This is Part 3 of a four-part series.
What are those Best Practices again?
Around the world, most written versions of indigenous languages were created by European missionaries, sometimes joined by “naturalists” who combined language documentation with collecting plant and insect specimens. While these early records were not ideal, they have been the basis for linguistic preservation and study over the past several hundred years.
Current language preservation and maintenance works include online dictionaries with audio files as well as interactive translation functions. Linguistic archives also hold glossaries and grammar studies. The fewer the number of fluent speakers for an endangered language, the more important these academic tools become.
Spelling matters to an oral language – because the one thing that makes a spoken language understood easily between speakers and listeners, is correct pronunciation. Pronunciation is learned and remembered most effectively by writing and reading spellings that show the sound of the word. Many of the early missionaries did not hear all the sounds of the language – and the resulting documents don’t necessarily show how to pronounce words accurately. Although Native speakers can often guess the pronunciation of most words written with inaccurate spellings, new students are at a disadvantage. Ultimately, standardized spelling is encouraged for the sake of the new generation of speakers and for the survival of the language.
Instruction and Education
Both the Yurok and Lakota efforts focus on K-12 schools, so the materials and methods are mostly conventional classroom textbooks with flash cards, posters, audio CDs, etc.
Among the Lakota, the increase in adult second-language speakers and learners has inspired immersion preschools to open, to give very young children time with Lakota-speaking elders and the new speakers.
Classroom study and immersion are just two of the many different kinds of education for language preservation and revitalization, all of which can reflect and demonstrate Best Practices.
This Canadian site for First Nations language revitalization planning lists eleven kinds of education methods that play a part in preserving and revitalizing an endangered language.
How a group chooses to teach its endangered language depends, again, on how many speakers are alive and willing to teach. The Crow Tribe, for example, claim that approximately 85% of their 10,000 members still speak Crow as a first language – yet the speedy slang spoken by younger generations is considered a threat to the language. Thus the tribe has adopted a sequenced classroom curriculum and teacher-training program to ground their children in proper Crow.
Oversight and Social Support – What are those? – More in Part 4