Course Feature

June 22, 2020

Looking at diversity as a key to Indigenous language revitalization

Simon Fraser University (SFU) is located on the unceded and traditional territories of the xwməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) and kʷikʷəƛ̓əm (Kwikwetlem) Nations. As a student at SFU, this means that whether you are aware or not, you are regularly interacting with Indigenous land, people, and culture. Despite all of these interactions, we sometimes forget the roles that we as linguists can play in preserving the cultures and languages of the Indigenous Peoples of Canada. Lecturer Heather Bliss is hoping that her class will remind us.

Linguistics 280 – Interdisciplinary Topics of Linguistics will be offered in the Fall 2020 semester with the topic of Indigenous Languages in Canada. With funding from a Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Reconciling Curriculum Grant, Bliss was able to hire Michif/Anishinaabe undergraduate student Kathleen Anderson to help gather and develop materials for the class. Anderson is pursuing a joint major in indigenous studies and linguistics and took this course with Bliss in Spring of 2019.

The main goal of the class is to create an understanding that linguists need to recognize the diversity of Indigenous languages and engage in language revitalization in ways that are responsible and foster respectful relationships. There is not a one-size fits all method for language revitalization, especially when considering a region like British Columbia with many diverse Indigenous languages and cultures. Anderson, aware that language revitalization can be a sensitive topic, is striving to ensure that the materials she compiles are informative and engaging, but also fun.

While the primary focus of the class is linguistics, students will get to think about the ways that linguists can inform language revitalization rather than focusing on structural linguistics. Themes covered in the course include: language and culture; language and land; language and wellness; language policy; and language education.

With primarily online instruction being the standard for the Fall 2020 semester, Bliss and Anderson hope that the students will be able to interact with the material and each other in new and exciting ways.

“Having a course community is highly important and now that a majority of us are isolated from one another it’s become more important than ever to be able to connect virtually,” says Anderson. “Engaging with others virtually will be key to having the most engaging experiences within the context of this course.”

Before now, the traditional classroom presented challenges for bringing in guest speakers, even from within British Columbia. For the fall semester, Bliss and Anderson are dreaming big and hope to invite guest speakers from different Indigenous communities across Canada and the world to take part in course conversations.

The more you are able to understand and appreciate the people, the culture, the land, and the languages surrounding you, the more you will be able to understand the ways that linguists can fit into the ever changing needs of the communities that have been most impacted by past, present, and future colonization. If you are interested in learning more about the diversity of the Indigenous languages of Canada and how linguists can be allies in language revitalization efforts, this class is for you. Course enrollment begins on July 6.


Linguistics 280 - Interdisciplinary Topics in Linguistics is a lower division topics course that covers a unique topic within the field each semester.

In Fall 2020, Linguistics 280 will focus on the topic of Indigenous Languages in Canada. This course will investigate the role that linguists can play in recognizing the diverse perspectives needed in Indigenous language revitalization.