigie.


Adley-SantaMaria, B. (1997). White Mountain Apache language shift: A perspective on causes, effects, and avenues for change. Unpublished master's thesis. The University of Arizona, Tucson.

Asher, J. (1996). Learning another language through actions: The complete teacher's guidebook (5th Ed.) Los Gatos, CA: Sky Oaks Productions. (First published in 1982)

Brandt, E.A. (1981). Native American attitudes toward literacy and recording in the Southwest. The Journal of the Linguistic Association of the Southwest. Special Issue: Native Languages of the Americas, 4, 185-195.

Comrie, B. (1981/1989). Language universals and linguistic typology: Syntax and morphology (2nd ed.). Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago.

Crawford, J. (1996/2007). Seven hypotheses on language loss causes and cures. In G. Cantoni (Ed.), Stabilizing indigenous languages (pp. 51-68). Flagstaff: Northern Arizona University.

Dick, G.S., & McCarty, T.L. (1997). Reclaiming Navajo: Language renewal in an American Indian community school. In N.H. Hornberger (Ed.), Language planning from the bottom up: Indigenous literacies in the Americas. Berlin: Mouton deGruyter.

Fishman, J. A. (1991). Reversing language shift: Theoretical and empirical foundations of assistance to threatened languages. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Frawley, W. (1992). Linguistic semantics. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Greenberg, J.H. (1966). Language universals, with special reference to feature hierarchies. Jana Linguarum, Series Minor 59. The Hague: Mouton.

Hale, K.L. (1976). Theoretical linguistics in relation to American Indian communities (pp. 35-50). In W. Chafe (Ed.), American Indian languages and American linguistics. Lisse: The Peter de Ridder.

Hinton, L. (1991). How to learn your language. News from Native California, 5(1), 34-36.

Hinton, L. (1994a). Flutes of fire: Essays on California Indian languages. Berkeley, CA: Heyday Books.

Hinton, L. (1994b). Preserving the future: a progress report on the Master-Apprentice Language Learning Program. News from Native California, 8(3), 14-20.

Krauss, M. (1992). The world's languages in crisis. Language, 68, 4-10.

de Reuse, W., & Adley-SantaMaria, B. (1996). Ndee biyáti' bígoch'il'aah (Learning Apache): An introductory textbook in the White Mountain Apache language for non-speakers. Unpublished manuscript. University of Arizona, Tucson.

de Reuse, W., & Goode, P. (1996). Nnee biyati' yanlti'go: Speak Apache. An introductory textbook in the San Carlos language for non-speakers. Unpublished manuscript. University of Arizona, Tucson.

Rhodes, R.W. (1994). Nurturing learning in Native American students. Hotevilla, AZ: Sonwai Books.

Supahan, T. & S. (1995). Teaching well, learning quickly: Communication-based language instruction. News From Native California, 9(2), 35-37.

Watahomigie, L.J., & McCarty. T.L. (1997). Literacy for what? Hualapai literacy and language maintenance. In N. H. Hornberger (Ed.), Indigenous literacies in the Americas: Language planning from the bottom up. Berlin: Mouton deGruyter.

Woodbury, A.C. (1993). A defense of the proposition, "When a language dies, a culture dies." Texas Linguistic Forum, 33, 1-15.

Yule, G. (1985/1996). The study of language (2nd. Ed.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University.

Return to Table of Contents

books |  conference |  articles |  columns |  contact |  links |  index |  home 

Copyright © 2003 Northern Arizona University, All rights Reserved